Why I yelled 'cunt' at my cable company's automated answering system or HUMAN problems require HUMAN solutions.

Submitted by Dmitri Davydov on Mon, 2007-03-05 10:20.
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Last night, after working diligently all day, I took a break and settled into the couch with my honey (and my dogs) to watch a pay-per-view movie. You know — kick back and dumb down. One of modern life’s little pleasures.

But no… the cable TV service did a “HAL” on me, and refused to cooperate. I got an indecipherable error message when I tried to give them money for a movie.

So, I called the only number listed for the cable company. I’ll spare you most of the details, because I’m sure you’ve experienced similar intellectual insults… but I was put through twenty minutes of automated Hell, forced to jump through hoops and recite information and answer truly stupid questions… by a sweet-voiced ROBOT.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear your selection. Could you please repeat your answer? Here are your choices again…”

Now, I’m a level-headed guy, most of the time. All I wanted was my friggin’ movie. The popcorn was getting cold, the dogs had wandered off, and I quickly began to resent this… ROBOT… that assumed I was one of the stupidest humans on the planet.

She (it was woman’s voice) very politely informed me that, in “her” experience, the solution was one of the following twelve choices… and she, in her wisdom and patience, was going to stay with me while we worked together to solve this pecadillo.

First choice: “Is your television set turned on? Say yes… or no, please.”

You know, companies that use robot answering systems experimented with software a few years ago that recognized when people started using “bad” words… and you would get a dial tone the instant you swore, kicked off for having a potty mouth.

The cable company must not have implemented that software, however, cuz by the third choice in the robot menu, I was calling her every evil name I could think of. (I even used the dreaded “C” word. Shame on me. It was anthropomorphism gone ape-shit.)

A half hour later, I’d rebooted the entire system twice, recited every piece of privileged info I have four times, and performed technological stunts that defied logic.

And STILL got the damn error code.

Next step: The robot connected me with “Steve”… in Bombay. “Steve”, who had clearly never set foot on American soil, apologized profusely for everything, and asked me for ALL the info I’d given the robot multiple times just minutes before.

Then… he asked me if the TV was on. So we could reboot the system.

At that point, my mind cleared a bit. I had the sense to ask what the friggin’ error code meant… and “Steve” seemed reluctant to tell me.

Weak signal, he finally mumbled.

So… rebooting was essentially useless, wasn’t it?

Well… yes.

Then why had I been subjected to all this futile rigamarole?

Oh, very sorry about everything, sir. You’ll probably have to ask to have a technician come over to look at your system. And no, I can’t arrange that for you.

I did NOT call “Steve” any names. He’s just doing his job, right?

Before hanging up, in fact, he asked me if I wanted to review my account… because there were exciting NEW options available from my wonderful cable company to make me happy, happy, happy.

Stunned at the stupidity of asking me for more money while clearly not delivering on what I’d already paid for, I hung up on “Steve”. Let him suck some dial tone.

No movie, no appointment set up to fix things, and a ruined evening (which could have been salvaged had the robot told me that the error code meant no solution would be forthcoming… in the time I spent on the phone jumping through her hoops, I could have drove over to Blockbuster and rented the flick, come back and enjoyed my popcorn).

And the entire nasty experience was topped with a chirpy request for more money, please, thank you very much.

This is what happens when the friggin’ government confuses the free market with monopolies. There’s only one cable company in town. I’ll have to get a dish if I want the service I’ve paid for.

Mind you, the fiber-optic cable laid in the street was financed with my tax money. Paid for by me, but owned by the cable monster.

It’s enough to turn a guy into a frothing socialist.

Okay, I’m done complaining.

Here’s the marketing lesson: I’ve run my biz as a two-person shop for years. This means that, occasionally, things slipped through cracks, and customers rightly got frustrated and angry.

But here’s the kicker: Whenever that happened, we promptly took CARE of the problem as soon as it came to our attention. We never outsourced customer management… because the first rule of Operation MoneySuck is to pay attention to where the money’s coming from.

Duh.

The cable companies — and every other monopoly joint in the culture — TALK a good game of customer relations… but it’s ALL talk.

I can easily imagine the meeting where they planned out the flowchart their robot would use with complaining customers. They must have been laughing their asses off, coming up with new tortures to inflict (like asking if your TV was “on”).

It’s plausible, and you know I’m right. That meeting really could have been a laugh-parade of evil-minded employees… because none of them CARED about the customer. They would collect their paycheck regardless.

They were, in fact, as removed from Operation MoneySuck as a person could be.

As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you cannot allow this mindset of “screw ‘em, we already got their money” to infect your operations.

I’ve consulted with small biz who wanted to buy an automated answering system… and the reason was always the same: It was a HASSLE dealing with unhappy customers personally.

Well, too bad, I told them.

I don’t believe the customer is “always right”, because there ARE plenty of insane assholes out there.

But until you can VERIFY that any complainer IS insane or an asshole… you must assume he’s a good guy who got screwed in your system.

And what he wants is nothing elaborate. I have been close to every customer we’ve had for five years now, and I hear Diane dealing with them in the next office every day.

No matter how mad they are to start with… it’s EASY to end their frustration, which is usually the source of the anger. We’ll either fix the problem asap, or refund them, or do whatever else is required to be fair.

It’s not brain surgery.

The LAST thing you want to do with an angry customer… is to pitch them for more money. That’s just stupid… and makes me think your entire organization is stupid.

For me, that means going to a dish. The cable company will care not a whit that I’ve left, because they believe their monopoly is solid. But multiply me by a thousand, or ten thousand, and you’ve got a problem. Even worse, how could the cable company know that I’m not wired into the city council… where their tidy little monopoly is vulnerable?

Treating customers well is the first casualty of growing too big, and getting to comfy. (For a more grisly example, check out the way the Walter Reed Hospital story played out — thinking they were immune, the idiots running the joint refused to fix problems when it would have been easy… and one day they woke up being the face of a national scandal.)

Human problems require human solutions. The company that realizes this will thrive, with or without a monopoly. Slogans and robots do not replace human connections.

HAL — the misunderstood computer in the movie “2001″ — eventually got his ass handed to him, and audiences cheered.

Because it’s no fun swearing at a robot that cannot be insulted.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton, http://www.marketingrebelrant.com/

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