Archive for January, 2005

Truth vs. Comfort for the Business Leader

In their latest book, Confronting Reality,
Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan explore the business discipline of seeing
reality – the essential truth of a situation – when the news is bad.

In the opening, they tell of managers of a US Midwest-based
business who are moving the facts about in various combinations to
reveal everything but the essential truth – that the operation must
relocate to China, and soon, to remain competitive.

Where do you stand on seeking the truth about your business –
especially when reality bites? Do you want to know reality regardless
of your personal stake or comfort, short-term? Or do you want to know
reality only to the extent that you feel comfortable to deal with it?

Once you see reality, do you take decisive action for the future
good of your organization and its stakeholders, or do you find ways to
put off the inevitable because, again, it is safer or more comfortable
right now?

We don’t have a pat answer or a quick cure for business leaders
facing such moments of truth. In the choice between seeking reality and
seeking comfort, you are really examining your values – that which you
act on even when it is easier to do nothing.

Business leaders who value truth seek reality about where they are!
The REAL SITUATION! AND they know their goal and outcomes! This level
of clarity inspires support from colleagues and employees, recruiting a
team for the hard work ahead.

Keep it real.

Saturday, January 22nd, 2005 Business Insights, Main Page Comments Off on Truth vs. Comfort for the Business Leader

Customer Service in the Afterlife

Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that while grieving can be filled with sadness, it can also have blessed moments of silliness and irony that help us cope with the details of putting the deceased’s estate in order despite our grief.

The company in this true story, like so many others, had attempted to cut customer service costs by hiring cheap labor and keeping them working at capacity while keeping quality high and retaining customers through automation. But something went wrong for us…

Days after my father died, my 80-year-old mom and I were trying to cancel his paid Internet fax service. The company, which we shall call “iFaxForAFee”, provided no customer service phone number, so I helped her use the instant text message feature on the company’s website.

Here is the essence of the instant message session. As you read along, keep in mind that most of the rep’s responses were actually 3 beautifully worded paragraphs long, appearing 5 seconds after I sent my reply.


Me:    I wish to cancel an iFaxForAFee account because its owner, my dad, has died.
Him:    Sorry to hear that.
Me:    Thanks for your understanding.
Him:    We DO want you to reconsider – we offer an extra 2 months of service, free, if you will stay with us.
(Mom and I glance at each other, eyebrows raised. Then possessed by mischief, I type:)
Me:    We asked him to stay with us, too, but he died anyway. We just need to cancel.
Him:    What was your complaint with the service?
(Un – believable!)
Me:    That iFaxForAFee doesn’t yet provide service in the afterlife.
(At this point, mom and I are laughing out loud because as mom said: “the representative must have to play by the rules and we’re off the map!”)
Him:    We can offer you a further $10 off if you reconsider and come back to us.
(This seemed really inexpensive for a resurrection, and we were tempted…)
Me:   I know you have to say these things by policy, but the user is dead, and we really just need to cancel the account.
Him: We respect your decision and we’re sorry you are leaving us. We will cancel your account immediately. If you ever need faxing in the future, keep us in mind.
Me:    Thank you! Goodbye.

iFaxForAFee’s strategy had backfired in this instance. How could this have happened?

  • By heavily scripting their responses to a cancellation request?
  • By providing no latitude to override the script when called for?
  • By keeping them so busy that they could not register and react to exceptional circumstances?

It was fortunate for Mom and me that we were in one of those silly from stress moments of good humor, and took in stride the impersonal
automation in the face of our recent loss. On the other hand, I really wonder what the customer service person was going through, and how often that demeaning scenario played itself out in his day.

The best customer service interactions and recoveries I’ve experienced always feature a person who took time to really understand what I was
going through, and was empowered by their company to do everything they could to make it right. THOSE are the companies I’ll give my loyalty and my money to.

As for iFaxForAFee and their scripted, outsourced, cost-effective customer service?

Perhaps I’ll consider them in the afterlife…

© 2005 Gary Ralston. all rights reserved

About the author: Gary Ralston founded Ralston Consulting Inc. with his wife, Ann, to help accelerate business growth for their clients – from startups to global corporations – across North America. Based in Columbus, Ohio, Ann and Gary can be reached at 877-724-4099, 614-761-1841, or through

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005 Article Archive, Business Insights, Humor, Main Page, Marketing Comments Off on Customer Service in the Afterlife

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