What they don’t want you to know can hurt you

Filipchuk Oleg/Shutterstock
Filipchuk Oleg/Shutterstock
For several years, I’ve operated a customer service wiki, an underground website which contains the names, emails and addresses of company executives who can help consumers like you.

In the early days, I researched and published these names alone and at considerable risk, but now I’m lucky to work with a team of volunteers who make sure every name and address is up-to-date. (By the way, you can see the entire list of customer service executives here.)

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And that brings me to today’s cautionary tale about customer service, which may inform your next buying decision.

It all started with an email I received from an executive at a major appliance company, which shall remain nameless. I should add that the company has a reputation for selling sub-standard products and then leaving its distributors to clean up the mess. Not hard to guess who I’m talking about.

“Please remove my contact information from your website,” she demanded. “I am no longer in a position where I am able to assist with customers. These emails consume my inbox every day only to be deleted.”

As a replacement, she offered a generic postal address and a toll-free number where customers could get in touch with the company.

That sparked a debate within our research team. It’s our policy to remove names only if the executive leaves the company or is no longer in a customer-facing position. According to this manager’s profile on LinkedIn, she was still very much in charge of dealing with customers.

Why bother publishing the names of these managers? Well, I wish that wasn’t necessary. When going through the normal customer-service channels fails, though, consumers need a way to appeal an issue, and telling them that an outsourced, offshore call center is the final word is simply unacceptable.

You have the right to take your case to a manager, and thanks to the First Amendment, I have the right to publish that person’s name. So there.

Our research director sent a polite reply to the manager: Please let us know who replaced you and we’ll change the name. The manager refused, inviting us to do our own research, and insisting that her name be removed.

As I review the correspondence between the team and this employee, I think what bothered me most was this: Instead of forwarding the inbound complaints to the right person, she just erased them.

I’d given this company the benefit of the doubt over many years of handling cases, ranging from broken clothes dryers to leaky washing machines that had ruined kitchen floors. But after hearing of the indifferent attitude of a manager who was, at least at one point in her career, in a customer-facing position, I made a mental note to never buy an appliance from that company.

For me, this served as yet another reminder that, like cockroaches scurrying from the light, companies with bad service reputations flee from the glare of openness and transparency. When they are confronted by their own customers, they simply push the “delete” button in an effort to make everything go away.

It’s inexcusable.

It’s become something of a litmus test when I’m considering a purchase decision: How accessible is the company, when it comes to customer service? Are the names of its customer service managers and VPs in charge of the service department known? Do they answer their emails or simply forward them to the service department, where they’re met with a boilerplate response?

In a perfect world, companies would freely disclose the names, direct phone numbers and email addresses of all their executives. They wouldn’t have to worry about anyone abusing these direct lines of communication. They’d only hear from happy consumers who were grateful for the excellent product or service that exceeded their expectations.

But products are imperfect and so are people. I’m careful to recommend contacting an executive only as a last resort, and most consumers are respectful and follow my instructions. It’s disheartening when a manager admits to deleting these appeals. Maddening, actually.

Perhaps the best takeaway is this: If a company goes to great lengths to hide the names or contact information for its executives, maybe it’s hiding more. What they don’t want you to know can hurt you.

Did the appliance manager executive trying to get off our list succeed? Yes and no. Her intransigence inspired my research team to dig harder and we found and published the names of several of her colleagues who were in a customer-facing position. Only reluctantly did we remove her name from the site.

Many team members felt that the ideal outcome would be another kind of deletion — specifically, erasing her name from the company’s payroll.

Would you have removed the manager's name from the site?

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33 thoughts on “What they don’t want you to know can hurt you

  1. C’mon…….share the name…..or just an anagram or at least a few of the letters…don’t leave me wondering.

  2. I’d have simply advised people of her intransigence, and suggested they email her, and CC her boss/bosses in their emails. Work higher on the food chain.

  3. They would be paying a fancy buck to have Hill & Knowlton on retainer as PR strategists…would have been better to channel that money into R&D and customer relations. Perhaps H&K, as “communications consultants” could hold an internal seminar and tell executives like this that they are doing more harm than good by engaging in a pissing match with the media.

  4. Here is another way: Use Linked In, find the format of the company emails, then use it to work out the CEO’s corporate email. Google what you think is his/her email to make sure. Now you can approach them directly and they cannot change their corporate emails without major disruption. I did this with a cruise company that put us on a 85% German speaking cruise ( and it was a WWII theme to boot). The CEO was then copied on every piece of my complaint and follow up.

  5. I voted to remove her name. Not to make her life easier but to keep your list as customer-useful as possible. Revenge seems sweet, but you’re in the business of helping customers with a problem, and leaving a name/address on your list will just result in useless emails being sent. Certainly you don’t want that.

  6. Chris … you often, rightly, rant about companies providing their customer poor or incorrect information. Why would you want to stoop to their level and knowingly provide your readers with incorrect information?

    I voted yes.

  7. This is incredibly sad. A customer facing person simply deletes her e-mails because she doesn’t want to deal with complaints? If I was in her role, I woudl be launching a major campaign to make sure the products worked and customers concerned were addressed so that there would be fewer complaints. I am in favor of her name being erased from the payroll, she obviously isn’t doing her job.

    1. Not just sad but incredibly dumb. Who would publicly admit they deleted customer email? And then tell somebody to “do your own research” rather than supply the contact info for the new person?

  8. I would not have removed her contact information, but I would have included a note stating that contacting her would likely be fruitless.

  9. If she is no longer in a customer facing position and cannot directly within her chain address customer issues, then she needs to be deleted. Once you get the correct information for the correct people.

    The fact that she admitted to simply deleting customer emails says a lot about the company she works for – and her. I don’t need to know her name – but w do need to known who she works for – and we know that now.

    When we encounter these situations, it might make sense on your wiki to have a short description of how responsive and responsible the particular company is – this gives people an expectation as to what to expect. If you said that the executives at Whirlpool could really care less about addressing the needs of customers unhappy with the quality of their products, then we can make better purchasing decisions.

    Moreover, copies of these posts about companies that provide poor service need to be sent to their VP of Marketing – it makes his job exponentially harder to get people to buy their goods if there are tons of bad stories out there at consumer omsbudsmen sites . .

  10. “For me, this served as yet another reminder that, like cockroaches scurrying from the light, companies with bad service reputations flee from the glare of openness and transparency”

    To me this is so irritating. So few of “consumer advocates” ever mention the names of the company, leaving the consumer in the dark. I’m glad you ultimately named them in the comments, but realize by not naming the company you’re helping no one.

  11. If she truly isn’t in a position to help customers any longer, then certainly it should be removed. I don’t always keep my LinkedIn profile updated and maybe she just hasn’t changed hers yet. BUT, having said all that, refusing to either forward the emails to the right party, respond with “I’m sorry; I’m the wrong person, here’s the right one,” or give YOU the correct contact information is inexcusable, unprofessional, immature and petty!

    1. I don’t cut people much slack for failing to update their LinkedIn. It takes about two minutes to do so. If you’re going to be out there, then you need to take the responsibility of keeping it current. I see so many people who do a poor job out there… not current with their jobs, not getting back to people contacting them. I don’t think they get how unprofessional that makes them look. LinkedIn can be a great tool, but it can also shoot you in the foot when done poorly.

      1. Well, I’ve been in the same position for 7 years, but I don’t go out there and update statuses and current projects etc… And I find LinkedIn’s intrusiveness a little irritating. If I were looking for a job etc.. I’d probably be more diligent about it but… right now most people seem to use it for adult Facebook. And the “anonymous” profile viewers make me want to scream!

  12. Can you imagine what it must be like to work for a person who operates like this?? Talk about a corporate shill…

  13. So, I get it you are trying to balance the needs of customers and the request from the company execs. I would have removed her, but out the company so she knows there are consequences and let her CEO know. I suspect this would have had different results for her, and her company. I wish I knew who that company is! … never mind I just figured it out!

  14. Yahoo Finance.
    –search box (company name)
    –Company profile & website
    –Leadership (or Management team).

  15. I’ve put Whirlpool on my personal “do not buy” list. I hope that everyone reading this article does the same.

    1. You should put Whirlpool on your do not buy list because the product you might be looking at doesn’t get good ratings, not because of this article.

      1. If a large corporation systematically ignores customer problems and complaints, I really don’t want to do business with them. There are many manufacturers of home appliances who want my business. Most are more consumer friendly than Whirlpool.

        1. If I had to choose, which I hope I wouldn’t, I’d take a better quality item for my money and not really care about the emotional stability of the management team behind the curtain. This is a business transaction, good for money, not a love affair.

          1. I understand where jim655 is coming from though. Inevitably there are issues with purchases, whether goods or services. How the company will deal with that, IMO is part of the decision process.

          2. But this is hearsay and you wonder if what is said is true. Chris may have ticked someone off and said something to get his goat. I just had my dryer repaired (first time in about 13 years and no extended warranty contract). The repair man told me that products made by Whirlpool are made not to last past 5 years. I have a Maytag which was purchased by Whirlpool. My washer was recalled and replaced (never buy a first year model of anything!). I have had an extended warranty on that since I bought it and it has paid for itself every year. Last year I called to get them out and they said no. At 12 years they said it wasn’t worth the cost of any repair and sent me a check for over $300. I never had the machine repaired, it still works and in the last year I put away enough money to get a new w/d when the time comes. Whirlpool will NOT be one I will buy nor Samsung. But it isn’t based on this article.

          3. Agreed. I had an Amana for almost 20 years and I left the relationship before it broke. I have an LG right now and so far so good. If Whirlpool was a bunch of happy go lucky lovely compliment paying folks who came to my house with presents for my birthday I wouldn’t care – I just want a quality product and they aren’t capable of that. Who cares if they are nice or not. Now – if all things were equal (quality for price), I’d go with the company I’d prefer to profit from my purchase.

          4. I was imprecise. This article is neither here nor there. I was speaking more about the corporate culture and the paradigms of the management. Specifically, the quality of the good is part one in my decision process. Part 2 is whether I believe that the company stands behind its product. What will happen if there is an issue? Are returns quick and easy or do I have to jump through every hoop known to mankind.

            If the company has a buyer beware paradigm, then I’ll pass. I’m not interested.

    2. Sears (who used to have some appliances made by Whirlpool) delivered a non-working new refrigerator. OK – that can happen. I made a repair appointment – four hour window – through their 800 number. And waited …. and waited. After several calls well over the 4 hours someone, not named, said, “Oh, he knocked off for the day.” Really! Considerable hassle ensued, followed by a much delayed repair. My letters of compliant went to three names at the HQ; execs who appeared to have something to do with customer service. Three days later I got a call from a frightened sounding local serviced dept. supervisor. After I reamed his eardrum for a while he offered me compensation; a year’s free service policy! “That”, I told him, ” was like offering the survivor of a plane crash a free trip.” No thanks.

      No more Sears products for me – ever.

  16. Several years ago my wash my fabulous 2 year old front loading wash machine had a recall on the gasket around the frontal door. So the service people replaced the gasket and some internal wiring. Why the wiring I have no idea. Well, we had tons of trouble with the washer after that. It was repaired three times. It would not spin. Wouldn’t you know, it always went out as we were packing to travel. Hand wringing wet clothes is not fun. So I asked for a new machine. After going through several “customer service agents” and getting almost no where (they offered me $50. toward a new washer, big deal. This was an expensive investment. I did the research and found that the CEO made mega bucks and so I sent an email to everyone on the board, indicating their annual salary and bonuses. I suggested that if they could make $$$ they could certainly afford to get me a new washer. Well, I won. I got my new washer! Brought and installed. They took the other one. Point being if you have a legit problem then go up the ladder until you get action. By no means do I agree with going to the top for inconsequential complaints.

  17. I can’t believe how many people chose “make her pay.” Chris’s job is not to provide a mechanism for you to harass people. It’s to provide a way to get the customer service you deserve and/or want. If she’s not the person to reach out to AND he can find the name of the right person, there is no reason for you to be emailing/calling her. (If she’s the only name they can find, it’s a very different situation because contacting her may be the best way to effect change.)

    1. Maybe because out of the limited number of choices available, that was the closest to the one that’s appropriate. I didn’t read it as “make her pay”, I read it as “yes or no” because Mr. Elliott insists upon making the questions not quite what one exactly means.

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