The worst customer service fail of 2011

Spoken | August 9, 2016

PlBHoIf you’ve ever feared a bad customer service incident going viral, don’t read this; you’ll have nightmares for weeks.

The blogosphere has been abuzz with the stunningly bad customer service one gamer received from a third-party marketing company charged with PS3 controller overlays. I wrote an overview of the kerfuffle from the PR point of view here and continue to add updates.

The quick summary: Dave (the customer) pre-orders a PS3 controller overlay, paying in advance in full with the promise of early December delivery. Early December comes and goes; no word. Dave emails Ocean Marketing to inquire about the delivery date (remember, he’s already paid in full) and receives short email from Paul Christoforo saying only “december 17” without so much as a capital letter or period. Dave asks for more details. An increasingly condescending, bullying and punctuation-free series of emails ensues, with Chrisotoforo ranting at Dave, telling Dave to “put on your big boy hat and wait like everyone else” and “you think you speak for billions son your just a kid you speak for yourself no one cares what you think that’s why were growing and moving 20-50 thousand controllers a month.”

Dave brings the email exchange to Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade and founder of PAX, who posts the content online and contacts Christoforo to cancel his booth at PAX. The internet explodes with critiques of Christoforo’s unbelievably bad customer service.

What has made the debacle interesting to follow is the pure schadenfreude of it all–Christoforo, the most clueless of the clueless, had no idea that his simple customer service email exchange would become public. With every blustering defense he tried to make, he only made things worse. When his gaming contacts disavowed him, he called them names publicly via Twitter. When he got flamed, he changed his Twitter account, but internet gamers quickly discovered the ploy and posted his new account name.

When he half-heartedly apologized, it was only for underestimating Dave’s and Krahulik’s level of influence, saying “I underestimated you and its cost me a lot of trouble thousands of spam emails , a lot of personal bashing , and internet spam and trouble and just overall stress with my wife and newborn.” Notice that he never actually apologizes for being rude or for the product delay, just for doing so to someone with influence. Even Geico jumped in on the fun, lightheartedly mocking the poor customer service with a hilarious Tweet.

Now, Christoforo and Ocean Marketing have become synonymous with ultimately bad, disrespectful and supremely ineffective customer service. There is a meme to this effect, and a Cheezburger page set up just to mock the hapless marketer.

There are quite a few lessons to be learned from the Ocean Marketing debacle:

  1. Don’t use third-party marketers with plagiarized sites. The Examiner ascertained that most of Ocean Marketing’s site was plagiarized without credit from other sites. When you hire a third-party company, do your homework. Check references. This person is representing your company both to channel sales and to the public. Do your homework before farming out the face of your company.
  2. Hire for the right experise. Christoforo was ostensibly a marketer and SEO specialist–why was he communicating directly with customers for customer service? While I agree that everyone in the company is in customer service, this guy clearly has zero skills and training in talking to customers. He may have been fine at sending out free units for review, but he should never have been allowed to interact with customers.
  3. Don’t hire anyone who can’t communicate clearly. The fact alone that Christoforo has never sent an email that didn’t contain prolific misspellings, missed punctuation and lack of coherent thought should have disqualified him from any communication position from the start. Claiming to have connections in the industry is one thing, but even if that were true (which, it turns out, it isn’t), the lack of ability to communicate absolutely anything clearly should have disqualified him from both marketing and customer service positions.
  4. Ethics matter. PR issues aside, it takes ethical integrity to build good customer relationships. Lying about one’s qualifications would indicate that the person isn’t qualified to handle either marketing or customer service.

While not everyone has the luxury of the candidate pool that Google has, it might be worth it to consider asking interview questions such as, “You receive this email from a customer who has paid up front for a controller overlay, but we just discovered the controllers are held up in China and won’t be delivered before Christimas as promised. What do you do?”

Hint: If the candidate replies with, “I’d go into a rant and blame him for being an idiot because I don’t think he’s influential and it’s not my job to make nice with customers, anyway,” don’t hire him.

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