Monday, June 8, 2015

Escalating Problems

In which we discover that the customer is always wrong

There was a time in the not too distant past when businesses put a premium on customer service. I'm told that this fundamental principle began to erode around the Reagan era, when Americans were so busy standing tall that they frequently tripped over things and spilled soup in the laps of patrons [1]. 

I've spent a significant fraction of my life in bars, night clubs and casinos, and have dated several cocktail waitresses and hair stylists. Consequently I feel I am on pretty solid ground when I acknowledge that the customer is not always right. Based on direct experience as well as listening, occasionally with genuine interest, to former girlfriends complaining about "work," I can safely say that the customer is frequently an overbearing, rude, drunk scumbag with all the charm of a dozen live leeches that have been poured for obscure reasons into one's underpants. 

The puzzle, however, is which MBA programs are recommending that customer service personnel should endeavor to sink to the same depths as their worst customers.

I suspect part of the problem is outsourcing [2] which, as noted in part two of this series, is how WSOPcom has elected to handle customer service. If you are careful in preventing your reps from having access to pertinent information, compound this with a website that is vague and frustrating to use, and finally build in long delays between all communications with complaining customers, you cleverly guarantee that, by the time these customers find outlets such as the 2+2 forums or a personal blog, they are spitting equal measures of nails and vitriol.

Within a few weeks of WSOPcom joining the market, it became impossible to avoid the conclusion that the truly spectacular incompetence was not some highly-sophisticated, level-four thinking developed to charm and amuse us, and that the outfit really did intend to insult its paying customers either by ignoring them, directing them to e-mail addresses that didn't actually exist, or by having reps in the far-flung reaches of the American Empire cut-and-paste responses from arbitrarily-chosen pages of their ghastly website.

It was at this point that I was introduced to the concept of escalating problems.

Many of the cocktail waitresses and hair stylists that I dated were also alcoholics [3], and as a result the word "escalate" has almost exclusively negative connotations for me. All the manuals and counselors made it clear that the desired goal was de-escalation. Thus it was with considerable trepidation that I received the news that one of my problems with WSOPcom was going to be escalated.

It turns out that in this Orwellian business lingo, escalating means the person who received the problem is not getting paid enough to solve it, thus they pass it on to someone else. What is less well advertised is that in order to get something escalated (which you will have to do since the customer service reps have no useful information at all), you have to make a real nuisance of yourself on social media and/or at the sponsored forum on the 2+2 boards [4].

When WSOPcom established its official presence at 2+2, the reps, apparently having joined the company from FedEx, immediately adopted a defensive position, parrying most complaints with business-speak that roughly translated as "you have no idea how difficult it is to run a poker site," and "we don't see why anyone would want that feature."

So I learned that escalation could be... well. not terrible, and I learned that WSOPcom treated its customers as if they were parasites that were scuppering an otherwise well-oiled machine [5], and I concluded I wasn't going to give them a wooden nickel.

And then their competitor went tits up.

And I went back to WSOPcom.

And, as I'll detail in part four of this series, absolutely nothing has changed.

[1] For brevity I'll restrict my observations to the USA.  In the United Kingdom, customer service does not technically exist, unless one includes the bizarre blend of unctuous obsequiousness and pomposity personified brilliantly by the two sides of Basil Fawlty.

[2] One notable exception that deserves special mention is the remarkable performance of the FedEx company. This odious collection of goats and lizards does not outsource its customer service department, nor its recovery mechanisms when, as is usually the case, the parcel it is entrusted with is lost, stolen, destroyed, eaten by bears, or falls into a volcano. Nevertheless, in a complete volte-face to pre-Reagan principles, FedEx customer service reps begin phone calls by making it abundantly clear that, irrespective of the details of your complaint, it is you, the customer, who has done something terribly wrong. And they will shout at you until you apologize or hang up.

[3] Before any former girlfriends in these professions stumble across this piece and contemplate legal action, I should point out that many of them were not alcoholics. I did, however, during a hypomanic episode, become fascinated with the correlations and intersections of career and substance abuse choices, and summarized my research through Venn diagrams made out of fuse wire to which I would attach silver posts and give them to the relevant girlfriends as earrings. 

[4] I have to say I initially had some sympathy for the WSOPcom reps at 2+2. There is a long tradition of posters there being assholes, almost as if there is a monthly competition. Expecting reps to field customer queries when their promotions and products were so poorly-conceived and executed was never going to be pretty.  That sympathy soon evaporated thanks to the imperious and condescending tone of the reps. The WSOPcom 2+2 board was abruptly closed a few weeks ago. I suspect they didn't want the bad publicity it tends to generate right before the World Series of Poker kicked off here in Vegas. Customers can now share ideas, complaints, and be alerted to improvements at a brand new WSOPcom forum which is worse than their website and almost completely deserted. Oh and the bricks-and-mortar WSOP needn't have worried about the 2+2 forums generating bad publicity - they have done that themselves through their completely predictable incompetence, such as making players who cashed in the Colossus stand in line for several hours to get paid. Frankly it's embarrassing to be part of a profession that has a huge build-up every year to its annual jamboree and then, regular as clockwork, royally fucks it up.

[5] I'm offering a $5 reward to anyone who can find the metaphor I was trying to use here. I think it has something to do with rust. Also possibly a boat.


  1. There is a long tradition of posters there being assholes,

    I don't bother going there any more. Assholes doesn't describe them -- condescending assholes comes closer.

  2. It is for the most part an unpleasant community