John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Customer Relations

The calculus of bad customer relations.

Company A estimates if they make it maddeningly difficult to get through to a customer service representative and have a nearly incomprehensible policy for refunds when a failure occurs … it will take approximately 3 hours of waiting and wading through annoying delays, hold times, and numerous representatives saying, “I understand your situation, John, and if it were up to me I would refund your money, but it is out of my hands and the rules require me to…..” —-Company A estimates that after 3 hours a rational customer will give up. And they are correct.

Giving up is a “rational decision” because 3 hours of anyone’s time is worth a lot to them. Probably more than the money in question, even if it is a several hundred dollars. Just do the math. Would you let someone have 3 hours of your life if it required you getting increasingly frustrated in return for the “chance” of getting $200? Probably not.

Plus, to persist for longer than 3 hours with multiple different customer service representatives trained to say “no” 258 ways in the same language as they wear you down to demoralizing defeat requires one to be, well, a certifiable ass. A jerk. And that’s very hard –in fact, almost impossible– for some people.

But we never get too old that we can’t occasionally surprise ourselves.
And sometimes that can include surprising ourselves in unusual ways. Like the fact that despite repeated past failures at successfully being an ass, finding out that deep-down inside us there is an “inner ass” just waiting to come out.

And further surprising ourselves that sometimes, in a few select and rare situations, making an irrational decision about our time and money is actually the right thing to do. And feels better than the “rational decision” of giving up.

And no, it’s not the “principle of the matter.”

It’s the value of reminding ourselves–and others on remote calls with customer service operators from parts unknown–that we can if we really, really, really want to— still stand up for ourselves. And sometimes that we will, despite logic to the contrary, do just that.


jyb_musingsBusiness 101 lessons aren’t typically fun to be reminded of or interesting to re-learn and rarely ever are profound. They do, however, tend to be essential to business success.

Like this fairly uncomplicated rule of thumb.

Nothing in business relationships is more upsetting and disappointing than poor customer service.

Nothing in business relationships is more appreciated and valuable than good customer service.

No product or service is easier or cheaper to provide than good customer service. (The only requirement is the organization treat customer satisfaction as the top priority)

No product or service is more costly to skimp on or more difficult to remedy than poor customer service. (The only requirement is the organization not value customer satisfaction)

I suspect that no business miscalculation has caused more organizations to fail than skimping on giving time and priority to customer satisfaction.

The “soft stuff” truly is “the hard stuff.” And at the core of every business relationship isn’t an inanimate piece of technology or clever algorithm or new system or decision tool. But rather a human being who is free to take his or her business elsewhere at anytime for any reason. And will.


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