Why nobody ever reports anything to anyone, anywhere

If you’re a consumer, in which category I include ordinary members of organizations, citizens, enlisted men in the service etc., there is no point in telling the organization about a problem.

Try telling the call center at your telephone company about a problem with the phone’s software. Try telling the sad vest-wearing people at the megastore that the paint cans are all leaking. Experiment by pointing out a hugely embarrassing typo in the ads for your bank. It’s almost always pointless. Some combination of corporate hostility, personal resentment from the underling you encounter, “policies,” and the complete inability of “first line customer service” to communicate with functional parts of the organization occurs.

There are exceptions. 911, for example; they’re always glad to hear about an oil slick on the freeway or the smell of natural gas, or even the leaky paint can. Individuals who run small stores or one-person open source software projects are generally grateful and responsive to help. Journalists, when you contact them directly, like to fix errors and typos.

My example today is LJ. Once, there was a community of some kind for reporting problems, followed by a bugzilla installation, followed now by an RT installation. RT is a great piece of software. I reported on Sept. 22 that a good chunk of my comment emails were blank. No one took the bug and there were no replies; the problem continued. On november 30 someone categorized the bug but did not take it or assign it. Today I added some helpful information. It’s dead. A useful and necessary feature is totally broken, but submitting this information as an ordinary user is totally pointless.

I wonder what the minimum size is for an organization so that consumers are sealed off from any attempt to provide useful feedback from the bottom up? With big companies it appears to be a point of pride now that the call center droids and email answerers are forbidden to communicate with anyone. And even with a well-intentioned application of bug tracking software, it’s just ennui reporting anything.

16 thoughts on “Why nobody ever reports anything to anyone, anywhere

  1. Hey, the same thing happens inside such organizations. I work for a large corporation listed on the stock exchanges in Canada and the US, and it’s hopeless to try to communicate anything vertically.
    At some point, individual problems begin to be considered only in large groups. That’s because the droids cannot be enabled to take direct action on your behalf, as it will disrupt company uniformity; and also because the big bosses want to concentrate more power at the top, and they are only able to look at “big picture” problems instead of everyone’s individual little pictures.
    A parallel can be drawn between this and military strategy. Military feebleness occurs whenever decision-making is concentrated at the top and the chain of command is restrictive. The Germans in WWI developed new warfare strategies (that were epitomized in WWII) where the local commanders were just told “this is your objective, do whatever is best based on your observations of local terrain” – and warfare was changed forever.
    Goals-based enabling of local command is the way to go; and large corporations can follow that path and become responsive to customers, or small corporations can ignore it in favour of concentrating power with the CEO and destroying their public image.
    As for why they do the stupid thing – well, because humans are stupid, maybe?


  2. there is so much lost opportunity for knowledge and efficiency when companies don’t listen to their users/customers. but it’s easier to ignore people, because fixing problems is hard, gathering and training good customer service people is hard, and measuring those lost advantages is hard.
    i was the good kind of support for something for a while because they trusted me with enough power (and i cared about it). but eventually the standardized customer service people took over. rawr.


  3. well yeah. i’m skeptical of most “giant lists”. in college i drove a school station wagon to the printers to duplicate the school newspaper, then 90 miles of deliveries. a dummy light kept coming on. ok so we have these trip reports, and i started reporting this. and three runs later the car stalled and they said oh they don’t read that part, just tell them. well ok, so don’t HAVE that part. oh, and i’ve been trying to get off some catalog list and this is apparently impossible even though i fill in fields on their web site and reach the right recorded message that asks me for the catalog so they can take me off. yet i never get off.
    i personally am a bit of a freak about this. at microsoft i devised a way to monitor a zillion issue queues and i saw lost issues early. the whole idea is just so wrong, building a huge enterprise just so it can fail with greater cost and a deeper sense of your unimportance to the machine.


  4. At my last job, I was “first line” customer service and I couldn’t get anyone in the company to do anything. Customers would come to me with complaints, and quite frequently I would take their side, but still I couldn’t get the organization to move. Either I failed as a “bureaucratic infighter” or the company was designed wrong.


  5. The Lysenko/Jackass School of Business
    I’ve had these notes in my
    <a href=
    >scratchpad for about a month now:

    * Max Weber	   rationalization
    * Jean Baudrillard   hyperreality
    * [destructive] potlatch

    I never got around to fleshing out the ideas, so here’s a try:
    Two (possibly complementary) analyses come to mind for this
    whole problem of Never Gets Fixed:
    * If hyperreality is the big lie that makes actual truth seem fake,
    then hyper-success is the big failure that makes actual success seem
    rinkydink. Why screw around making money selling goods and services,
    when you can go bigtime and instead have procedures?

    * Just as potlatches (mythically if not actually) involved bigwigs
    destroying great heaps of property just to show off that they could,
    so (pseudo|hyper)procedures are how the companies destroy productivity, just to show
    that they can. We don’t even need to make any money, because of
    course we’re <a href= "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_leader&quot;
    >loss-leaders for a conglomerate that dwarfs all <a href=
    with its great mind and ways
    To the above, I can add a sort of half-analysis: the idea that any
    analysis of Never Gets Fixed as the corporate mind doing this or that
    is pointless, because it’s just cause-and-effect happening at a different level: things don’t
    get fixed, because nobody cares, and the reason they don’t care is
    because the company doesn’t care about them and would
    (and eventually will) fire them given half a whim,
    and maybe even harass/sue/rob/cripple/poison them on the way
    out, just for fun; so in the meantime, they’re just vamping.


  6. The current RT installation isn’t really meant as a way for end-users to report bugs, these days. I mean, you can, but LJ doesn’t really act in the small-open-source-company way it used to. All of the developers are tasked with fixing/developing whatever they’re told to do by whoever signs the paychecks, and no one has time to look at RT for the most part.
    It’s mostly there to hold a list of stuff that needs to get fixed someday when someone has free time to whack away at the crap, but I don’t think anybody holds the belief that fast turnaround time on bugs (at least, those reported by random users) is a major priority. I mean, I used to file bugs in there all the time as admin of the ScrapBook support team; some of them got fixed, some didn’t. Some are still waiting. 🙂


      1. They don’t usually, any more. More commonly, they get reported to Support and if it’s actually a bug, the support person files the bug. But that’s more a case of “people don’t know how to report bugs” and if you’ve already found RT, the other way isn’t necessarily any better.


      2. That’s what I used to do, the Support thing. I would get the obvious canned response, followed by my response to that, followed by a delay of about a week, and finally a response from a friendly and helpful person (not being sarcastic, they really are) who had no way to help me.


  7. Very good post.
    At one of my old jobs (tech support), my boss told me something like, “Users like to suffer in silence; they won’t report problems and will just sit there for months patiently dealing with the consequences instead.” Once I quit and got some perspective, of course, I started wondering just how unwelcoming of feedback the IT department (which certainly included me) was being in order to encourage that kind of behavior in users.


  8. Btw, I think that bug is finally fixed (as of yesterday). Not sure if it’s been pushed yet, but I’ll go check now.
    It’s been bugging all of us…. was really hard to find.
    And I agree our communication sucks lately. Really sad. :/


    1. Thanks, Brad. I did see the notification from RT that it had been resolved.
      Communication in fast growing small companies is hard. I bet you’ll end up doing way better than my bank, though! It’s the really huge companies that do the worst.


  9. Small enough to know, big enough to serve
    THE problem with big organizations is they’re more concerned about the bottom line or the profit margin rather than actually helping people while the small organizations are much more personable in nature and thus have their ears on the ground which makes them accessible.
    The phrase “small enough to know you and big enough to serve you” sounds like a catchphrase for some small community college but it then it doesn’t hurt for some companies to try adopting that approach when it comes to dealing with clients.
    It may be a source of pride for some major organizations to have their asses so far up the power structure that they can’t be touched anymore by the ordinary person but the real and applicable dynamic would be to instill openness and transparency to the public without sacrificing the capability to serve them.


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