I have a problem. Frequently, when seeking customer service over the phone and sometimes online I am asked for my Social Security Number. I don’t have one. As a Canadian snowbird I pay property taxes here and file an income tax return for my roommate’s rent, but I don’t have a Social Security Number.
Recently, I had to call Citibank to ask them to stop sending mail to a former roommate and was unable to get through because of my numerical incapacity. When I emailed them, they told me to phone. It took several exchanges of messages to be able to talk to a person, and sadly his English wasn’t really up to the task.
When I first moved in to my home in San Jose, I faced a similar dilemma many times with banks, insurance companies, and government officials of various kinds. Even the library asked for my Social Security Number.
This weekend I tried to contact the cable company, Comcast, to change my “bundle.” I decided I no longer want to pay a small fortune for movie channels. Of course, I could not reach a real person because the first thing they ask for is a Social Security Number. The online system won’t allow me to change my choices without making a phone call. George Orwell would have understood. So would Joseph Heller. With great patience and gritted teeth, I emailed and explained that I couldn’t get through, and then I was told to press 0 twice. I shake my head. If that is all it takes, why is everyone asked for their Social Security Number? Even when I actually spoke to a real person, he asked for my Social Security Number. It’s a national obsession.
Today, as luck would have it, I received a phone request for feedback on the customer service I had received from Comcast. I asked the caller for his Social Security Number. He demurred. I answered his questions anyway, giving points out of ten for various aspects of the company’s effectiveness. Guess how much I gave them for customer service.