Sometimes the customer is wrong.

Up until a couple of hours ago, I respected Jeff Jarvis. I follow him on Twitter and read his buzzmachine.com posts. Like me, Jeff recognizes we all have the tools to be publishers. He’s a frequent critiic of those old dinosaurs in the print industry who fail to build value in their products but look for handouts to stay afloat.

Earlier this week, however, Jarvis started pumping out diatribes against his cable provider, Cablevision. I didn’t care, quite honestly, because I’m a Time Warner customer. I know little to nothing about Cablevision. Probably will never have to. Today, however, I became interested after hearing the story of therocco and ComcastBonnie…a disgruntled Comcast subscriber and the Comcast tech who tried to help him. I thought maybe I’d blog a bit about how badly therocco misinterpreted the situation (you can read therocco’s take at nerdofsteel.com) and decided to read up on Jarvis’s experience.

What I found was truly disheartening.

I’ll save you all the details (you can read them for yourself at buzzmachine.com). At first, I really felt for the guy. He says his Internet was out, and the cable company told him it would be three days before they’d get a tech to his house. Ouch, right?

So, Jarvis did what any reasonable person would do: mentions that he’s buddies with the head of the company (he is not). When the name-dropping doesn’t work (the Comcast employee called Jarvis’s bluff), Jarvis took to Twitter to bash Cablevision. And then he blogged about it.

Know what Jarvis did to everyone who stood up for the cable company? He checked their IP addresses. And berated them in his comments section. Because he’s Jeff Jarvis, and he can’t be wrong. Except he was wrong. Not only was he wrong, but he was lying.

In his blog, Jarvis states “they offer to send someone out … in three days.”

The ellipses hides a very important fact Jarvis left out: He was offered service the next day, and he turned it down (this according to a comment left by someone Jarvis identified as a Cablevision employee). They did not screw him by telling him to wait three days, as he led his readers to believe; the next day wasn’t good enough for Jeff Jarvis, who thought he was entitled to service NOW, dammit, because he has a blog!

So, when the powerful Jeff Jarvis turned down the next-day service, he was offered the next best thing: an appointment in three days.

Jarvis’s post is dishonest, and disrespectful to people who offered him help.

It also puts an enormous dent in Jarvis’s credibility when he lauds the truthfulness of online journalism; if the evangelists are liars, is the religion a sham?

Jeff, you owe your readers an apology. Anything less is demanding less of yourself than you do of your targets in the news industry.

The bigger point this leads to is the fallacy that the customer is always right. Because, sometimes, the customer is wrong. And sometimes (as in the cases of therocco and Mr. Jarvis) the customer is so hell-bent on getting things their way, that they completely lose sight of the idea that we should treat each other with at least a degree of respect. When that happens, you become a bad customer. And bad customers are bad for business.

Many companies keep lists of bad customers — people who call with unreasonable demands or become irate or insulting when things don’t go their way. And make no mistake: Those customers are treated differently. And not in a good way. That’s because they help destroy employee morale and take up valuable time and resources. They will mostly likely never be satisfied. In that case, it’s better to not do business with them at all.

I do believe companies should bend over backward to serve customers. But the fact that a person pays for a service — any service — does not entitle them to treat employees without dignity.

For more on this, check out this very well-done piece on why “The Customer is Always Right” is wrong.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis has a new, much more reasoned post on his blog, which you can find here. I give Jeff credit for listening, and for admitting there was more to the story.

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5 Responses to Sometimes the customer is wrong.

  1. Jeff Jarvis says:

    Dan,
    I’ve thought about what you said in my comments overnight and you’re right: I left out a salient fact in the offer of the all-day, next-day service scheduling.
    We still disagree about acceptable service from the cable company and acceptable treatment. I believe we need an SLA and the default cannot be three days. We’ve established we disagree there.
    But you’re right when you say that you deserved to know more to judge my stand. At the time, I thought it was an overload of information. I was wrong.
    I’m not going to go as far as you want me to in accepting Cablevision’s level of service. You’re also not going to think I’m a sweetheart. We disagree about that. But I took what you said to heart.
    jeff

    • asciidan says:

      Jeff,
      I really appreciate that you took the time to listen, and that you have the guts to admit your mistake. That is a testament to your character. In my mind, this conversation points out some of the dangers of instant publishing: One should never publish in anger.
      One more word of advice: You get more flies with honey.
      Godspeed,
      Dan.

  2. Not so fast Jeff. This latest incident is perfectly aligned with your history of blatant Web demagoguery. If Joe McCarthy were alive, he too surely would be similarly attacking Dell, the newspaper business, Cablevision, etc. He too tried to co-opt a 6 million strong pitchfork and torch bearing mob to exact political greenmail: http://tinyurl.com/dg9bmz

    It’s shameful.

    – Amanda

  3. Tony Loftis says:

    asciidan,

    I think the salient point is how few customer service people are authorized to do the right thing for their customers.

    Unfortunately, while you sometimes get more flies with honey, often the person on the phone is only a worker bee and can’t help you.

    I appreciate what Jeff did taking on Cablevision.

    My fear is that with newspapers eliminating reporters who cover customer service issues, there is no way for consumers to hold monopolistic cable companies accountable for bad service.

    One voice isn’t going to do it, unless that person has a big microphone like Jeff. The fact that so many people responded to Jeff’s orginal post shows how many people feel their complaints aren’t being resolved to their satisfaction and how frustrated they are that the terms of the relationships are being dictated to them.

    Where there is smoke, there is fire.

    Tony

    • asciidan says:

      Tony,
      Thank you for your insight. The only question I have is this: What, exactly, was Jeff “taking on?”

      He got home on a Sunday night to find his Internet wasn’t working. They did what they could to fix it over the phone, but it didn’t work. They told him they’d come down to fix it the next day. That CSR couldn’t have done any better than that. If you’ve ever worked in any similar industry, you’d know it’s near impossible to give someone the exact time you’ll show up. That’s really what Jeff was mad about.

      I agree that CSRs should have more leeway and a greater ability to help. In Jeff’s case, he was upset about being inconvenienced. Truth is, they didn’t break his Internet on purpose and they promised to get there as soon as they could — which would have been within 24 hours — and was, in fact, the very next morning. You can’t even get your new pair of shoes from Zappo’s that quickly.

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