Monday, October 17, 2011

The Black Hole of Customer Complaints

The Bizzle writes about the role of corporate counsel in occasionally having to deal with real live customer complaints. I had to chuckle; there is much to recognize there.

When I was GC of a regional wireless company, I was deemed the "black hole" of customer complaints, the place that those too crazy or persistent for even our executive escalation team to handle would be sent. Like the guy who would send 27 page faxes to us every day, copying the regulatory agencies and every government official he could think of. Or the customer who sent in a package containing his bill (crumpled up into a tight little ball), a foot-long dowel and a tube of KY Jelly.

What I found was that - much like the Bizzle's experience - for the vast majority of these complaints it was a matter of listening. Listening, because there was nothing else I could offer. Any complaints amenable to resolution would have been dealt with long before they reached me. So I listened, tried not to argue too much, and told them "no". "No," over and over again. No, we would not fundamentally change our business processes. No, we would not pay them millions of dollars for a perceived slight. No, we would not humbly and abjectly go out of business.

And - most importantly - No, there is no one to escalate to beyond me.

These complaints were stuck beyond the event horizon of my "Office of the General Counsel" black hole. They could not go forward and vent their spleen to our CEO, nor backward to make another run at our customer care staff. All further communication would be to me, and me alone. Eventually, they would exhaust themselves and move on to whatever was next in their lives.

It was a clean process, if not always the best use of a GCs time. It required listening, but never for too long; the judicious use of calendar management and setting expectations that I only had time to talk for so long at a spell. But it was a far better process than having the CEO take these calls, and it provided some comfort that if one of these people had a legitimate claim, it would find the legal department while something short of a lawsuit could still make things right.

Unsurprisingly, this is a big part of my current role. Being in the business of publishing information, ratings and reviews of attorneys, we field a number of complaints from those we profile. This is not about paying customer escalations, but rather all about unhappiness and control from a handful of those we've published information about. Many of those have been interesting conversations, and some have even led to changes in our operations. But the vast bulk of them involve me listening and saying that oh-so-familiar word: "No." And because these are attorneys, I often must follow my "no" with an explanation of why suing us would be a bad idea. I have anecdotes and correspondence from these conversations that would fill a book. But that, readers, will have to wait for another day.

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