Tuesday, July 15, 2014

By how you've probably heard the recording of a conversation between tech writer Ryan Block and an obnoxious Comcast customer service agent in which Ryan and his wife spent 18 minutes trying to cancel their service.  If you haven't heard the recording, here it is:

The recording seems to have struck a chord with the masses and gone viral.  Comcast has responded by expressing their "embarrassment" and, of course, are making their customer service representative the scapegoat.  I'm guessing that the poor guy does not have any kind of union backing him and thus is screwed.   

As blogger John Herman insightfully points out, "If you understand this call as a desperate interaction between two people, rather than a business transaction between a customer and a company, the pain is mutual. The customer service rep is trapped in an impossible position, in which any cancellation, even one he can't control, will reflect poorly on his performance. By the time news of this lost customer reaches his supervisor, it will be data—it will be the wrong data, and it will likely be factored into a score, or a record, that is either directly or indirectly tied to his compensation or continued employment. It's bad, very bad, for this rep to record a cancellation with no reason, or with a reason the script should theoretically be able to answer (the initial reasons given for canceling were evidently judged, by the script, as invalid). There are only a few boxes he can tick to start with, and even fewer that let him off the hook as a salesman living at the foot of a towering org chart. The rep had no choice but to try his hardest, to not give up, to make it so irritating and seemingly impossible to leave that Block might just give up and stay. The only thing he didn't account for was the possibility the call would be recorded. Now he's an internet sensation. The rep always loses." (Source: http://www.theawl.com/2014/07/sympathy-for-the-comcast-rep-from-hell)

What this interaction (which some are calling "Kafkaesque") brought to my mind is the book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland which chronicles how average working-class middle-aged German men were conscripted into Nazi extermination squads and proceeded to commit mass murder and unspeakable atrocities.  Author Christopher Browning explores the question of how such "ordinary men" could become soul-less minions of evil.  What is it that causes some (many?) people to lose their moral compasses and sell their souls to the powers that be? 

Obviously, this obnoxious (and now unfortunate) Comcast customer service rep is not a brutal murderer, or anything remotely close to that.  But I see the same basic principle at work.  His need for a job required a small sacrifice of principles to the corporate god.  Other than that, he was just a regular guy doing his job.  He was only following orders.


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