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Too Big to Wail

How Commerce Has Become Complaint-proof


"The customer is always right!" claims the 1940's shop owner who just hung his shingle in the doorway, eager to build a small business that serves his people and feeds his family.


WTF happened to that old chestnut, eh?


The flowchart is simple... corporations have dominated the market, shoved mom and pop aside, cozied up to communist baby-labor and produced cheap, often ineffective products (and services) funneling huge profits to the one or two cigar-chomping fat cats at the top.


This we know. And for some reason, we've come to just be okay with it, as long as our phones work and our Amazon packages are shipped free.


But it has long occurred to me that another, often unrecognized byproduct of this capitalist cocaine high is the damn near impenetrable wall companies have erected around their unaccountability.


They simply don't care if you're dissatisfied and make it damn near impossible for you to do anything about it.


Recently I contracted a designer on the popular website FIVERR to create a logo for a small side business I'm starting. The designer I chose had an impressive set of examples to show of her work. So when I sent her explicit instructions on exactly what I wanted, I was surprised to see a basic, unimaginative and thrown together design (two words and an oddly placed icon).


I thought, okay, she just needs some tweaking... look at her other designs after all! I tried again, sent her explicit instructions but again, same bad results, and still the silly icon had not been deleted. I tried a third time with even more instructions AND a design of my own to use as an example.


It was a holiday weekend so i was away from my computer and when I returned three days later, the project had been labeled "Complete" and the final design sent was basically an exact duplicate of my design.


But that's not the problem. The problem began when I asked for my money back (you have to pay in advance on Fiverr) and the 'customer service' team came back with a message essentially letting me know that because the project was complete, there was 'nothing they could do.'


Believe me, I had to fight to get my money back. They were unrelenting in their stance that the time had past to claim foul and I was out of luck. But I stuck with it and emerged victorious.


I'm sure you have your own story of this encounter. And for me, I've had similar teeth-nashing issues with Verizon, DirecTV, and any other giant conglomerate that exists at the top of a mountain somewhere where no one can scale and rush the gates.


And now, companies are beginning to tighten their return policies to make it even harder to get satisfaction on an order you placed from a distance.


And that's the setup... Intentional distance, plus unimaginable size and market share mixed with apathy. It's designed in a way that quite simply the CEO is never made aware of the problem... therefore it doesn't exist.


"Cool! Let's go skiing this weekend in Aspen!"


In my book, "Stop Waiting For Permission!" (Havenhurst, 2009), I lay out this exact scenario and give tips on what to do about it. "Don't take no for an answer!" I advise, "ask to speak to the manager!"


Good advice if you've got an hour to wait, and maybe get hung up on.




As Sweet Brown said as she ran from the fire... "Ain't nobody got time for that!"






And that's exactly what the system wants. You're overworked, underpaid, exhausted from political illness, unfairness, cruelty and greed. how can you possibly summon the strength to fight for fairness, understanding, support?


It's all too much.


Which naturally leads me to Artificial Intelligence. Does the use of AI help or hurt the cause when it comes to making customers happy?


Not too sure, because we haven't fully implemented it yet. So far, all we get is a bunch of robotic people.


Customer service reps are trained to have empathy - they apologize profusely for the inconvenience - which makes me even MORE mad, because they don't have any power to make a change, they don't really care, and they're just there to shield the company from the wrath of an angry customer.


They robotically read from a script with the sincerity of a toadstool: "I'm terribly sorry to hear of this and I do apologize for the inconvenience..."


Wait for it...


"...but there's nothing that can be done."


Then after it's all over they have the nerve to say "Thanks for being the best part of AT&T."


Now imagine a computer doing that. Suddenly you're feeling like you're a cog in a giant machine run by the Overlords. And you may be right.


Artificial Intelligence will be more patient, less accommodating and absolutely immune to your suffering in any way. This is one of the times I truly believe that AI will not enhance our experiences, but only serve to benefit the folks who pull the strings by creating even further distance between you and them.


The good news is, you - as the customer - still get to be right about your problem. The bad news is, it's getting increasingly likely that no one really cares.





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