One of my colleagues in the speaking business, Bob Wendover, sent in this amazing story – and it’s not amazing in a good way.

For years, the cable industry has unfortunately been one of those industries that finds itself in the bottom echelon of customer service rankings. While I believe the industry is making an effort to do better, and some companies are definitely becoming more customer-focused, it’s this kind of story that makes me wonder if they are going about it the right way.

My buddy Bob decided to make a change in his cable TV plan so, as most customers do, he called the company’s customer service support number. Eventually, after various prompts and a short wait time, he was connected to a customer service rep who introduced herself by her first name and asked to whom she was talking to. He replied, “Bob,” which is how he always introduces himself. Then she asked for the name on the account. He said, “Robert Wendover,” and she went on to verify the street address. She then informed Bob that he was not authorized to change the account. Her explanation for this was simply… ridiculous!

The reason the customer service rep told Bob he was not authorized to make the change was because when he first introduced himself, he didn’t do so by using his formal name, Robert. At this explanation, Bob was surprised, to say the least, flabbergasted even. He asked her if she could ask some questions to verify his identity, but she refused to do so.

He hung up, disappointed, if not even slightly angry, and called right back. When a different customer service rep eventually came on the line and asked his name, he said, “Robert.” This time, he was able to make the change.

This is a result of one of two things: either hiring the wrong person for the front-line or not properly training the person (or maybe a combination of the two). This is more than a lack of flexibility. This was a display of questionable intelligence. So, the lesson here is simple:

  1. Hire the right people: These should be people who have good common sense and the right attitude about taking care of customers.
  2. Train these good people properly: In addition to whatever technical training they may need to answer customers’ questions, teach them some soft skills, such as how to communicate and when to be flexible.
  3. Common sense should prevail: If you’ve hired the right people, and they are trained well, let them do their job. Empower them to do what is right for both the company and the customer.

Bob’s story is an example of a ridiculous Moment of Misery. It was a simple customer service experience gone bad, an experience that could have easily been handled with a little – actually, very little – common sense.