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Customer Service Vigilantes

A swell of distrust toward corporate America, exacerbated by off-shoring of U.S. jobs – followed by lay-offs of thousands of employees, incredibly high executive salaries and higher than ever profits by certain industries. In the annals of customer service, we may be experiencing more consumer vigilantism than ever before. Frustrated by the usual Asian-accented call center customer service rep, customers are sending "email bombs" to corporate executives or going straight to the top after uncovering direct numbers to executive teams not easily found by mere mortals.

A swell of distrust toward corporate America, exacerbated by
off-shoring of U.S. jobs – followed by lay-offs of thousands of
employees, incredibly high executive salaries and higher than ever
profits by certain industries. In the annals of customer service, we
may be experiencing more consumer vigilantism than ever before.
Frustrated by the usual Asian-accented call center customer service
rep, customers are sending “email bombs” to corporate executives or
going straight to the top after uncovering direct numbers to executive
teams not easily found by mere mortals. For some people, the experience
of bad customer service cuts so deeply that it transforms them from
merely upset customers into an activist no longer just looking for a
refund, but out for revenge.

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In 2006, one such customer of the
company – Cingular (now AT&T) believed that his computer speakers
were ruined after a technical glitch. Frustrated at the company’s lack
of response to his complaints, he created a video as a grad-school
project. In his video, he created an animated angry bandit in the shape
of Cingular’s orange trademark, complete with an AT&T
blue-and-white pirate’s bandanna and an eye patch shaped like Apple’s
logo. His video, “Feeling Cingular” has been viewed nearly 40,000 times
on YouTube.

Behind such extreme tactics is a growing disconnect
between company promises and customer perceptions of what they both
think was expected from the initial product or service transaction.
Technology is aiding the uprising, empowering consumers to blanket the
Internet with negative comments about well-known products or companies.
And lately, evaporating home equity, job insecurity, and rising prices
are more apt to make the average consumer snap by submitting YouTube
videos like the Cingular one mentioned that shout “YOUR COMPANY SUCKS!”
to a cyber-savvy audience, with extraordinary impact.

Corporations
have responded with what is called “executive customer service”. These
“Valhallas of customer service” as Ben Popken, editor of The Consumerist,
had called them, are powerful support reps who may sit at corporate
headquarters. Customer complaints that come to executives threatening
legal or P.R. action are handled by these specialists. These highly
empowered customer service experts are kept under wraps so the average
consumer would find it extremely difficult to contact them, or even
know they exist. But they do exist at companies like Washington Mutual,
Circuit City and US Airways according to Business Week Magazine.

One
high-profile customer got everything he demanded and more after finally
monopolizing the ear of an executive customer service person at US
Airways. He told Business Week
that “The customer service person agreed when I said, you guys as a
company, regardless of who you are, exist because of me and my fellow
paying passengers.” I think this is what I have been saying to
corporate execs since the day I created this blog. The customer is not
always right, (unlike the motto of some businesses) however, they are always the customer!

DJC

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