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Curing Bad Customer Service —
Just a Dollar a Minute

The Pandemic


Although lightly reported on, you've probably been exposed to the BCS virus, which has reached pandemic proportions beyond even covid. While rarely fatal, BCS can be unpleasant and lead to side effects such as lost time, increased blood pressure, weight gain, poor immunities, and heart disease. Left unchecked, BCS among workers can have serious impacts on business profitability and the economy.

That is to say... Bad Customer Service.

We've all experienced it — the surly clerk who won't offer a refund without a long argument; the checker who hides, talking with a friend rather than opening a new checkout lane despite the crowd; the airline that inexplicably cancels your flight or loses your luggage and doesn't seem to care what trouble it causes you. Check out "7 Stories That Prove The Airlines Hate You" for some sad tales. Everyone has stories how they had their time wasted by insensitive employees, bad management, nonsense rules, and mean-spirited policies.

The Cause

It all comes down to time. Let's face it, Time is the measurement unit of your life. You've only got so many minutes on planet Earth. When a company wastes them, they quite literally waste your life without your permission. Sometimes you give willing permission — you tacitly agree to stand in line for a burger for the typical length of time it takes a burger joint to serve the customers you can see ahead of you in line. You tacitly agree to sit at the airport gate some reasonable number of minutes ahead of boarding time. But if you didn't have to you wouldn't want to wait an hour in a TSA security line or sit on a runway for three hours, would you? Loads of fun! Really, these weren't part of the original understanding. You've got better things to do with your time.

Yet organizations have learned that people will accept these kinds of attacks on their time — their life — and they factor it into their business practices and profit models. They even make money by choosing to deliberately inconvenience you and waste your time. Airlines routinely overbook flights, knowing a certain number of passengers will simply be denied a seat through no fault of their own. They know they can blame "the weather" or "the computer" for their own intentionally inadequate planning and resources. Or if not intentional, these are largely avoidable if they chose to value your time.

The Cure

Here's a simple solution: Pay people $1 per minute of time wasted.

"Wasted" means beyond the reasonable time consumers expect, and not because of the fault of the consumer. This could be a law (unlikely, but wouldn't it be great?), a social convention (if enough people demand it), or simply a guideline you use when seeking compensation from a bout with BCS.

Why $1/minute? We need some measure of what the average person's time is worth. A simple formula is to look at what people contribute to the economy: The US GDP is approximately $14 trillion, which when divided into the roughly 200 million workers in the country, who spend around 2000 hours per year working, gives a "value" to people's time of 58 cents per minute. Round up to $1 because we're talking punitive here. We're trying to change bad behavior.

This works regardless why your time was wasted, and it scales to fit the size of the offense. Now you probably wouldn't demand a buck from Walmart because you had to wait an extra 60 seconds while the clerk chatted with a pal instead of serving you, but if Walmart knew you might do so, and that they were on the hook for it, businesses would have the economic incentive to teach Good Customer Service and have managers properly oversee it. If you have to sit on hold an hour to complain about an error in your phone bill, doesn't that sound worth $60 to you off your bill? Your three hour flight delay would net you $180, and maybe that is worth asking for. The poor passengers in that story above who had to fly back to Mexico from Oregon because they couldn't handle immigration — if they were delayed 24 hours, doesn't $1400 cash sound like a start on compensation for that level of stupidity?

More importantly, the airline would have the nudge to make sure there's some workable plan in place to get you to your destination on time. Right now they're stealing your $60 and your $180 and your $1400 from you, intentionally, because they know that although people will grumble, they won't fight hard to get fair compensation. So: Fight for it.

The next time you hear, "Hello, thank you for calling customer service, we're too busy to help you and we know you can't do anything if we put you on hold for an hour", think: Ka-ching! And ask for a buck a minute. (Sometimes it actually works! And don't you think you're worth it?)

Market forces and government regulation sometimes address the more egregious of these acts, though often in a minimalistic manner, and not in the small scale that eats up your time as if it doesn't matter to you. There has to be some amount of time that is reasonable for a given situation, so don't go overboard, but we all know when we're getting taken advantage of. Many companies have forgotten that "The Customer is Always Right" is good business. Imagine if there were a law and voila! your valuable time becomes a factor in businesses' policies. Hit them in the pocket book — it's the only language they understand. Suddenly making the customer happy makes economic business sense.

Of course lawmakers probably wouldn't listen at first, but wouldn't a buck a minute be nice? And who knows — as a wise man once said, "You don't get anything unless you ask for it." The more people who ask for compensation for unreasonably wasted time, the stronger the message to companies that it's unacceptable. When enough people ask for it, it becomes a social convention, which is often stronger than a law. Set expectations that wasting your time is not acceptable.

So what the heck, save the time of your life — demand a buck a minute to cure the BCS virus.

— Andrew Burt

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