28 Apr 2016 | Archive

Cowboy (Customer) Service

My first memorable experience in customer services was when, as an 18 year old, I started a new job in Zurich as a hotel receptionist.

zrhdt_2On my first morning a client swept into the lobby, threw his bags towards the porter and marched towards me. He stood to attention at the desk and demanded his key. At this moment four problems flashed through my mind;

  1. Check-in can never usually occur before 2 or possibly 1 o’clock and I knew that no rooms were ready.
  2. The hotel had a deliberate overbooking policy and chances were that this man was destined to be a kick-out.
  3. As a trainee in the deep-end I was powerless.
  4. The man was a rude, moody and clearly had had a few problems before finding himself in front of me.

In short, the situation was a mess, my reception manager, a certain F*** Kaufmann  eventually waded in, exchanged insults with the client and then ‘found’ a room that just happened to be 40% more expensive than anticipated. After all, he frequently reminded me that increasing hotel profits was his key aim and if it meant a bit of ‘banter’ on the way, it was all part of the process.

 This kind of situation has dogged me for the last 40 years. I have always been in a customer facing role and no matter how much due diligence or how many prayers, the risk of conflict in whatever seller/buyer scenario I have been in has never vanished.

There are two cycles at play that have a nasty habit of intersecting;

Supplier Error Cycle (SEC)

  1. Somebody makes an error or takes a deliberate risk
  2. The next person down the line is either unaware of step 1, or is unable to do anything about it
  3. The error comes to the fore and compounds
  4. Blame ensues
  5. Compensation is demanded (financial, a ‘pound of flesh’ apology or the chance to gloat)
  6. Trust is gone

Client Over-demand cycle (aka ‘Don’t you know who I am ?”)

  1. Client awakes / travels / always is  in a bad mood. This can be for many reasons (problems at home, problems at work, life is miserable etc)
  2. The next persons down the unfolding line of the client’s day are either unaware of step 1, or are unable to do anything about it.
  3. Hers / his  good manners / judgement / civility retreat to the rear, a red mist compounds
  4. Blame ensues
  5. Compensation is demanded
  6. Trust is gone.

These unpleasant cycles were high on my mind when I decided to escape the world of commerce and venture into Learning & Development and I looked forward to operating in the fuzzier, cuddlier worlds of education, coaching and training. How naive was I?


It soon became clear that in any situation, there’s always somebody who tries to take advantage of a perceived error by the seller. The so-called compensation culture is now so well developed that even when your car has been pranged and you tell the insurers you have no whiplash, your knees, back and spirit are intact and you do not want to hear from any ‘approved’ third parties that phone calls flood in from the Sub-Continent, North Wales and somewhere near Telford (for readers that don’t know the UK, it’s a series of [albeit pleasant] roundabouts and not much else) all offering the chance to turn your misfortune into money.

It’s all set up to help what a builder friend of mine termed ‘Cowboy Clients’. Customers who enter a transaction with every intent of pouncing on and embellishing anything that goes wrong purely to get something back.

The concept of Gold Diggers is no longer new and sooner or later somebody clever had to come up with a way of turning things around and that somebody was the IT industry.

Since my life was first cursed/blessed with a mini computer in 1982, I like so many millions of others have become used to the fact that IT, just ‘goes wrong’. You know all the jokes about turning the unit off and then on again or about deliberately ignoring so-called upgrades that assault your hardware. We have all become softened, conditioned and dare I say; programmed to accept that we have consumer rights everywhere except when it comes to computer related activity.

As we entered the Apple Store in Greenwich Village I had a feeling of having arrived. I had an appointment to see a ‘genius’ in the trendiest store of the trendiest town. Clutching my faulty two versions old iPhone I was momentarily ‘in with the in crowd’. I was suckered in,  brainwash ready  and a happy recipient of the hip verbal, finger shifting services of a young bearded (obviously) male who made my phone all new again. I was so delighted with the white shiny feeling of just being there that I just had to buy a souvenir and willingly paid $35 for a phone cover I didn’t even need.

The Apple answer to poor production standards,  lack of robustness and inherent obsolescence is to make all these things trendy. Their genius method of dealing with anger and frustration is to welcome punters -by appointment only – to the Hilton deck of the  Discovery One shuttle (2001 A Space Odyssey)  and make us feel lucky for being in the loser’s club. 2001spaceodyssey1


This is brilliant. Whereas my old manager would play a solo version of bad cop /good cop with angry clients (‘sorry no room – oh, here’s a nice room’) Apple has pioneered a way of making this constabulary experience profitable. They play on our emotions and use the good cop to persuade us to beg to sign-up to the bad cop world of moulding techno fruit. 201651-apple-worm2_original