Are Companies Training Customers to be Jerks?

By | January 14, 2012

I had to phone to complain about a charge from my telecom solutions provider. I don’t know when they became a solutions provider instead of a telephone company.

Here is what happened, and why I think that a lot of companies are training their customers to be jerks. The bigger the jerk customers become, the better it is for them.

After getting through the first obvious lie on the inbound call that “Your call is important to us and it may be monitored for training and accuracy purposes,” I sat on hold. And hold. I got to listen to bad music that was designed to calm me down.

I am a customer and I start to think… “if the call was really important, there would be enough operators to handle it quickly.”

The mind wanders to the “monitored for training and accuracy.” I doubt if the recording is to train anyone. It is just so they can protect themselves on my call. They are starting to train me to be suspicious and distrustful. Hey, “paranoia strikes deep.”

When a live person comes on. “Hi, how can I help you?” – or worse – got this one a few times – “How can I exceed your expectations today?” – now there is a genuine, non-scripted response. Who doesn’t use language like that every day?

So off I go explaining what has caused the problem from my point of view.

There is a ready paradigm that in-bound service personnel follow for customer complaints that usually goes something like this:
1. I’m here to help you
2. Do you understand the company policies
3. Let me help you understand the policies
4. It is too bad, but there is nothing I can do to help you because that is company policy
5. Well, if you feel that strongly about it you can speak with my supervisor, let me put you on hold (background music and “your call is important”)
6. Supervisor goes through the same paradigm and then if you are really irate and obnoxious, they relent and allow your complaint, reverse a charge do something to compensate for your problem.

Customer as a Loser

Their paradigm works well for getting rid of frivolous complaints, and I guess there are abundant consumers who do make downright stupid complaints. Since it is such a hassle to get service and go through the telephone waiting they force you into, I only complain when I think I really have a problem. I can’t tell you how many times I have had my call dropped by this particular telecom company while waiting for service.

However, it occurred to me that this paradigm also serves to train customers to be more and more abrasive and aggressive, more and more paranoid, whether their complaint has any merit or not.

Maybe these businesses may feel that they are rebuffing the meaningless complaints so it is worth it. It might even save some money. I guess they calculate how many customers simply wilt under the telephone system and the assurances that they were not the only one being screwed versus the cost of really providing decent service or making good on a bad product.

The problem I see is that this approach to customer service is not just used by the in-bound call centres. Retail responses to complaints operate the same way. Ask for some small special treatment and half the time you get a sneer or a shocked look instead of a “yes, sir.”

Our professional experience is that the special treatment is what cements positive customer relations. No matter how small that treatment is.

Stimulus-Response Theory tells us that when reward is given for a particular action, the subject learns to respond to that action for the reward. If I give you a dollar every time I see you scratch your ear, you will start involuntarily scratching your ear every time you see me. So if you do me a favour once in a while, I will keep coming into your store. Even if the favour is just a smile and some recognition. The lady at our local pho restaurant always knows what I want and is happy to give me my pho without onions. I love it.

So back to my in-bound telephone complaint: that company was really training me to be more and more aggressive in complaining. Why? Because there is a positive reward for very aggressive and persistent complaining. There is no reward for the wimpy complaint.

Companies should realize that every single contact they have with you is a training point. How they deal with us will not only reflect on them, it will be part of our training for future interactions with that company.

In many cases they are training you to be confrontational. Until you get so pissed you change services.

In this tough economic environment, we customers are girded up to hear “NO.” If there is a smiling helpful face or voice to interact with, you are going to feel welcome and pleased to do business with them. Otherwise it is only a matter of time before you walk down the street to another option.

Unpleasant experiences are spoken about much more than positive ones. I can’t tell you how many people I told about my frustrating experience with this telecom and other mind boggling dumb policies I run into. A lot of companies are just training grumpy customers.

They shouldn’t be. In this economy, there are already enough assholes out there.

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