Stuff you should be able to find out—but can’t

I like to know things. I was that annoying kid who kept asking, ‘But why?’. I’m still asking that question—but if it’s anything to do with bureaucracy, administration or everyday problems, increasingly I can’t find the answer.

Last week, I got a new phone, smart watch and tablet. About time: I’ve wanted a smart watch for ages, and my other devices were ancient and slow.
I ordered them from one of Australia’s biggest telecom companies, of which I have been a customer since the 1990s through umpteen address changes. The online ordering process was smooth: the watch and phone were a separate order to the tablet, and I did them within 10 minutes of each other. Two emails came shortly after with my ordering details, all correct.

Two days later, a “confirmation” email came for the phone and watch—inexplicably, the delivery address had now changed to an old one I had four years ago. I had no end of trouble getting this changed, then the company cancelled my order without telling me and I eventually had to do a new one. I asked many times how this old address had suddenly surfaced again, and they kept saying, “The wrong address was listed on the records”. However, they couldn’t tell me why that was when a) I had changed it on my account nearly four years ago, and all the bills have listed my updated address since then; and b) The initial order acknowledgement the company sent me clearly had my ‘new’ address as the delivery address; and c) the tablet, ordered at the same time, had the correct delivery address and I received it within days.

One operator on the company’s online chat forum was honest enough to say, “Truly, I don’t know why this happened”. OK, fair enough, but when I was in customer service, we were taught to add, “But I’ll try to find out for you”.

After talking/online chatting with five different people, the address seemed to be finally updated. But not really—on the PDF of each order that the company sent to me, although the delivery and billing address were correct, the ‘customer service address’ was still the old one. Again, I asked an online chat assistant if she could change this, and she said she ‘didn’t have access to that information’. Eh? She advised me to go to one of the company’s shops, where I would also find the SIM I needed to operate my new phone, which they had inadvertently left out of my online order but couldn’t now send to me.

Finally, finally, a helpful person at the shop I went to not only gave me the required SIM but was also able to change the service address. #whyrealshopsarestillgood
But I still can’t find out why the new address morphed to the old one. *Sigh*

When it comes to bureaucracy, it seems to be making itself more and more mysterious, with more and more “paperwork” (not all of it virtual and most of it clunky), and more and more secret-squirrel-like behaviour. Bureaucrats rarely, if ever, sincerely apologise for their mistakes.

The tedium and tyranny of bureaucracy are not new, of course.  As the sociologist Max Weber said more than 70 years ago, “Every bureaucracy seeks to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their knowledge and intentions secret. Bureaucratic administration always tends to be an administration of  ‘secret sessions’: in so far as it can, it hides its knowledge and action from criticism…” (Weber, Essays in Sociology, 1946, quoted in David Graeber 2015, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy).

There are a million other things I want to know but can’t find out. Every day, there’s something. Luckily, the internet helps with some of these. For example, in writing this post, I was reminded of a friend who always wondered why the streets weren’t littered with dead birds, since there are so many of them. I searched today and found the answer, which you can access here, if you’re interested.

Sadly, though, the internet won’t be able to help me find out why my old address crept back into a new order form four years later. Oh well.

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10 thoughts on “Stuff you should be able to find out—but can’t

  1. I’m sorry you had such a difficult time with that address thing, Caron. It’s so annoying when those things happen. And you’re right; one does want to know why and how they happen. It reminds of a company I used to do freelance writing for occasionally. Their payments were also true-to-promise, but were always badly delayed. And no-one could ever tell me why. They had my address, we’d agreed on the fee, the whole thing. I would love to know how, in this modern age, it would take so long to do what ought to take a few key clicks.

    • Exactly, Margot! I once worked full-time for three months before the company paid me…because no one in HR could work out why I didn’t need a visa to work in Australia (I’m a New Zealander). I’d explain, and the person would seem to understand, then the pay wouldn’t go in, and I’d have to explain to another person. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just seek advice from Immigration—you can find this out online in a jiffy. Also, there must have been lots of other NZers working in this very big company. Weird.
      I have a theory called “They forgot to push the ‘save’ button”.

  2. I have a heartburn from reading this because similar things happen to me all the time. I just want to bang my head against the wall most of the time. Is it bureaucracy or stupidity, carelessness, laziness, lack of giving a damn???? I don’t know but it drives me crazy!

    • I was, believe me! But I was, amazingly, very polite, though I did write a restrained “this is really unacceptable” during one online chat. The chat service is actually quite good…if you want something ordinary done. But if there’s a mystery, it remains one.

  3. Possibly legacy data held by a previous iteration of their customer database, buried under countless upgrades since…still makes it no more acceptable…

    A few years ago when cheque books still existed, a large bank, possibly one with branches all over Australia and New Zealand sent us a new cheque book but sent it to an address that my partner had lived at a decade earlier – again for no apparent reason. We didn’t receive it so they cancelled this one and said they would send us another. They did, but it was actually the one sent to the legacy address, still cancelled and the cause of a number of dishonoured cheques for which said bank tried to charge us dishonour fees…discussion to resolve the issue were short and blunt! (Don’t have your charm or patience…)

    • How infuriating! But yes, I had thought they’d used the previous contract I had, and failed to check to see if my address had changed on their official site. I asked them if they’d done that, but they couldn’t tell me. Staff poorly trained and managed.
      About 10 years ago, there was a strange incident with another company: my former partner of a couple of years back had bought a new modem and the company somehow sent it to my address and charged me for it, even though my new address wasn’t and never had been listed with that company. They then sent me the bill and threatened me with diabolical consequences. Despite many phone calls and a three-way conference call between the company, my former partner, and me, the problem continued for months. Finally, it was sorted out, but not before I spent hours and hours of my time on something I hadn’t even ordered!

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