« Playlist: CoolTunes | Main | The Post of Business Past »

December 18, 2004



Jon, your post makes me realize how much an "ordinary" consumer with problems mirrors consumers on the healthcare end of the spectrum. The words pain, anxiety, isolation all render remarkably well for "cable trauma" as much as for a dislocated shoulder or cancer. Are they the same? Of course not. But they share a family of feeling--the question is: Why?

Well, you reap what you sow in a sense, but many are not equipped to cultivate and husband. We're told by Comcast, Cox, MSN etc that concectivity is vital. We enjoy the benfits. We believe. We buy in. We incorporate it into our lives. It becomes an extension of our senses.

Then, a node goes down, or a lump is felt. We are rudely awakened to our simple acceptance and reliance of the performance of a sense or system. We are perturbed, unmoored. But why isn't the Nurse or Doc or CSR also troubled? Can't they understand? Can't they feel my pain?

No. They see a fact, not a feeling. A glitch, not a gap. They have no benchmark to acclimate to or accomodate your pain, even though Pleasure or Joy, it's opposite, is the PRIME reason you have continued to buy the product or maintain your optimism. Some companies may try to give you your money back or offer a rebate. It leaves us cold and unfulfilled - the void remains. They have you as a customer for reasons they don't understand, via a product they deliver that is about far more than their balance sheet would infer. Again, what applies to Comcast applies to Kaiser Permanente. And, now, you ask them to fix things...

Just to stir things up more, a quote from Security Analyst Bruce Schneier:

when you think about failures, you always have to think about what you are not thinking about in that paradoxical way.  One of the things is rarity.  If a system almost never fails; then when it does fail, no one will believe it. 

We have all had the example of calling up a bank or utility company complaining about a bill and being told that “the computer never makes mistakes,” right?  Well, the computer does make mistakes.  It just makes them rare enough that no one knows what to do when the mistakes happen...
 Funny thing about complex systems. They fail in ways that are predictable in hindsight. But the people who operate in them are trained to look backwards or downwards while moving headlong into the future. Their future. Your future. Avoidable wreckage.

christopher grove

yet another case of bad CRM screwing up the brand, user experience, etc.
I've said something similar to that before here, I believe... It's just so hard to understand why companies persist with this type of customer relationship policy. I personally think that the replies you were given were HORRENDOUS.
One point I would make in reply to Fouro is not to forget that the problems are not always predictable to so-called specialists, because they're conditioned to use the products in a certain way ("the right way")... That isn't an excuse that companies should be allowed to use, rather a problem that too many companies don't identify. I don't know if there is a solution to that conditioning related analysis, but the day that one is found is the day that customer service will move forward a step. That said, it would be nice for companies to work on their other service problems while we're waiting for that solution...

Jon Strande

Mark, what a great comment - thank you!

I loved the line:

a product they deliver that is about far more than their balance sheet would infer

How very true, and something we've both written about on numerous occasions. It's not business, it's personal. Anytime people are involved, it's personal.

I recall a line from one of your posts that summed it up perfectly:

People. Purpose. Profits.

In that order.

Avoidable wreckage indeed.

Thank you again for the great comment!




I'm reminded of an old Chinese saying: "When you save a life, you become responsible for that life." The bond that companies dream of and pursue with their customers comes with a social compact. When we speak of Lifetime Customer Value we implicvitly sign on for that bargain in ethical terms. Understand, I'm not suggesting perfection in product or persona, just commitment and care. If you look at Nordstrom or other similarly motivated outfits, it's clear that efforts to achieve this state of rlationship and understand about the dynamism of "trade" and it's obligations are achieveable and profitable. Little things mean a lot and are often low overhead propositions. They are also easily incorporated into service and distribution systems. The reason they are left unheeded is usually because of a mindset gap between customer and system architects. The architects often win out because of their facility with numbers with the result being economically irrational approaches to marketing and service. That's a long-winded way of saying penny wise and pound foolish.

I'm with you, Christopher. My comment about people looking backwards or downwards as they move into the future was a feeble nod to your "conditioned to use the products in a certain way." I think Jon's written on Google's 80-20 worktime rule (take 1 day out of 5 to work on things that interest you or just to think.) Google management knows that in order to generate and foster problem solvers you have to let them find and solve problems--even if those problems aren't readily available 9-5, Monday thru Thursday. Otherwise, the skills your people refine are narrow, defensive and reactive....

Example: Verizon calls their CSRs "Customer Advocates." After 5 minutes with them on any finance/billing or interruption-related issue, it becomes very clear what their posture is: They are advocating for the company; the company remains faultless; you are to be held at bay. They are only following prescribed philosophical rules, framed in a business and service model. As noted above, they front a complex system capable of many moves, known and unknown. In systems-speak, the example of unknowns you give comes under the heading of "nonsequential" and "tightly coupled." Comcast is deeply ingrained in Jon's life. A failure "here" leads to multiple, rapid succession failures elsewhere as yet to be fully ascertained but quickly mounting. Now, the CSR may not know Jon's lifestyle, but he can infer--make an educated guess--merely based on the claims of Comcast's advertising: "We want to be an integral part of your life." Well, Jon took them up on it. Comcast know "owns" responsibility for Jon's "grid" going down. Now, you've got a customer gasping for "air," Comcast -- Whatcha gonna do about it?

As you can see, the challenge is not hard. Jon's not looking for immediate resolution, he's looking for empathy and a reasonable willingness to offer honest answers. Jon is looking for effort, guidance. Jon is looking for compassion. Jon is looking for feeling.

Instead, he got "fact" ("you're not the only one") and he feels no better for it and his relationship with Comcast is now an insecure one. They are selling a product they don't understand and, "For the want of a nail...."

Jon, hope that wasn't too presumptuous to use you as our guinea pig [grin] .Too right on the 3 Ps: sequence, sequence, sequence. Great topic!

Jon Strande

Chris, yeah, they need to fix "something" - I had a meeting this afternoon with a project manager, and while I was in her cubicle, I noticed the following quote on the wall:

The motive of business is profit. The mission is to meet customers needs

(Or something like that...)

If that is their motive, and I think it is, then getting to "feeling" as Fouro points out, is something that I won't hold my breath for. Ask 10 people what the "purpose" or "motive" of business is and at least 9 will tell you "profit" or "money".

Sad. But true. And we don't need to ask people to understand it because we "feel" it with every interaction with said company. They don't care about me, they care about the money in my wallet.

Fouro, yeah, great points and feel free to use me a guinea pig - just make sure to oil the wheel and supply me with loads of fresh lettuce...

Thank you both for the GREAT comments!


The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Change Congress

  • Change Congress
    Change Congress

January 2009

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31