Satisfied customer

December 7, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comments Off 

A colleague emails, "I like how now that Obama caved in, he finally gets a smiling picture on Drudge."

Recent Obama pictures on Drudge after the jump.

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Ben Smith’s Blog

Responding to Customer Criticisms On Line

October 27, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

(Russell Korobkin)

An article in Slate today discusses a recent lawsuit against the website for not removing a customer comment that alleged a restaurant was patronized by prostitutes. The author argues, probably correctly, that most consumers will ignore a single outlier comment and look for patterns, and that businesses should be more concerned with trends, such as a half-dozen complaints about slow service, than a single extreme allegation. The author also suggests that businesses should take advantage of the fact that many web sites allow a criticized business to provide a response and dispute false charges.

Here’s a better idea: if the criticisms are either completely false or potentially true but unrepresentative of the usual customer experience (i.e., I had to wait an hour for my food, all the lights were burnt out in my hotel room, etc.), the business should provide a warranty for good service. For example, the restaurant accused of slow service could respond with: “Any customer who is not served within 30 minutes of being seated can obtain a 50% discount on their check by mentioning the date of this post to the manager. Offer good until December 31.” This approach would not work in cases where it would be difficult to verify the quality of the service in question. It might be hard, for example, to definitively resolve whether a table of scantily clad diners are or are not prostitutes. But the majority of quality claims businesses would want to make, or at least proxies for such claims, are subject to simple verification methods. Such offers would be legally enforceable and, far more importantly, would be credible because a merchant’s failure to honor them would lead to an avalanche of really negative posts.

I have avoided quite a few businesses after reading a string of negative comments on web sites. Had those businesses cared enough to guarantee that I wouldn’t receive the same bad service that others complained about, I likely would have given them a chance.

The Volokh Conspiracy

North Carolina Department of Revenue’s Demand for Amazon Customer Records Violates the First Amendment

October 26, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

(Eugene Volokh)

So holds v. Lay (W.D. Wash., decided yesterday):

Amazon pursues summary judgment as to its First Amendment claim that the DOR’s request for all information related to Amazon’s sales to North Carolina residents violates the First Amendment. The Court agrees and GRANTS the motion.

The First Amendment protects a buyer from having the expressive content of her purchase of books, music, and audiovisual materials disclosed to the government. Citizens are entitled to receive information and ideas through books, films, and other expressive materials anonymously. In the context of distribution of handbills, the Supreme Court held that anonymity “exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular.” McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n, 514 U.S. 334, 357 (1995); Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60, 64 (1960) (protecting anonymity in handing out campaign literature). The fear of government tracking and censoring one’s reading, listening, and viewing choices chills the exercise of First Amendment rights. In a concurring opinion, Justice Douglas highlighted the deleterious effect of governmental meddling in the reading habits of its citizens: “Some will fear to read what is unpopular what the powers-that-be dislike. When the light of publicity may reach any student, any teacher, inquiry will be discouraged.” United States v. Rumely, 345 U.S. 41, 57–58 (1953) (Douglas, J., concurring).

Two district courts addressing subpoenas seeking book purchase records have similarly held the First Amendment rights are implicated where the government seeks the disclosure of reading, listening, and viewing habits. In In re Grand Jury Subpoena to Date August 7, 2006, 246 F.R.D. 570 (W.D. Wis. 2007), the court held that the government had to show a compelling need to obtain the personal identities and titles of books certain persons purchased through Amazon from a seller suspected of tax evasion. The government served Amazon a subpoena duces tecum seeking the identities of customers of the criminal defendant and information about their purchases. Id. at 571. Amazon provided the requested information, except the identities of the purchasers, objecting that the revelation of the purchasers’ identities would violate their First Amendment rights. Id. at 572. The court agreed. The court barred the government from contacting anyone who did not consent to talking to the government, noting that the First Amendment was implicated where the government might “peek into the reading habits of specific individuals without their prior knowledge or permission.” Id. at 572. A similar result was reached by a district court handling a subpoena request to obtain the book purchasing records of Monica Lewinsky. In re Grand Jury Subpoena to Kramerbooks & Afterwords, Inc., 26 Med. L. Rptr. 1599, 1600-01 (D.D.C. 1998). The court held that the Independent Counsel investigating President Clinton had to show a compelling interest and sufficient nexus to sustain his request. Id.

Amazon and the Intervenors have established that the First Amendment protects the disclosure of individual’s reading, listening, and viewing habits. For example, the Intervenors make uncontroverted statements that they fear the disclosure of their identities and purchases from Amazon to the DOR and that they will not continue to make such purchases if Amazon reveals the contents of the purchases and their identities. The DOR concedes that the First Amendment protects them from such disclosures. In fact, the DOR has repeatedly stated it does not want detailed information about purchases for fear of implicating the First Amendment. However, DOR has consistently requested this very information by reaffirming its broad requests. At the same time, the DOR has also refused to give up the detailed product information about Amazon’s customers’ purchases. The pending request for “all information as to all sales” by Amazon implicates the First Amendment rights of Amazon’s customers and the Intervenors. While the DOR states that it could not possibly match the names to the purchases, its promise of forbearance is insufficient to moot the First Amendment issue. See United States v. Stevens, 130 S. Ct. 1566, 1591 (2010) (stating that the Court “would not uphold an unconstitutional statute merely because the Government promised to use it responsibly”). The Court finds the disclosure of the identities and detailed information as to the expressive content of Amazons’ customers’ purchases will have a chilling effect that implicates the First Amendment.

Given that the DOR’s request implicates the First Amendment, the DOR must show “a compelling governmental interest warrants the burden, and that less restrictive means to achieve the government’s ends are not available.” United States v. C.E. Hobbs Found., 7 F.3d 169, 173 (9th Cir. 1993) (setting for the standard for a First Amendment challenge to an IRS summons). There must also be a “substantial relation between the information sought and a subject of overriding and compelling state interest.” Gibson v. Fla. Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 546 (1963) (in the context of a legislative subpoena). The DOR must “actually need[] the disputed information.” In re Grand Jury Subpoena to, 246 F.R.D. at 572.

The DOR concedes that it has no legitimate need or use for having details as to North Carolina Amazon customers’ literary, music, and film purchases. In spite of this, the DOR refuses to give up the detailed information about Amazon’s customers’ purchases, while at the same time requesting the identities of the customers and, arguably, detailed records of their purchases, including the expressive content. With no compelling need for both sets of information, the DOR’s request runs afoul of the First Amendment. It bears noting, too, that the DOR’s requests for information were made solely in the context of calculating Amazon’s potential tax liability. Amazon has provided all of the data necessary to determine its tax liability, except any potential tax exemptions. The DOR has failed to articulate the compelling need to calculate these possible exemptions, particularly where it has admitted that it can and will assess Amazon at the highest rate and it would permit Amazon to “challenge the assessment and … establish that exemptions or lower tax rates applied to some products.” Even assuming there is a compelling need to calculate Amazon’s tax liability inclusive of exemptions, the DOR’s requests are not the least restrictive means to obtain the information. The request is overbroad. The Court GRANTS the motion for summary judgment.

Thanks to Daniel Cowan for the pointer. For more on the dispute, see this earlier post. For my somewhat skeptical views about some First Amendment defenses to such subpoenas, see PDF pp. 30–37 of this article, though I agree that the justification for this particular sort of subpoena — as opposed to some of the subpoenas I discuss in the article — is extremely weak.

The Volokh Conspiracy

About My Job: The Customer Service Rep

September 3, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes:

Call center reps are among the lowest paid workers in the service sector, and have one of the hardest jobs. We spend most of our days solving problems and fielding complaints, soothing angry customers and explaining incomprehensible company policies. We are tethered to desks by telephone headsets, staring at computers for 8-10 hours at a stretch, in airless and windowless cubicles. Not only must we have encyclopedic  knowledge of our services and products, we must also be able to articulate clearly and empathetically with our customers. We must never lose our temper, sound uninterested or uncaring, and be willing to listen to tirades and invective without responding in kind.

The most offensive customers are the ones who assume that CS reps are uneducated, have landed in their jobs because they have no other choice, and simply cannot provide help without an aggressive approach by the customer. The great majority of my co-workers in both of my jobs are college-educated, experienced in a lot of different life situations (including world travel, and a great variety of past jobs and professions) and are CS reps because they respect the companies they work for and believe in the product and services they sell and represent. Most of them have chosen to work as reps, often because of the flexibility (as I do, for seasonal work that allows me a lot of time off to travel). We relish our ability to solve problems and help people.

Below the fold is an actual letter I wrote to the customer service people at Verizon Wireless.

Dear Customer Care Associate,

Once upon a summer job I answered phones at Mazda Motors of America, manning the 1-800 number Mazda owners call when their vehicles break down. "Zoom zoom," I often said as I began a new call. My supervisor never told me to say that. But my general duties seemed sufficiently degrading that piling on by caricaturing my job became as enjoyable a way to pass the time as any.

Like you, I frequently talked to customers ready "to tear me a new one," as we say in the business.

"Zoom zoom!" I'd greet them, my voice cheerful.

"My Miata broke down for the third time today!" the customer might growl. Then he'd await my reply.

"Yelling at me makes some Mazda owners feel better," I'd say. "Go ahead, sir."

I called it the preemptive theory of customer service. Often it checked their tirade. Perhaps you can employ it?

I hope by now we've established the rapport I felt during my Mazda days for a few favorite customers. They appreciated my predicament so fully that it almost seemed as though they too were staring at the pale gray walls of my cubicle, listening to a co-worker across the divide clear the phlegm from his throat. And what a bond we formed! They alone knew the extent of my power—my ability to authorize hundreds of dollars in subsidized repairs, to send them leather driving gloves or deluxe floor mats, to provide free oil changes to last several years, all in an authorized bid to retain their brand loyalty.

Are you imbued with similar powers?

If so consider my plight. I'm a loyal Verizon Wireless customer. I've given your employer the best years of my mobile phone using life. Yet I'm off to Europe in a few days, two months remaining on my two year service contract. Surely we could find a way to overlook this unfortunate circumstance? After all, when I return from Europe I'll be signing up for a wireless plan again. How I'd love to re-sign with my first wireless company (one whose Customer Service managers I'll have written to compliment the young prodigy who kept my business by waving a couple months of troublesome fees).


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Customer Service - Business - Mazda - Verizon Wireless - United States

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