David R. Henderson  

Business Accountability: Good and In-Between

The Mouse's Power: Popularity ... Shadow Banking: Probably Bigge...

I've had two experiences in the last few weeks in which one business was incredibly accountable and one business was reasonably accountable although its employee was so-so.

The good story first. I was traveling home from Miami to Monterey on November 4 and the first leg of the trip, on American Airlines, was from Miami to Los Angeles. We were scheduled to leave Miami at 8:25 a.m. When I got to the airport, I found out that my flight was about 40 minutes late. Had I known that, I could have left the hotel later and visited with my friend, Doug Bandow, in the cab on the way. American had my cell number, but it's possible that the airline didn't know in time to alert me.

No biggy. The time between my arrival at LAX and my flight to Monterey was 90 minutes.

But then when we got on, we found out that there was a balding tire on one of the landing wheels. They had to change that. Then they had to find a $10 clamp and that took a long time. The pilot was very apologetic and obviously frustrated. I had the sense that he thought we could have easily gone without changing the tire in the first place. Bottom line: we left the airport 2 hours after scheduled departure.

For me, this was still not a big deal. I had trouble working on the plane because the guy in front of me put his seat back. So I used the time at LAX waiting for my next connection to do my grading on my computer that I couldn't do on the airplane. Yes, it meant that I didn't have Sunday afternoon with my wife and that was a disappointment. But, hey, these things happen. If you think being late on an airplane is a big deal, then I recommend this routine by LouisCK. Every time I'm about to fume about an airplane being late, I remember it and then just laugh.

That same day, though, American Airlines deposited a 3,000 mile bonus in my American AAdvantage account to atone for their delay. Nice.

Now the in-between story. On Friday I took my cable receiver to Comcast because it had broken down. The friendly guy gave me a brand new one, although it took me reminding him to give me the new one rather than just to retrieve the old one. It also took my reminding him to give me a new remote in return for the old one. He didn't say a thing about what I had to do to get it working and so I just assumed that I would plug it in and turn it on. Wrong. When I did that, it didn't work. So I put off until today calling Comcast to see what to do. But this morning, when getting ready for work, I noticed that on the receipt he had given me, it told me how to get on-line to activate the box. Great! I did do and it worked. Then I noticed on the receipt that he had stamped a big red circle with the number "5" in the middle and it said that I would be getting a call from Comcast and that he would like me to rate him a 5. Well, in the old days before students did my evaluations on a computer, I handed them out and left the room while the students filled them out. Then a designated student collected them and took them to the administrative person without my seeing them. It never would have occurred to me to tell or even ask my students to rate me a 5. And clearly, this guy didn't earn a 5. Yes, I should have known to read the receipt. But if he wants to earn a 5, he needs to give really good service, which includes telling people that the form he hands them is not just a receipt but also a set of directions.

Why do I call this in-between rather than worse? Because I'm judging the company and Comcast had the sense to do a follow-up phone call after the fact.

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CATEGORIES: Business Economics

COMMENTS (7 to date)
Ken B writes:

I watched LouisCK clip on my paper-thin tablet wirelessly, for free. The pixillation was a bit rough; I was so annoyed!

Dano writes:

Well your experience with Comcast was better than my experience with Time Warner Cable. The person that took my call wasn't able to fix my problem, she had to write a ticket to escalate my problem. The person who called back said on the voicemail that she would be there until midnight but when I returned the call the automated response was to please call customer service during normal business hours.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Ken B,
I watched LouisCK clip on my paper-thin tablet wirelessly, for free. The pixillation was a bit rough; I was so annoyed!

Hadur writes:

I once lived in an area where Comcast more or less had a monopoly on high speed internet, and a few years later lived in an area where Comcast competed with two other providers.

My service experience was so much better in the second location: whether this is because of the different market or because Comcast had improved nationally with the passage of time I cannot say.

Tom West writes:

I think that "unlooked-for gift" when a company makes a minor mess-up is a powerful inducer to loyalty. Someone at AA had their thinking cap on.

On another note, I've developed a dislike for those "rate-our-employee" surveys since I've seen them often used as an exact metric for employee performance rather than the rough guide it actually provides, especially given people's vastly different metric for acceptable service.

I *especially* hate the surveys where "5 = The employee performed exceptional service beyond the call of duty", since I rarely need or want that service unless the rest of the company was being particularly dunderheaded. Then I get the callback asking what had they done wrong because I only rated the employee a 4... Finally the caller couldn't even understand the concept that I was actually rating based on the the descriptions provided in the survey. *sigh*.

Tracy W writes:

Tom West: I agree with you about these problems. I wonder how much companies lose through stupid customer service reps. I once contacted a company to point out that one of their stores had a filthy waiting room (you selected furniture from the showroom then they brought it out to the waiting room, in this case the waiting room had that general grime that comes from months of not-cleaning, with dirty fingerprints on the walls at kids' height, stains on the couches, etc).

The rep sent me an email back saying they'd passed on my query to a sales guy who would be in touch with me! It shouldn't take that much intelligence to figure out that someone who writes in complaining about dirt should instead be told that a janitor will shortly be in touch with the walls.

The other side is that I once did some contracting work for a credit card company that required that every employee, up to and including the CEO, spend so many hours a month in the call centre. One can think of various soft advantages to this, but until I heard the employees' chatting about their experiences I didn't realise one advantage was that they found out where the script for the permanent call centre employees was wrong about the company's own policies.

Ted Levy writes:

Here's a follow-up, something that just happened to me:

A few weeks back I bought a product on Amazon. I love shopping on Amazon. I purchase Amazon Prime to guarantee 2-day delivery (for "FREE!") on Amazon-initiated shipments. But with Amazon Marketplace, not every order purchasable on Amazon is shipped by Amazon. This last product I bought wasn't. It took almost two weeks to arrive. Frankly, had I thought about this carefully ahead of time, I'd have just purchased it locally.

OK. That's the set-up. Here's what happened. I get an email from Amazon asking me to rate the service by their Amazon Marketplace vendor. I click on the link to do so. I mention my unhappiness at the time it took to deliver. This is just one of hundreds of reviews of this product.

Within a day I get an email from the vendor indicating they've read my review and are sad to find I wasn't happy with their service, but reiterating they are not part of the Prime guarantee. I ignore this email. Now, a week later, I get a call from the company. They are concerned about my unchanged poor ranking of their company, and wanted to again clarify that not all Amazon purchases are covered by Amazon Prime's guarantee. I indicate I understand this, that I am not BLAMING them, that I am merely indicating to other potential purchases that it will take some time to get this product delivered, so they may wish to purchase locally instead. They then offer to refund my shipment charges (about 30% of the purchase price of the product) if I update my review indicating we had worked things out.


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