Does Tech Support Generate Jerks?

Speaking of jerks, by any other name (that’s a reference to the previous post and the thread here about Bob Sutton’s book and its title), hats off to Stanley Bing for his post Why Jerks Run the World, which sums things up pretty darn well. And doesn’t have a title that irritates spam filters.

The post starts with a tale of woe in a restaurant. You can follow the link for the details, but I’ll move on to the point at which Stanley, exasperated, leaves (because I want to relate this to tech support, not food services):

At that point I uttered a short observation of no particular import, put on my hat and coat, and left the establishment. I was, in fact, simply too angry to stand there anymore. So I went outside and stood in the cold. It was nice out there. We’re all equal under that big black sky.

About two minutes later, the door to the restaurant opened and Dworkin popped his head out. “They’re seating us now,” he said. I went in, said nothing to the maitre d’, and took off my coat. We were then hustled in to a very fine table, right next to General Pinochet’s. Perhaps it was not him. I heard he died. So maybe it was somebody else.

“What happened?” I asked Dworkin. “The maitre d’ was very upset,” he said. “He said, ‘Is there a problem with the gentleman?” and I said, ‘Yeah, he’s not used to waiting for anything.’ And he said ‘Oh’ and told me to go get you.” Our other pal showed up a few minutes later and we had a very lovely dinner.

What was clear to me was that 1) If I had not thrown a tantrum, we would not have have been seated until early March and 2) If I had not distinguished myself as an angry, over-sensitive, egotistical wheezebag, we would not have gotten such a good table, either. It was by demonstrating all the pushy, aggressive, ill-tempered and self-aggrandizing portions of my personality that I showed my qualification for proper treatment in that establishment.

And that’s why jerks run the world.

So that’s a restaurant story, but I relate it to tech support because I’m a software person.

Jake Weatherly saw it coming. Jake is in his early 30s now. He runs the Palo Alto Software sales and tech support and customer service teams as director of client services. He’s been with us for 12 years. He’s a truly gifted customer advocate.

Jake says the airlines train people (passengers) to be jerks. They give apologies and coupons and upgrades and free drinks to the loudest and most obnoxious people in the check-in counter line. They give attitude and abrasiveness to the more polite people in line. A generalization, perhaps, but you know what he means. You probably agree.

Jake tries to reverse the trend. Give the polite and reasonable people the the ‘most favored customer’ treatment, meaning that they get better service, not worse, than the rude and unreasonable people. That’s what he tells his team. But it’s the rude and unreasonable people who test the borders. And seek revenge.

Last week I looked at Web reviews for appliances. I discovered a pattern: three or four happy reviews and then a seething, raging rant. The positive reviews liked the product, talked about features and such. The negative reviews were made at people, not things — bad service, unfulfilled promises, and more bad service. Most of the time they wanted revenge. "Don’t buy this from these guys, their service sucks."

I’m guessing those rants aren’t always accurate. Anger changes the truth. Think of reviews as revenge.

I wonder whether Jake would have followed Stanley out to the street and brought him back. We’re on a long weekend right now, so I can’t ask him (and besides, that’s too easy). I’m guessing he’d say that his job is heading these confrontations off long before it gets to that point. Don’t square off against the customers.

Jake wouldn’t agree that jerks rule the world. But then Jake is an unusually patient man. And, from what I can tell, his attitude is rare.

And finally, speaking of titles, "jerk" gets the point across, right? And lets the spam filters go off somewhere else and do something useful?

2 thoughts on “Does Tech Support Generate Jerks?

  1. I suspect that it occurs across all customer facing branches of business not just in tech support. Management is so obsessed with making the numbers that hey forget to instill in their workers the importance of good customer service.

    I recently, at Fred Meyer saw a worker just about to finish stocking a freezer with beer and he had the only cart available. I asked him if I could have it when he was finished and he gave me a dirty look and told me in no uncertain terms that he was using it.

    Where is the spirit about helping the customer. In the same store, I picked up a case of the wrong beer because the stocked non-alcoholic beer in the wrong section. I noticed the mistake at the check out counter and has to return to the shelves by myself and then had to go to customer service to get a refund for the difference, There I was told by the customer service person in a very derisive tone that it was my error. I wasted 30 minutes to get 55 cents and insults.

    The store is within walking distance and I don't like to drive at these gas prices.

    So There

  2. I suspect that it occurs across all customer facing branches of business not just in tech support. Management is so obsessed with making the numbers that hey forget to instill in their workers the importance of good customer service.

    I recently, at Fred Meyer saw a worker just about to finish stocking a freezer with beer and he had the only cart available. I asked him if I could have it when he was finished and he gave me a dirty look and told me in no uncertain terms that he was using it.

    Where is the spirit about helping the customer. In the same store, I picked up a case of the wrong beer because the stocked non-alcoholic beer in the wrong section. I noticed the mistake at the check out counter and has to return to the shelves by myself and then had to go to customer service to get a refund for the difference, There I was told by the customer service person in a very derisive tone that it was my error. I wasted 30 minutes to get 55 cents and insults.

    The store is within walking distance and I don't like to drive at these gas prices.

    So There

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