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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Customer Service

Benoît Duteurtre

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To purchase Customer Service

Title: Customer Service
Author: Benoît Duteurtre
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 74 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Customer Service - US
Customer Service - UK
Customer Service - Canada
Service Clientèle - Canada
Service Clientèle - France
  • French title: Service Clientèle
  • Translated by Bruce Benderson

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Our Assessment:

C+ : slim little satire that never really comes together

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Customer Service is a satire that tackles the very easy and soft target of how consumers increasingly find themselves at sea in an age of technological advances meant to simplify life yet actually further alienating us from personal contact, a fully automated world that theoretically sounds so simple and yet so often winds up being frustrating. The outline of this trifle is amusing enough: the narrator is a middle-aged man whose parents get him a 'smartphone', and after he loses it in a taxi he quickly descends into the abyss that is contemporary customer service, a seemingly endless loop of pre-recorded messages that lead him nowhere and literally lock him out of many of his basic daily needs.
       Though he is on the company's 'preferred customer' plan, he finds it ridiculously difficult to switch his plans to a new phone; soon enough he has difficulties logging into his internet account, trying to use his bank card, and even getting into his home, where gaining access now means entering a PIN code, rather than simply using a key.
       There is one monstrous conglomerate behind all this, pressuring him into signing up for yet a better deal which he has no need for. Eventually, his unwillingness to back down leads to some results -- or at least a human who, though she offers few answers, at least seems to take an interest in him. Where this leads is rather odd, even for a satire, and from an American perspective odder still -- as are many aspects of his problems and how he deals with them in the first place, including the possibility of going to the offices of the offending company and asking to speak with a customer representative. (In the US you are, of course, lucky to reach a telephone-bank in India if you're looking for help, and customer services will officially, at best, be located in some out of the way town in some out of the way state that no one would ever think of visiting.)
       Duteurtre writes well and easily enough, and there are some decent touches here, but it's spun out fairly implausibly even for satire, which blunts the edge of it. Too bad, because the basic premise, and that frustration of not being able to get help for the simplest of problems -- a password or PIN number that isn't working -- certainly lends itself to satire. The company's ideal -- "to eliminate personnel totally and to perfect a system in which the customers did everything themselves from a computer terminal" -- also has considerable potential, but also isn't explored nearly fully enough.
       With some odd choices as to how it unfolds, its brevity, and its French peculiarities (i.e. American consumers would see some of these things very differently), Customer Service winds up being rather disappointing.

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Customer Service: Reviews: Benoît Duteurtre: Other books by Benoît Duteurtre under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Benoît Duteurtre was born in 1960.

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© 2008 the complete review

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