What happens when illogical company-policy makers and front-line customer service employees have to mount a joint illogical defense of indefensible, patently absurd or at least seriously flawed practices and thinking?

The result: a perfectly absurd customer storm—and a severe test of customer-service rep training standards, guidelines and willingness to defend the indefensible.

Here’s an international sample, based on my first-hand experiences and conversations with customer-service employees. Try to guess the customer-service rep responses by imagining you’re in the rep’s uncomfortable shoes:

  • Your company’s wireless phone service for seniors [actually one here in Canada], featuring emergency health and ambulance direct numbers on its seniors’ phone, allocates a maximum of only 3 voice-mail messages before irretrievably blocking additional ones.
  • Your service also provides no upfront warning that 3 is the limit and basically contradicts the company’s marketing premise that this is service for clients particularly in need of unimpeded, simple-to-use phone units and reliable lines of emergency communication, say, in the event a physician calls to change a medication or an appointment, or one senior calls another for help in a non-911 emergency.
  • If any of the 3 messages is saved, it is only for 3 days. So, if there is critical, not-to-be-misunderstood information in a stored message, e.g., important instructions and warnings regarding medication timing, dosage and warnings, it will be lost if not memorized or written down within 3 days—which is less likely to be undertaken in a geriatric population or by customers unaware of the 3-message, 3-day limits.
  • The maximum number of messages can be increased, but for an additional fee—again, in disregard of the service rationale and customer-population profile that comprises mostly pensioners, many of whom live on very tight budgets, if not kibble.
  • Any suggestions for improvements to the service are, as a matter of policy, not forwarded on through your department and customer service mandate. The customer must either use the separate phone number provided for such suggestions/complaints or write. The problem is that the only number provided online for specifically that purpose leads to you.
  • As for writing, there is no email address for submitting such suggestions or complaints. It has to be done by postal mailing—an amazing anachronism for a huge, modern digital communications company, a needless cash expense [bus, taxi, stamps, envelope] and stress for non-ambulatory, physically weak or otherwise infirm customers and an annoyance for everyone else.

The Universal and Only Quasi-Logical Rep Defense of the Indefensible

What is the universal, predictable customer-service rep response to each and every one of these absurdities? How do they attempt to defend them? You know—and probably from direct experience, just like mine:

“I am so sorry that you have encountered these problems and understand your concerns. Unfortunately, this is the way the system is set up.”

And that is the most, last and only quasi-logical response you or I are likely to get in such scenarios. In others, mind-boggling contortions of illogic rule, as the bizarre, stunning bank-based incidents that follow all too amply illustrate.

Bank Logic

Extreme service absurdities and absurd customer-service rep defenses of them are not limited to any particular company, industry, region, country or employee. In a previous China Daily article of mine,  Bank Logic”,  I offered a litany of ludicrous customer-service absurdities, endured at several different China banks and their branches, just as or even more stunning than the clueless wireless illogicality examined above:

  • When, in 2009 at my local Qingdao bank, I got my password wrong 3 times, the bank ATM machine I used informed me that only several password entry attempts are allowed, but only after it seized and swallowed my bank card. The customer service rep predictably dodged the illogic of that and moved on to the next absurdity, which follows immediately after this one.

Bank logic: “You may not know the policy; therefore, it is OK for us to inform you of it only after we irrevocably apply it.” [Notice how customer-service annoyances everywhere often involve things that come in threes.]

  •  Next, I was told to go to Beijing to reset it. Yes, travel 6 hours by train, 12 hours return, and at considerable expense—at least in time, just to reset my password. How was this defended? At least implicitly, this way:

Bank logic: “Your password was set far away; therefore, it must be re-set far away”—so, the same principle applies to my watch, if I have to travel far enough into another time zone to reset my password?

  • The friendly manager and assistant of a huge international bank in Hong Kong, struggling to find out where a remittance I sent to the mainland disappeared to for weeks, said no international phone calls are possible from their bank to contact the bank or beneficiary—even if I offer to pay. The implied defense?

Bank logic: “We’re an international bank; so, everyone will call us. No need to call them.”

  • When I informed the teller at another Hong Kong bank office, regarding a remittance I wanted to send, that the beneficiary’s bank branch of registration closed years ago, she told me he has to go back to that (now non-existent) branch to enquire about the matter. Reason: It’s policy.

Bank logic: “If something no longer exists, it is logical to ask it why.” [Note: The funds were finally received by the beneficiary, but only more than a month later.]

  • When at yet another Hong Kong bank, a remittance also got “lost” for about a month (a very suspicious pattern in the making, I thought) and where I had to pay HK$150  [about $20 at the time] to have just the beneficiary’s name translated from pinyin into Chinese characters, the bank had, as a matter of accounting policy, no in-house record of the name – in any language! The defense? My guess:

Bank logic: “We have sent the name; therefore, we can’t keep it.”

  • It gets even worse: The two banks that mysteriously misplaced and delayed remittances to mainland banks told me I had to pay an additional HK$100 “service fee” to get the mainland banks to correct their mistakes. I flatly refused both times. Reminds me of Plato, who said that if you want to hire someone who knows what to do to protect your wealth, hire a thief.

Bank logic: “We will bomb your country, but only if you pay for the reconstruction and the bombs.” Or, “Our bad; therefore, we’ll punish you.”

The Implied defense and precedent?

No non-deed goes unpunished.


[The foregoing is but a sample. For more far-out, Far Eastern absurd customer-service rep defenses of the indefensible, read the original China Daily article.]

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