Responsible Customers

Seth Godin writes today about customers and their responsibility, whether companies can (or should) blacklist customers, and consumers gaining power. I wish he’d written more, actually, but since he didn’t, I will.

Anyone who spends any time with the public knows that some people are going to take advantage of, or behave irresponsibly in, any situation. I think it’s the responsibility of the company to their other customers to control this behavior however they can. For example, if someone is talking on a cellphone in a theater (I can’t believe this happens, but it does), I think it’s the theater’s responsibility (not just their option, but their responsibility) to throw the offender out. Their responsibility is to the other people who have also paid for their seats (upwards of $110 on Broadway).


But then the company has to deal with some irate consumer with the power to post anything he wants on the internet. The person thrown out of the theater can post that the theater was rude, or that the play stunk. Or even that they got food poisoning from the drinks at intermission. And they probably won’t hurt the theater at all.

But abusive users do have the power to hurt smaller companies. A smaller company can easily be harmed by 1 or 2 negative reviews or comments, even if there are many more positive reviews elsewhere. Most people are far too busy – and there’s way too much content available – to keep looking for information once they find at least one answer.

We provide excellent service because we believe in it, not because we’re afraid of bad comments. But we’ll occasionally give someone a refund on a very old purchase, or a “replacement” of a product we know they didn’t pay for, just because we don’t want to deal with the possibility of a bad review online. Some people might call this protection for the consumer, but I think it’s much more like the kind of protection people get from organized crime (at least in the movies; I’ll admit I have no experience with it at all). It’s just paying someone to go away. Unfortunately, it’s reinforcing the bad behavior, which just means encouraging it.

5 thoughts on “Responsible Customers

  1. Kevin White

    I definitely agree that in a way, giving customers what they want is essentially ‘paying the problem away’.

    There’s a really gray line between, “making the customer happy” and “we can’t afford to make our customers angry.” For example, I’m planning a Walt Disney World vacation and it’s common knowledge that there are discounts available for the Disney Resorts that aren’t made available unless you ask for them. That’s ‘paying the problem away’. That’s the same as Starbucks offering a Small size if you ask for it but not writing it on the board. It makes the customer happy if they ask, but it doesn’t really benefit the customer who doesn’t ask for it. It doesn’t necessarily hurt the non-asking customer either.

    I’ve never worked in retail sales, but my roommate does and my mother is a retail pharmacist. Both of them face an endless stream of irate customers, people who aren’t just mad but who seem to be using their anger as a tool to get what they want out of a transaction. [Here at Ilium, very luckily, we seem to get a low number of angry people who stay angry.]

    I’ve read ‘tips for dealing with customer service’ on the internet, that boil down to, “threaten the rep with your lack of purchase.” “Oh, you won’t do what I want? I’m going somewhere else.” “Company X does Y, why don’t you do Y too?” The worst is probably, “if you don’t do what I say, I’ll make my credit card company charge back my purchase.” Chargebacks cost the seller money, and often the problem can be fixed with a simple refund. The chargeback is used as leverage.

    This creates a really bad precedent. My roommate has endless stories of people who come in to OfficeMAX and end up talking to the supervisor, or submitting a ‘report’ to corporate HQ about something that happened. The customer is usually not right 99.99999999% of the time when it comes to company policies like refunds, rain checks, sales combinations (discount + employee discount + multiple coupons) but no sales or service rep is allowed to say, “Sir, you are a big walking piece of BS, and it would be beneficial to both of us if you simply changed your standards or left.” The precedent is, “you can say whatever you want to me, and at the least I won’t yell back or tell you off, and at the most I’ll do what you want.”

    Customers are where your money comes from as a company, but should sales reps allow customers to walk all over them just to avoid the publicity of, “I was at [store] and the sales person told me to come back after calming down! They’re terrible! Never go there!”

    I wonder if paying a customer’s problem away will really stifle a bad report. Some people are intentionally angry and are never satisfied.

  2. Rabbit

    Some people are intentionally angry and are never satisfied. Bingo. I think you nailed it with that one.

    And given that, I’d say it’s in the company/employee’s best interest to, politely, inform said person that they are no longer your customer.

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  5. Daniel

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article Responsible Customers, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

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