Bad Service Is Your Funeral

29 Mar


Here’s a hypothetical:

“Malus domestica” is your first step towards business success!

You start a company offering a subscription service – let’s say in the emerging field of door-to-door fruit delivery. Being the business-savvy pomologist you are, you lock all your clients into a two year contract, then sit back and reap the fruits of your labor (so to speak).  Unfortunately one of your valued subscribers passes away, and his daughter – allergic to all things Hesperidia – tries to cancel the account. She explains the circumstances of his passing, and even sends in a copy of the death certificate for good measure. What do you do? Cancel the account, right?

Well, you, the friendly fruit peddler, might. But that’s not what one major cell phone provider did in exactly this (non-hypothetical) situation.

Let’s break down where they went wrong.

Lacy sent the phone company a death certificate, showing her father, Bill Young of Calvin, W.Va., died in June. But not until repeated phone calls and a complaint to the media did Verizon finally cut it off — last week.

First big mistake: Don’t make your customers work. It should never be incumbent upon a patron to follow up. Once you know the problem, you should be fixing the problem, and keeping in contact about it.

It seems Lacy did not have her father’s PIN (personal identification number) to access the account. So the representative refused to help her.

Real zombies. Not this guy.

Be flexible. Yeah, you have corporate policies. So, too, does every company in the era of plausible deniability and suing the internet. But try to be understanding in cases of death, unless you want to be first on the chopping block during the zombie uprising.

“Well, there’s nothing else I can do for you,” the representative said before laughing and hanging up the phone.


“This is wrong,” a frustrated Lacy said. “I’ve already sent them the death certificate.”


“OOOOH! Making fun of me! REAL ORIGINAAAAAL!”

Here’s where Donald Trump asks if the death certificate was long form (Wait, don’t leave! This happened in 2010, so it deserves at least one three year old joke!).

Seriously, though, is there anything more legitimate than a death certificate? Would they have agreed to cancel the account if Lucifer appeared on the back of a winged demon, carrying a flaming document emblazoned with a contractual out clause?

With a contract on Young’s house, the family needed to close out the telephone bill for the incoming owners and to settle his estate. The unsettled telephone bill could hold that up.

Okay, I think it’s time we organize a protest march. Someone order pitchforks and torches.

The representative did not handle the case properly—

You don’t say?

–and has since been reprimanded and given coaching.

Coaching? Like wind sprints?

“The account in question has been discontinued and backdated to Sept. 1,” [a spokesman] said. “The daughter will receive a credit/refund for the months she paid since September.”

All’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. What are the odds that poor woman decides to use that service ever again? How much other business did the bad publicity cost them? The Donald may be happy about their diligence with the regards to the death certificate, but even he wouldn’t like the lost cash.

The moral here (beyond don’t hire idiots who laugh about dead fathers): customer service is the face of your company. Make sure that your employees are well-trained, and that your phone service is as powerful and personalized as possible. Helping your customers feel like people – in the face of minor inconvenience or personal tragedy – will keep them coming back to you.

2 Responses to “Bad Service Is Your Funeral”


  1. Ford, WPP and Kidnapping: A Cautionary Tale - Very Bad Business Bureau - May 28, 2013

    […] make mistakes. But it’s your job to make sure those mistakes don’t become public and hurt your business. I can guarantee that WPP and Ford are both taking a long, hard look at their internal practices. […]

  2. Lesson #5: Follow The Ten Commandments... Of Customer Service - Very Bad Business Bureau - May 29, 2013

    […] attention to their needs, and try to deal with them in a timely manner. Don’t contribute to their personal tragedies. […]

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