A Hammer, Bad Service, and a Nail

Posted: August 30, 2013 in Business Processes
Tags: , , , ,

Hammer and NailI’m currently reading the 10th anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto. The first edition came out in 2000, so even this edition is a few years old. For those unfamiliar, it is a classic book that had its genesis in 95 theses posted in 1999 at http://www.cluetrain.com – a site largely kept as it was then so current readers can have much the same experience and appreciate the beginnings of something remarkable.

The basic premise of the theses and the resulting book is that markets are conversations and if businesses want to remain viable, they will have to get a clue to the impact of the Internet on how those conversations are affecting markets. I’ll write a book review soon and will say much more about it then. For now, I would suggest anyone interested check out the website where you can read the original book for free. You should at least read the 95 theses posted on the home page. The fact that they were written in 1999 may blow your mind. Talk about insightful and ahead of their time! I read them for the first time a few years ago and I am still deeply impressed by them.

That said, the purpose of this post is to relate one story from the book about customer service. All of us are customers of many sellers. We’ve had good and bad customer service experiences. We share those experiences with others and today have incredible potential reach via online social networks to magnify those praises or rants far beyond the walls of our homes.

Enter normally mild-mannered grandmother Mona Shaw. We read about her in the book’s section “Markets are Relationships”:

In August 2007, Mona Shaw took a hammer to her local Comcast office. Literally. First, BAM! She blasted the customer service rep’s keyboard. Then BOOM! She took out a monitor. Then POW! She destroyed a phone. People screamed and ran. When the cops showed up, WHACK! She hammered the phone, one more time. Up to this point, there was nothing exceptional about Mrs. Shaw. She was a retired nurse. A grandmother. She took in stray dogs. She went to church every Sunday, and was the secretary for both her local AARP and a square dance club. What made her snap was something even less exceptional: awful customer service.”

I think I’m in love with Mona Shaw! Who among us hasn’t wanted to do something similar after an infuriating experience of bad customer service?

The chapter goes on to explain the details of what transpired over several days to put Mona past her breaking point. I won’t go into all of those details here, but suffice it to say that numerous things happened, including:

  • service people showing up days late;
  • service people not finishing the job correctly when they did show up;
  • having their phone number of 34 years changed without their knowledge or permission;
  • getting lost in a maze of bad call center phone systems;
  • having services shut off;
  • having to wait outside the Comcast office in August heat in hopes of speaking with a manager, only to be told hours later that the manager had left for the weekend.

The following Monday is when Mona returned with her hammer and sought her revenge.

I’m not advocating violence in response to bad customer service, but I can understand the emotion that leads one to at least think about it. If we have paid our hard-earned money to a company for a product or service, we expect reasonable action if there is an issue with that product or service. We expect a timely response. We expect people to do what they say they will do. We expect things that are wrong to be made right. We expect to be treated with respect and courtesy. We may not necessarily expect to be on the receiving end of the attitude that “the customer is always right,” but we at least expect to be on the receiving end of a genuine effort to help by someone who cares.

This same section of the book begins with a quote from one of the authors, Doc Searls: “When all you’ve got is a hammer, bad service looks like a nail.”

I hear regularly about exceptional customer service experiences with companies like Zappos and Fitbit and maybe a few others. I hear way too often even more stories of bad customer service. I can’t speak for any company – not even my own – regarding matters of customer service because that is not a business area I have ever been assigned to except in a minimal way as it might relate to another role I have.  Therefore, I won’t presume to pontificate about what all other companies ought to do in every customer service circumstance. Those involved know details I do not.

Still, I know that as a customer I have the option of going elsewhere for most types of products and services. If I am disgusted enough with companies I current relate to, or if I am pulled away by better promises and agreements by competitors, I will likely make the move and not look back. I may go quietly, or I may not in this day of social media amplification of an individual’s message.

I don’t expect to grab a hammer and start bashing keyboards, phones and monitors of those who tick me off, but I will take my money and my loyalty elsewhere if needed customer service sucks. I wish more businesses understood that. I wish more businesses cared.

Do you have a story of exceptionally good or bad customer service you’d be willing to share? I’d love to hear it in your comment.

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