• February 1, 2013
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Nonservice Versus Disservice

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I'm sorry to do this to you again, but this month we'll be continuing the discussion of customer experience when the provider has limited power to effect immediate change. The reason is that I just came out the other side of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy, and I'm also sorry for bringing that topic up when you all probably thought you'd heard the last of it.

Sandy (aka Superstorm Sandy, aka Frankenstorm, aka Enormous Pain in My Butt) tore up much of the northeast part of the United States to the tune of more than $22 billion in damage. [Ed. Note: That's only my house. The recovery costs for New York and New Jersey are actually expected to reach nearly $72 billion.] Despite warnings, despite the fact that meteorologists said we'd been way overdue for a major storm, and despite FEMA mobilizing resources well in advance, more than a million people were left without electricity, heat, phone service, or even food and shelter in many cases.

There are two stories to be told about this storm that are relevant to the CRM space. The first is about people; the second is about organizations. I'll bet you can guess which will be the happier one.

Without fail, every individual I dealt with or heard about from other storm victims during the storm's aftermath was wonderful. Whether on the phone or in person, each actual human was very helpful and understanding, even if there wasn't anything they could do to fix the situation. They all left me feeling grateful for their assistance—again, even if there wasn't anything they could do. Those were cases of nonservice, slightly more extreme examples of what I said last month about flight attendants and the like not having much control over a bad situation.

Almost without fail, every company or organization I dealt with or heard about others dealing with was useless or worse. The biggest problem was silence: Even when you could get through to your power company or phone provider, their automated systems did their utter best to prevent you from getting information, or even speaking to a living being. If you know your power isn't coming back on in the next two days (which it didn't, for most of us), you know you need to make other arrangements. When you know nothing, you also don't know what your next move should be.

I said useless or worse. There was enough of that to go around. Price gouging was rampant in the affected areas, at motels and the few fuel stations that were open. Yes, a person needed to decide to do those things, but it's amazing how your personality can change when you think you can hide behind the company you work for (even if you own it). How else can you charge $5,900 per month for a sixth-floor room in a fleabag motel with no heat, no electricity, and no elevator? This is disservice—failure to do a reasonable job for your customers due to apathy, incompetence, or malice.

Please note that the above doesn't apply to the agencies whose job it is to respond to emergencies. FEMA was here before anything had even happened, and any delay you want to lay at their feet can probably be laid at the feet of the states; FEMA can't do anything until and unless asked by the governor. Trust me on this one; my brother Bruce works for FEMA, and I've been hearing that agency's side of things for the past few weeks. Police and fire personnel were also on top of the situation.

The difference between nonservice and disservice is easy to see. The unserved will remember you tried, and will not hold failure against you when it comes time to deal with you again. The ill-served will remember you cheated them or were unresponsive, and will never give you their business again—and neither will their friends. Think about that when you make contingency plans. Is the money you save (or gouge) in the short term worth the potential backlash? The gratitude of a person who has just lost his entire house and all his possessions is a powerful thing—and so is his wrath.


Marshall Lager is the first responder of Third Idea Consulting, putting out customer experience fires and restoring power to SCRM relevancy. Get the 411 on his 911 capabilities at marshall@3rd-idea.com or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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