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Steve Case and the Customer Service Fairy

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Every night, for thousands of years, the Customer Service Fairy has visited business people in the dead of night, and reeducated them on their obligations to their customers.

If you have not heard from her recently, it is because she has spent the last two years with Steven Case, chairman of AOL Time Warner. Case is proving a hard nut to crack.

We transport you there now. Imagine a sprinkling of fairy dust, and feathery playing on a toy piano. Here’s the Customer Service Fairy pulling up a chair alongside a sleeping Steve Case, chairman of the board.

“OK, Steve,” the fairy says, replacing the batteries in her wand. “One more time, from the top. Why is AOL Time Warner in business?”

Case, being asleep, smacks his lips and buries his face in his pillow.

“No, Steve. The answer can’t be money. The answer has to be, We’re in business to delight our customers. Can you say that? Could you just mouth the word delight? Steve?”

Case rolls over on his back and lies with arms outspread.

“All right,” she says. “One more time from the top. A company indifferent to how its customers feel about it can’t survive for long. Sure, you make profits in the short term, but sooner or later the bubble bursts and your money is no good anymore. All you can really count on is how customers feel about you. Capisce?”

When Case mutters something about “74% customer satisfaction,” the fairy leaps on the remark.

“Aha! Now we’re getting somewhere. You conducted a survey and found that 74% of AOL customers are either ‘very pleased’ or ‘reasonably pleased’ with the service. And that, of course, benchmarks you with the best. You do realize that if 74% said they are satisfied that means 26% of your current customers hate your guts? And what is your customer retention rate?”

Case frowns in his sleep, comes up with a figure of 80% annually.

The fairy is jubilant. “Eighty percent is terrible. It means you’re losing millions of people every year. And there’s no way they’re coming back. Don’t you see this is why your stock has tanked?”

Case swallows. Only a skilled lip reader with night vision might discern that he is mouthing something about telecommunications recession.

“No. No,” the fairy says. “You don’t get off that easy. No one’s getting whacked like you are. And it all has to do with this attitude.”

Case rolls back onto his side. He begins visibly sucking on his thumb.

“I see what you’re saying. ‘Barnum was right,’ is that it? But Barnum was wrong. People aren’t idiots. If you treat them like they don’t matter, the smart ones will eventually pack up and move away.”

Case smiles broadly. “I get it,” the fairy says. “The smart ones aren’t your target market. Fair enough.”

Case lapses into deep sinus snoring.

“Let’s come at this from a different angle,” says the Customer Satisfaction Fairy. “Green grass thinking now. Let’s put ourselves in the customer’s shoes.”

Toes can be seen wiggling at the foot of Case’s bed.

“What would you think if you could do business with a company that just wants you to be happy? A company that wants you to be successful, and has pledged its resources to doing that? A company who, when it messes up, makes it up to you — a month’s free service for an hour of downtime. Do you know any company doing that now?”

Case frowns, wrenches his head from side to side.

“No. But if you did know one, would you like doing business with them?”

Case nods pleasantly.

“And would you ever dream of breaking off from that company?”

Case juts out a lower lip in the negative.

“You would want to be that company’s customer for life. No other company would ever get a crack at you. No matter how many disks they sent out, or how many billions they spent on advertising.”

Case arches his brows and whimpers like a dog for a juicy T-bone.

“But you have to stop screwing everyone every chance you get.”

Case nods.

“And you have to tell your bean counters to go to hell.”

Case shrugs.

“No more entrapment.”

Case purses his lips.

“And a life-long relationship based not on treachery and predation but on trust.”

Case holds up a hand, giving the “scout’s honor” sign.

“Now when I count to three, the first thing you must tell me is that you really intend to change, and make the customer number one. All right? One … two … three!”

Case sits bolt upright in bed. Sticks his pinky in his right ear and wiggles it around.

“Same time tomorrow?” he asks brightly. “And now I want my sandwich.”

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