Pet Peeves

Part I:  Customer Service, NOT

a familiar expression

[The subject under discussion today is, admittedly, trivial compared with the more critical problems this country faces 20 years into the new millennium.  Still, as it’s part and parcel of everyday life, and not in a good way, it’s worth a mention.]

There probably isn’t a soul in this country over the age of about ten who doesn’t have an ugly customer service story to tell.  In fact, I’d guess that most people have negative experiences at least monthly, if not more often.  So much so that we’re actually surprised when we’re treated well and goods and services are as they should be.  If my carry-out order is actually on time, complete, and correct, and they’ve remembered to include napkins and utensils, it’s a red-letter day.  With carry-out the only option — or the safest option — for so long, we’ve all had ample opportunities to rate various outlets.  I can count on one hand the number of perfect orders I’ve received in the last 13+ months, and have at least four fingers left over. 

Online shopping is another arena rife with mistakes and frustration.  I recently bought a three-pack of small items, and the delivery window was 14 to 20 days out.  On day 21, when I hadn’t received the shipment, I went to the site and discovered a “running late” notice, which, of course, hadn’t been communicated to me.  The new delivery window was another 6 to 12 days out.  When I protested, the seller offered me a 40% discount if I’d wait, instead of cancelling the order, and promised to deliver on the new schedule.  I agreed, and the shipment showed up the day after the last predicted arrival date.  Oh, and one of the items was broken.  Worse breakage occurred in three shipments in a row from a big-box store that I won’t name, but the chain is owned by an obscenely wealthy family based in Arkansas.  I opened boxes, only to have shards of glass fall out.  When I contacted their support division (very difficult to nail down, of course), they initially insisted I mail back all the pieces.  After the first time, I flatly refused, and with supervisory intervention, I was able to eventually obtain a refund.  Lesson learned:  never order anything remotely fragile from that source. 

Two decades ago, I ordered a very large, unwieldy item from a popular catalog company that went out of business shortly after the incident in question.  The company sent me two of the items and subsequently charged me for both of them.  When I called to inform the company of the error, they readily admitted that I’d ordered only one item.  However, they required me to load the extra onto one of our vehicles somehow, cart it to UPS, and ship it back.  Otherwise, the duplicate charge would stand.  I refused, telling them it was their error and their responsibility to retrieve the article, and so began three months of knock-down, drag-out arguments with this entity.  You all know the drill:  I spoke with a different person each time I called, having to tell the entire story every time, after spending a total of probably three hours on hold.  I believe I finally had to mention the word, “lawyer,” before they saw reason.  Side note:  this process is a formal, standardized tactic, and has been dubbed, “the loop.”

Then there are the telecom companies.  I’ll bet the ghastly experiences with these entities are universal.  Why is it that only new customers get the great deals, and users who’ve been signed up for ten years are treated like dirt?  Why are customers relentlessly hounded to bundle services, and then when every electronic device in the house is in thrall to the telecom company in question, the overall invoice decreases by $1?  Been there, done that.

I could easily sit here and relate horror stories for the next week, and I have no doubt whatsoever that fully 99.9% of my fellow citizens could do the same.  Why is that?

When I worked in hospitality, I was associated with a brand that, although it owned properties all over the world, was not as well-known as, say, the Hilton or the Ritz Carlton chains.  Nevertheless, it prided itself on top-tier service, and counted many four-diamond hotels among its establishments.  The property where I worked had bought a franchise, and therefore was not a “company owned” hotel.  Even so, we had to adhere to the strict standards that were the company’s trademark.  It was a hard-and-fast rule that no employee could EVER shuffle a guest off to someone else.  If a guest mentioned to the valet that he didn’t have enough towels, it was that valet’s responsibility to contact the housekeeping department and have towels sent to the respective room.  Not only that, the valet had to follow up to make sure the guest was satisfied.  I was in the catering department, and I was told that, if such a towel issue were brought to my attention, and I didn’t get an adequate response from Housekeeping, I had to go down to the laundry department myself, get those towels, and deliver them, to make sure they got to the room within the requisite timeframe.

I was young when I was trained in that level of customer service, and I carried such discipline with me throughout my career, no matter where I landed.  Even some 30 years ago, though, attention to customer satisfaction was rapidly slipping.  Now, it’s almost impossible to find, except perhaps at those four-diamond hotels and four-star restaurants.  And not even there, sometimes:  I found the service at one of the priciest, most snobby restaurants in the city to be sub-par when I dined there, four stars notwithstanding. 

What it comes down to is a domino effect throughout corporate America.  Every giant entity, whether it produces widgets, provides insurance, or feeds and houses travelers, has somewhere in its mission statement some verbiage about serving its customers well.  And every single one of them that I’ve encountered hasn’t the first clue what it means to offer good service, because they don’t care.  The bottom line is the first, last, and only consideration.  If my carry-out order is 30 minutes late and is missing a side dish, the floor manager of the local outlet of the big chain restaurant can just say, “oh, sorry,” and I can either just shut up and take my dinner as is, or stand in line to get a refund.  If I don’t patronize that place again, so what?  If I have to take my car back to the repair shop three times to get one malfunction fixed, you’d better believe I’m going to be charged full price each time I’m dumb enough to try again, because obviously, it isn’t their fault the problem was misdiagnosed.  If the shop is part of one of the biggest gasoline vendors in the world, no one will care if I complain.  If the power goes out at the house half a dozen times a year, are we going to get pro-rated electric bills after each instance?  Not a chance, because where else are we going to go for that vital service?  Even so-called alternative sources still use the same power poles and transmission equipment.

All this total lack of concern for customer service stems from the scale of businesses today, naturally.  Near-monopolies are the norm; anti-trust cases are almost never brought anymore, and even when they are, they go nowhere.  The break-up of Ma Bell was the last big trust bust I can recall, and decades later, it has long since been reincarnated as AT&T, with, it should be noted, one of the worst customer service records on the planet.  There’s been quite a bit of noise recently about Jeff Bezos’ empire, but does anyone seriously believe it will be taken down?  There probably isn’t even a chance that he’ll be forced to divest himself of Whole Foods, for instance.  Ditto with Google, Facebook, and other behemoths.  All they do is buy up the competition and emerge even more bloated and unconcerned about the customers they supposedly serve.

Such enormous businesses control significant portions of the market share in their respective sectors.  Customer loyalty means nothing, because someone new will always come along to buy from them or sign up with them.  They have no accountability, and they train their employees to never apologize, never acknowledge fault.  What they don’t instill is a service standard that goes any further than lip service.  Newbies are taught to perform chores relative to their specific functions, be it cashiering, stocking shelves, answering the phones at call centers, packing shipments, checking in guests, attending to patients, serving food, selling advertising, repairing vehicles, or any of a thousand other task sets.  Consideration for the people they serve is simply not part of the equation for the vast majority of big businesses, which inevitably dominate in this country.  It’s almost impossible to escape them.  Small businesses stand or fall according to their concern for their customers, so that’s where to go to get the excellent service we have a right to expect, but in too many cases, they’re shut out of markets, or they’re more expensive or they’re less convenient, which they can’t change.  One has to consciously seek out the little guys, which usually entails extra time and trouble; the majority of consumers aren’t interested in such efforts.

It’s not as if there’s any solution to the problem of poor service.  There isn’t.  It would take a mass uprising, many millions of consumers, to effect widespread change.  Boycotts are seldom large enough to make a difference, unless they receive extensive media coverage.  We’ve just seen that public pressure has caused Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines to issue critical statements about the new Georgia voting restrictions, but those companies certainly aren’t going to move their headquarters or contribute large sums of money to get the laws repealed.  It’s all for show.  For the foreseeable future, we as buyers and users will continue to complain, continue to get nowhere, and continue to get less than we pay for.

Just as a departure from more serious topics, you may see rants here about other things that drive me crazy, but in the meantime, I invite readers to comment with customer frustration stories or lists of their own pet peeves.  Let’s hear ’em, people!

16 thoughts on “Pet Peeves

  1. the more fundamental issue is consumerism; it is so bloated it has become a disease. our materialistic, western industrialized society will never give a flying-you-know-what about boycotting companies w/ sub-standard service b/c their desire for more, and more, and yet more is so egregious that it is out of their control. consumers’ materialistic proclivities are as unmanageable as a heroine addict’s need for the next fix. bloated corporations know this about their market, so they have no incentive to transform how they do business or treat their customers. their bottom line will always be fed by the esurient, bewitched frog-bog, most of whom MUST have the next ‘latest-and-greatest’, even if they have no compelling need for it. if only americans could spend just one month in the 3rd/4th world, they would recognize how well one can live on the margins, w/ nugatory accumulations and exiguous amounts of crapola. consumer levels in the US and canada are obscene, and the soi-disant middle-class has become an obscenity. perhaps covid will help put the brakes on this obscenity.

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  2. Excellent point, Jeanie. My first thought in response is to wonder if the situation you so effectively describe is of the chicken-or-egg variety. How did consumerism become a veritable religion? Could it be because capitalism must create demand to sell supply? People have been endlessly, relentlessly brainwashed into believing that they simply MUST have the latest, greatest left-handed widget, or they’re losers or behind the times. It all probably started with curiosity over the shiny new object back when the potato peeler was invented however-long ago, and snowballed into an obsession.

    My second thought is that, yes, water does seek its own level, so it’s no surprise that companies abuse captive audiences. Accordingly, it’s not surprising, either, that materialism addicts rarely question their suppliers. Still, however, anyone who plunks down hard-earned cash for a meal or even a cellphone has a right to expect that said good or service live up to the conditions under which it was purchased. Even more so, perhaps, in the cases of near-vital services about which we have little choice in vendors, such as the providing of electricity. Or take the example of another necessity in our society, home and car insurance. We pay in, often for decades, without using the coverage, but all too frequently, it fails us when we actually need it. But of course in the above instances, they have us where they want us, and the very fact that we’re powerless (no pun intended) is all the more reason to throw service standards out the window.

    Lastly, to your comment about life in a poorer country’s teaching the virtues of getting by with less….I’d say that that lesson would hold only unless/until the individuals in question returned to their well-developed home nations. At such points, their first reactions would be to beeline down to Starbucks, then hit the nearest big-box stores, reveling in the displays, heaving sighs of sheer bliss.

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    1. as you so accurately observed and described, denise, there are those who would carry on worshipping at the alter of midas and agememnon. the banausic nostrum and quiddity here is: everyone is different. many would behave as you say. others would respond in selcouth variations to those differences. no matter to what degree one suffers the pathology of consumerism, the onus is on her-/himself ‘to be or not to be”…to buy or not to buy’.

      most of our acquaintances, when they return from overseas for a visit to their respective ‘homelands’ are, like us, so appalled and feel so out-of-sorts, they truncate their ‘home-leaves’ and flee back to their outlier ambits for a breath of liberating air from NA’s fulsome materialism and overweening sense of superiority. living in 3rd-/4th-world habitats can restore one’s faith in humanity.

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  3. I have no doubt whatsoever that less materialistic environs are much less stressful than the “gotta have it all, gotta have it now” societies. It occurs to me that much of the blame lies with the U.S.’ uber-competitive, massively individualistic mindset, as opposed to cooperative, caring attitudes.

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    1. w/ unalloyed certitude, denise. admittedly, the1% uber-affluent in these “less materialist environs” are simulacra of the uber-affluent and middle class in NA. however, a middle class in the ‘less developed’ countries is a chimera, tho’ i suspect many would subscribe to a middle-class lifestyle were it accessible, or available to them in the future… but w/out the expectation of supernal service from the vendors of their purchases.

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  4. It seems like a lack of self awareness in the Free Market Capitalist System creates a rotting product that serves up a foul societal result. Quality is not a primary concern when acquisition and accumulation of wealth is the stated goal. Capitalists are caught up in the lower mind and allow their thoughts to travel within the illusions of failed,dense, archaic ideologies. Every aspect of the physical experience exists to participate in the process of insuring the vitality of the whole, attempting to enhance creation’s journey as it travels towards it’s ultimate dissolution. Relishing one’s function in sustaining the health of the system we inhabit, is where true satisfaction resides. Amassing “things” in whatever form they take, will never satisfy the wandering desire. Every action should be performed with bare attention; as if the whole of existence’s health depends upon the best possible outcome at that moment. We are caretakers of an amazing creation that was gifted to enhance all that experiences it’s majesty. Every movement from our bodily vehicle should attempt to equal the spectacular quality of the original gift from Source. We should value our daily service to our vehicle and our vehicle’s daily service to society.
    Capitalists want to be waited upon by structures they have selfishly manufactured for acquisition. Including the bodies that slave away at the gears of their machine. They are the creators of wealth and phony power; they are not creators of servants whose sole purpose is to sustain quality outcomes for the benefit of Sources superb formations.
    I have long been pondering Denise that we were brought forth to serve creation. Just mere servants of Source. If performed with intention one will be amazed what Source provides along the journey. That’s when the magic of life unfolds like a lotus for the benefit of the whole, and societies outcomes are completed in a state of the highest quality.

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    1. As always, Utejack, I’m struck by the profundity of your analysis. Certainly, we are here to serve Creation, and not the other way around. Unfortunately, the vast majority of our species seems to spend its existence under the misapprehension that we’re here to dominate and exploit. It’s only a matter of time until Mother Nature disabuses Homo sapiens sapiens of that notion.

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      1. Failed attempts seem to proliferate when depression rules the playing field. We have been struggling within this System of a Down for quite a spell and the proof is “ in the pudding “. The collective human dynamic resonates the life depleting vibrations of capitalism’s greed. The dead notes are playing a dirge throughout the land, air and water; and every aspect of creation Is weighted down, like coffins made out of lead. Capitalism’s planned obsolescence has now infected the sector of service; and it is extremely difficult to maintain excellence when carrying out the tasks of the day under the watchful eyes of such greedy leaders. That is why I continually point out that our service is to Source. Never wean oneself from the breast milk of the Nameless Absolute’s life force. It energizes each moment of movement; do your best to remain in that dynamic creative flow. When honoring our relationship with That; which loves unconditionally, we develop sparks of romance and It’s purity will shine joy in our heart of hearts…. even in this terribly selfish structure that the 1% have forced humanity to believe is “in our best interest “. The 1% own a dominant percentage of the maya. They are heavily invested in the illusion and do not taste the sweetness that Oneness offers so freely. They have set sail on a ship of fools, tossed by violently preposterous wavelengths; and will never dock in the ports of joyful serenity. Never fall for the smoke and mirrors of such a dreadful fate.

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      2. stun-polling, utejack; your illuminations and meditations are as electrifying as they are enlightening. it is ennobling to read your exegeses b/c they are piquante declaratives that inspire w/out being biting or judgemental. concomitantly, your words carry a soupçon of compassion for those in the 1% who are sailing “on a ship of fools” and who “will never dock in the ports of joyful serenity”… their fate is indeed “dreadful”… not to be aspired to.

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  5. Brother, can “I” identify with your sentiments on customer service, or care! I’m a former E.M.T.-emergency medical technician,& I knocked myself out to see to it that the patient got the absolute ‘best’ level of care I could give them.
    Of course, I was raised to do my ‘best’. No matter ‘what’ type of work it was. Even if it was cleaning a restroom. You could, practically, eat of the floor, walls, or ceiling when I was done. I did ‘good’ work,& I had ‘pride’ in what I did.
    That’s a big part of the problem. Like you said. They just don’t give a hoot. They could care less,& have no pride in regards to their work performance.
    I had a hip-replacement 15 years ago,& I was in one of the high,& mighty Cleveland Clinic hospitals. Patient care? Ha! They didn’t even bother bathing me after my surgery. I was feeling pretty grungy,& asked the Aide to give me a bed-bath. Egad! She never even ‘heard’ of such a thing. When I first started in the medical field as a nurse aide I gave ‘total body patient care’. I bathed them from head to foot. I made sure they were clean,& their surroundings were sanitary thus contributing to their overall well-being,& health. I really ‘cared’ about taking care of the patient. I was handed a packet that she heated up in the microwave of something equivalent to Wet-Ones,& told to bathe myself. For crying out loud! I couldn’t even bend past 90 degrees,& she wanted me to wash myself. Talk about lousy patient-care.
    They didn’t bother giving me one of those survey sheets to fill out about my ‘experience’ with them cause’ “I” was an employee at the time. They didn’t ‘want’ my opinion. I assure you I wouldn’t have minced words! Yet, the entire thing cost more than my Dad spent for his ‘house’. Thank God for insurance!
    I found the whole experience deplorable. Customer service?? Nada! The Clinic always touts ‘Patients first’. That’s a joke! They’re all about money,& the bottom line. They are a business. Not a hospital. Business says-just earn the big buck. Screw the customers. That’s about what it comes down to nowadays!
    I agree, whole heartedly, with you, Denise. Customer service? No matter ‘what’ business it is. We get so very little service, ‘or’ satisfaction these days!

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    1. it is ludicrously oxymoronic, but i’ve been royally entertained by your black humour, L.L. [tho’ not by your surgical or nursing-‘care-less’ depredations]. you drop-dead nailed it.

      one of our sons flew from manila to miami 4 or 5 years ago, to attend a old uni friend’s wedding. after the connubial festivities wound down, the guests were offered water-skiing frivolities. off our son went, skimming over the top of a polluted floridian canal. the ski boat crashed into a barrier, my son, uninjured, swam ashore. much to his astonishment, a small cut on his arm, from being hit w/ his ski, became infected and began to fester. the bride’s father was alarmed and decided he needed to have it treated in a nearby hospital. so off he sauntered, not at all febrile or demonstrating any deleterious tertiary sequelae.

      firth thought he would be in and out of the outpatients’ sector in a matter of minutes. NO WAY! the medical staff decided he needed to remain overnight “for observation” and tests, endless tests, more tests, round and round w/ so many tests firth had to shout, “ENOUGH! no more of your feckless tests; i just have a small cut on my arm and only need a topical antibiotic which i can buy for myself at a local pharmacy.” after ‘de-haut-en-bas’ clucking and tsking the following day,they claimed he could not be released until the MD on staff signed a panoply of release papers, ‘”to protect themselves”, in case he decided to sue the hospital later for malpractice or whatever. needless to report, no MD appeared for that entire day or night, nor the next day. he felt as if he were trapped into a ‘groundhog day’ of ineptitude, corporate esurience, gormless tests that had naught to do w/ his mildly infected cut, and revolting meals that tasted like donkey dung!

      so firth pulled the plugs of multifarious, cryptic devices, waited until the corridors were empty, slipped out, down the back stairs, hopped in a taxi, went straight to the airport, and boarded his flight back to manila. not long after, he received a gobsmacking bill for 24,000$US!!!!! yes, that’s right, the no. 24 followed by 3 zeros!

      we’re canadian, but medical services here in the philippines are so superior and so laughably non-usurious, we don’t bother purchasing international or filipine medical insurance [canada does not cover one if s/he resides outside of canada for more than a year]. firth did not pay the miami hospital’s criminal theft-ring charges, but the malfeasing blowhards never relinquish their greedy threats for reimbursement… for what? so the admins can carry on robbing the unwary and pay for their mistresses’ suites in their respective seraglios and bawdy houses? or for their retirement mansions in costa rica? or their recreational drugs flown in their private jets from mexico? or their newly-outfitted yachts and on-board helipads? aaahhhggghh! i need a drink…. preferably w/ ice; it’s 34-degrees celsius here and i’m in a perfervid fever just recalling firth’s saga… yours too L.L..

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      1. I know I shouldn’t be, Jeanie, but I’m astounded at Firth’s story. I’ve seen myself that hospitals and medical practices continually prescribe various tests, often unnecessary (and in fact, there’s an industry term for that, which escapes me at the moment), but the tale you relate is beyond ludicrous. Firth was lucky that he could escape back to Manila. I’ll bet that, among the charges they tried to levy, is a line item for a Band-Aid at $50. I read comments everywhere asserting that single-payer coverage is a Communist system, and therefore, we can’t have it in the United States, but the amount of suffering that single-payer would relieve beggars description.

        Part of the overarching lack of concern for any type of customer care or service, I’d say.

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    2. The Cleveland Clinic? The place that tags its TV ads with the slogan, “Every life deserves world-class care?” Um….sure, if you’re a member of the Saudi royal family. As a co-worker once said, a person could bleed to death on their doorstep if he couldn’t provide proof of insurance. I worked for 7 years in the hotel that was attached to the Clinic, and the God complexes were astonishing. Part of my job was to deliver catered lunches to various Clinic departments, and in doing so, I saw how outpatients were treated. It was disgraceful. The sheer nastiness I observed, directed at, for instance, elderly people who were confused by the maze of buildings, made me want to slap some of the personnel. I had occasion to consult a Clinic doc or two during my tenure at the hotel, and the arrogance—and incompetence—were nothing short of amazing. For instance, I once went over to get an antibiotics prescription for sinusitis, which I get every spring. After a CT scan, which took up half my day, I was told that I didn’t have sinusitis and I should go home and inhale some steam. If I actually got sick, the doc said, I should contact her. Two days later on a Saturday, I was working a catering event with a 103-degree fever. On Monday, I called the doc and again asked for the meds. She insisted that I come over for more tests. My response was that if she didn’t call in a prescription, I’d go to the department head and lodge a complaint. I got the prescription and paid the bill when it arrived, which amounted to multiple hundreds of dollars, though I was technically a Clinic employee and also had insurance. Nevertheless, the Clinic continued to bill me for months, asking for a different amount each time. I finally called the billing department, explained the situation, and said that they could send invoices until they ran out of paper, but they’d never get another dime from me. All this to say that I can totally empathize with you, Linda.

      So…they don’t give bed-baths anymore? Ewwww…. How miserable, to be sick and/or incapacitated, and not be able to get clean. Maybe that’s a Clinic thing, because my mother-in-law was at Metrohealth for several weeks after having had back surgery, and they bathed her. In fact, they even allowed someone to come in and do her hair. But then again, Metrohealth is a whole ‘nother creature. The Clinic occupies a space by itself.

      And yes, you’re right that people just don’t care anymore. I’m going out on a limb here and theorize that one of the reasons for that situation is that, to save money, companies are hiring young people right out of high school and college, and putting them in positions they’re too immature to fill. Maybe I’m exhibiting reverse age bias, but it appears to me that more experienced personnel develop more pride in their work, which accompanies a broader knowledge base that no number of classes can provide. Of course, there have always been those who work merely to punch the clock and collect a paycheck, and some people get burned out or jaded about their work, but 20-somethings, in general, don’t have the chops or the wisdom to fill managerial roles.

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  6. Thank you, Denise! You, also, nailed it on the head about the younger generation,& their work ethics, or, lack of, therein. You,& I were raised in an age where we respected our elders for 1,&, 2, we had pride in ourselves,& that was reflected in ‘our’ work performance. We were taught from a young age to be responsible,& accountable for ourselves,& to do our utmost at what ever occupation, or employment, we chose.
    Please, don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying that ‘all’ of the younger workers are slothful, or uncaring. However, it seems that an alarming majority of them are. Of course the hard-working, caring,& industrious ones don’t seem to make the headlines very often, but they are out there. Albeit, few,& far between.
    My friend, Wendy ( whom you may know. ), also worked for the same hotel attached that was attached to the Clinic. She, later, joined me in Radiology years later. That’s how we met! The Clinic treats it’s employees shamefully as well. Her,& I were pressured, insulted,& found fault with simply because we were the ‘older generation employees’. You know? The ones who ‘really’ knew what we were doing,& treated the patients with respect,& consideration. We, also, earned a higher wage for that. Hence, we were, no longer, required. We were obsolete,& no longer necessary for our positions. I have friends that still work there,& the conditions are worsening since our forced departure. I guess we’re lucky to finally be out of there. I just hope that it’s a very long time before “I” am ever a patient there, again.
    Again. Thanks, Denise, for understanding,& sympathizing with my previously long,& protracted comments earlier. I appreciate that!

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  7. Yes…. Wendy never had anything good to say about working for the Clinic, and yet, a few months ago when I said I’d never see a specialist there, she was adamant that the treatment of patients has totally changed, and the staff have become very caring and considerate. I don’t believe it.

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