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The gangsta economy trumps the digital economy

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy July 16, 2014
Continuing on the broken consumer experience theme, we dig further into how banks and telcos are at risk and how that impacts both consumers and employees.

The other day, I shared a series of retail experiences that play to the extraordinary frustrations that seem to be piling up. I concluded that rather than chase after the latest buzzphrase, retail businesses might be better off dealing with existing and broken processes that impede the execution of basic order/delivery activities. It gets worse but more of that in a moment.

The last few days, members of the diginomica team have been engaged in an on/off discussion about what might be described as the 'gangsta economy.' This is a catch all expression to describe the way in which certain very large organizations behave towards their customers. Typically, these are telcos and banks but could equally be utility providers and airlines.

They all have one thing in common - their business models are under threat but they hope that their bulk will save them. When that doesn't work, they appear to engage in tactics that suggest they really dislike their customers as anything other than captive objects. The above conversation between a customer and Comcast in the US, while currently an internet sensation, is surprisingly common. There's a good discussion on the topic going on at The Awl which I recommend.

The Verge also has an excellent piece on this topic:

Bullying customers who try to cancel their service is a very old trick used by subscription services, from cable to satellite radio to gym memberships. New York Times customer advocate David Segal has written about this phenomenon repeatedly in his column The Haggler, which includes a plea for help from Alan Alda, who couldn’t figure out how to cancel his McAfee antivirus software. There are abundant horror stories about attempts to cancel SiriusXM, which uses a popular euphemism for the art of frustrating customer attempts to leave: "churn management."

Comcast for its part has issued a fawning apology that has about the same level of sincerity you'd expect from a disgraced televangelist. Underpinning all this is what appears to be a system that turns service agents into sales people who are punished when customers churn. That sounds counter intuitive to everything we're told about employment choice but which represents a reality for many I suspect. I can relate to that.

Following all the problems I was having with Verified by Visa and Mastercard Securecode, I ended up with a bank fraud call that coincidentally occurred as I was on my way to try get my problems fixed at the bank branches. The person on the other end was utterly tone deaf, failing to acknowledge there were issues with the system they are using and insisting upon only clearing away what they thought were potentially fraudulent transactions.
The bottom line is that despite some 20 years with the same bank and with the same credit card, they have no clue about spend patterns but instead default to a now familiar 'block the card and call later' approach.

At the bank where I had the VbV issues, I was told there was no problem only to end up speaking with the VbV people at the bank (again) when I discovered that contrary to what I was told in the branch, VbV was still failing. At one point, the agent queried information I'd already provided and repeated back to her. Which seems redundant.

The problem was eventually solved but once again, I got the sense that the systems in place not only put the onus upon me as the customer to figure a way around the broken system, but impose almost impossible conditions upon those trying to help customers.

What's worse, without a solid working knowledge of how browsers work, the average person has little chance of figuring out what to do, even with assistance from the call center. Quite what this means in terms of lost revenue and customer satisfaction is anyone's guess. And none of it provides a sense that we're living in a time where the rhetoric around customer care is anything other than just that - empty words and useless gestures.

Is it any wonder then that the very businesses which are trying so hard to corral us are seeing disruptive forces come bite them where it counts most - in the pocketbook?

Oh - and if you think I am exaggerating when describing these things as symptomatic of the gangsta economy then check out Jason Perlow's story about ADT as a protection racket from earlier this year.

Image credit: Elephant's Paycheck

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