Memo from the desk of Marshall Lager, April’s Chief Disservice Officer:
As the Powers That Be have ordained that this issue of CRM shall be completely dedicated to the concept of service—because of some awards we’re giving, I think—they have prevailed upon me to bring some of that to my column this month. April is also a month where we, at least for one day, celebrate pranks and contrariness. That opportunity’s hard for me to pass up, so there’s really no choice but for me to celebrate service through the lens of snark, and take a look at misguided service.
I don’t have to look far for inspiration. I recently got a delivery of wine (since writers are mostly fueled by alcohol), and the shippers had this supposedly helpful label on the box: “Do Not Deliver to an Intoxicated Person.” But that’s not helpful. Overnight parcel services aren’t a terribly efficient way to get blootered, so the added safety mechanism isn’t really necessary. Only my bartender has the right to cut me off if my eyeballs are floating. (I don’t want my delivery guy administering a Breathalyzer.) Besides, I ordered that package at least half a day earlier—if I was drunk then, I’m not anymore; the reinforcements are probably sorely needed. And if I’m already drunk, the new arrivals aren’t gonna do much additional damage. One more thing: That box is coming to my home or my office, and there’s no law against killing brain cells in either place. [Well, we do have a loosely administered policy… –Ed.]
Most shipping services are already far too picky about when and where they deliver packages. Why add another level of potential failure? I thought maybe it was because the drivers were also fueled by alcohol, but that isn’t something I want to consider. Besides, the label also says “No Driver or Shipper Release,” which I take to mean those guys can’t sign for my package. Terrific—they need a bold-lettered reminder not to commit fraud. Dishonest shippers would need to resort to (gasp!) actual forgery to get my bottles.
Look around, and there are plenty of places where customer service is well meaning yet badly flawed. Sometimes it simply goes too far. Last summer, a customer at Murky Coffee (real name) ordered “an espresso over ice”—and was rebuffed because Murky refused to insult its precious coffee in such a manner. I can’t print the interesting parts of that story, but a casual Web search will turn up all the groin-punching details for you. It’s still among my favorites.
Another example is the 300-page phone bill that AT&T sent out to the early-adopter subscribers of its Apple iPhone service plans. The company intended to provide clear and detailed information on the specific costs of the phone plan, and wound up deforesting a large chunk of South America in the process. (Or maybe just a midsize chunk—at least AT&T fixed the problem fairly quickly.)
Not to lean too heavily on wood metaphors (or wooden ones), but examples like these are similar to a cartoon character sawing off the wrong end of the tree branch he’s sitting on—whatever good you may be trying to accomplish, you’ve gotta know you’re gonna end up in pain.
Why does nobody ever consider the consequences of their actions? To quote some villainous monologuing by James Earl Jones: “People have no grasp of what they do”—and that’s just as true when you replace “people” with “businesses.”
Senior Editor Marshall Lager unfortunately can’t accept any bottles of wine sent to mlager@destinationCRM.com, but the emails come through nicely whether he’s drunk or not.
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