Monday, October 10, 2011

Centurylink - exactly which century?

If you're wondering why this post is late, here's the story.
I called Centurylink when I realized I didn't have a dial tone on our home phone. The repairman came and tinkered about and then left, proclaiming the problem fixed. He never tested the telephone though, which still didn't work. Not only that, but the internet, that worked fine before his fateful visit, now didn't work either. It turns out he knew the problem wasn't fixed, because Centurylink had not closed the repair ticket. He must have had other plans.

I won't describe the many phone calls to Centurylink or the number of times I had to enter my phone number, repeat my name, address, and social security number, and re-state the problem. In all, I spent several hours on hold listening to recorded assurances that Centurylink strives to provide excellent customer service and my call is important to them. In any case, their automated caller confirmed that a repair technician would be at my house between 8 am and 11 am. You guessed it - no one showed up! Another hour on hold, and I was told that a technician would be here by 8 pm. Sigh. Anyway, I'm happy to say that it's finally fixed.

It hasn't always been like this. Technology may have moved forward, but it doesn't mean that customer service has. Here's a great example of customer service: the Chinese Telephone Exchange in San Francisco. It opened in 1909, and was staffed with operators who had to speak fluent English as well as five Chinese dialects. They also had to remember not only the names of the thousands of Chinatown residents, but also where they lived. They had to know what they did for a living too, so they could distinguish between two people with the same name.

The exchange was destroyed by the San Francisco earthquake, but was rebuilt and continued to operate until 1949 when the rotary phone system made the switchboard obsolete. For more on the Chinese Telephone Exchange, including video footage from the 1920s, be sure to visit the fabulous foundSF website.

Here's a great card showing the interior of the Chinese Telephone Exchange.


  1. poor thing!!!
    how frustrating...
    great postcard..i remember hearing about this,but seeing a picture really cool! heck..i can't even remember most phone numbers and i have to write them down!!
    i wouldn't have done well at this job!! they were very smart with great memories!!

  2. I recognize one of those postcards. I wish that Telephone Exchange building was still in Chinatown. It sounds like you could use a glass of wine -- (and deserve one too)!

  3. Great story about the exchange operators, the video clip was good, but would have loved to see the place in action with sound!

  4. Sorry to hear about the phone problems, but glad that it's all sorted out now. Great postcards and how interesting. It does seem that as technology moves forward, other things, like customer service, slide backwards.

  5. Christine, riveting about the Chinese telephone exchange, I hadn't heard that one before. They must have had phenomenal memories.

  6. Very interesting. I have enough trouble remembering my own home phone number, and I have never even tried to remember my cellphone number.

  7. Wow, I had no idea. I love hearing about these early immigrant communities in the U.S. I'm steeped in history about the Lower East Side in NYC, but I know so little about the west coast and everything in between.

  8. Christine, you and my husband could swap horror stories about CenturyLink. We never get a bill, just cut-off notices. After 2+ years, countless phone calls, being passed from one person after another because they don't even show us in their system, I think the issue has (knock on wood) been resolved. No wonder we long for the 'good old days':)



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