Saturday, January 10, 2009

Remember the Golden Rule

I recently had the opportunity to hear Pete Blackshaw, author of the great book: Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000. Pete believes that, “thanks to consumer-generated media, even a single disgruntled customer can broadcast his complaints to an audience of millions”.

He also claims that companies with great products and services are losing customers because of poor customer service. I immediately thought of some Canadian organizations which offer high-quality products but have abysmal customer service. In other words, everything is fine until you call the 1-800 line. In one protracted call, the company can destroy all the goodwill it has amassed. Before you know it, you’re part of a community of irate customers swapping nightmarish anecdotes.

Among the more exasperating features of faulty customer service is the repetitive script you’re subjected to while on hold. The last time I found myself praying for Muzak, I whiled away the minutes by jotting down my impression of the real meaning behind these words.

Script: Thank you for calling. We are currently experiencing a larger than normal volume of calls.
Real meaning: Our call volume is the same as it always is but, because we don’t care about your time, we refuse to hire any more operators.

Script: Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line and someone will be with you shortly.
Real meaning: We know that your (enter deficient product here) is broken and you are so desperate to get it fixed you are willing to wait on the line for an hour.

Script: To help us serve you better, please tell us your account number, phone number, home address, etc.
Real meaning: We’re just keeping you occupied so you don’t realize how much time has passed. When we get you on the line we will drive you nuts by asking for this information again.

Script: While you’re waiting, why not visit our website where you’ll find answers to many of your questions in our FAQ page.
Real meaning: Even though you will most definitely not find what you’re looking for on our website, it is our hope that you’ll be too busy to call back today.

Customer service managers would do well to remember the golden rule of etiquette—treat others as you would like to be treated—when they are developing their consumer interface. If they did, they might not be tempted to use these terrible euphemisms for just plain bad service.


  1. You and I both know who/what company is the biggest offender of that.

    Those are brilliant interpretations of those recordings. I always assume the agent/operator has my information in front of them because I have just entered it, but then he/she wants to "confirm" those details by asking for it again.

    If only those companies cared enough to fix these problems.

  2. I believe the telephone reps probably bear the brunt of customers' anger which is unfortunate because they neither make the rules nor have any ability to change them

  3. I love your translations! I hear you on the one that asks for all your info only to have the live operator ask all the same danged questions over again. I usually bite my tongue -- nearly literally -- to prevent a snarky remark because I do know it's not the operator's fault. One day, though, I'm going to snap! Sheesh.


  4. So I'm not the only one who has experienced this. Alas, I haven't your constitution and I am embarrased to say I have snapped on more than one occasion. However, I usually try to eat my words and mumble an apology before I get off the phone...