Customer Service Is Marketing

Ian Lurie

Update: Our landlord has done right by us since the rocky start. Their representative got repairs under way within a few hours, and while this week has been a real pain, we could potentially be back running at 100% Monday or Tuesday. I have to give credit where credit is due.
On the everything-is-marketing theme, I bring you my own adventure, still ongoing.
Lesson: When things go wrong for your customers, sympathize, help out, and be honest.

The story

6:30 AM: I get to my office this morning at 6:25 AM, and see this:

2010-07-07 06.42.22

6:37 AM: After about 5 minutes of running in circles, moving printers, etc. to get them out of harm’s way, I called our building’s emergency number. Someone would be right there, they said.
At 7:20, I called again. It’s been an hour, I said, Where is the engineer!???. I was pretty freaked out, unhappy, etc.. Nice lady on the phone answered: Sir, it hasn’t been an hour, I checked the phone.
Wow. You are so right. Man, you showed me. It was only 40 minutes since I found water pouring into my office.

It gets better

Engineers show up, turn off the leak, etc.. Once things have calmed down, I ask them, Hey, should I plan on the office being closed for a while?
One engineer says, We’ll be working on this for a couple weeks. The other says No way, it’ll be a couple days. We’ll have exhaust fans in here to dry out the carpet, drill some holes in the walls to dry it out and you’ll be fine.
I say, Wow, those fans are pretty loud. I’m running a marketing agency – I can’t really have people on the phone with clients while there’s all that noise.
Engineer sneers and shrugs at me like, Oh, you f–king loser. Suck it up. Don’t be a whiner.

The conclusion

20 minutes.
That was the difference between me remembering that the A/C repair guys, not my building’s owners, were at fault here. That, and one sneer, was the difference between me thanking the building engineers for their help, or thinking they’re total schmucks.
If, instead of arguing with me over whether it had been an hour, or it had been 40 minutes, the building manager had simply said “Sorry, I’ll check on where they’re at,” I’d be writing a very different blog post right now.
Now, if anyone asks me about the company that runs this place, I’ll say they’re OK, but miserable to deal with if anything goes wrong. I’ll say the maintenance guys are rude but semi-competent. And I certainly won’t recommend anyone I’ve dealt with in the last 3 hours.
Maybe this isn’t a big deal to them. But this is my damned company, my work that’s been disrupted, and it’s a big deal to me.
Next time I’m on the phone with an irate customer, I’ll remember that.
Update: The leak is stopped. Furniture is moved. Here’s how the office now looks:
Here’s a video representation:

Random stuff

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Wow…you have so much more patience than me. I would be yelling at everyone :/
    I hope its fixed soon and your back to business as usual.

  2. Oh man… Not the thing you want to see at 6:30 in the morning – or ever. Great example of why you shouldn’t treat all customer problems as “business as usual”, because for them it might not be “business as usual”.
    Do you have a disaster recovery plan? After this, I bet you will. Good luck with the clean up!

  3. Of course we do, Chris! Check out our disaster planning, in detail, here:
    Rest assured, our client’s data is protected.
    OK, seriously, it really is, but we couldn’t resist taking this photo.

  4. Not a great start to the day Ian! It seems like you have alot more patience than me…i’d of been close to flipping if the engineer had of shrugged at me like that! Whatever happened to a bit of compassion and thought for how our actions effect other people!? Hope things get back to normal soon

  5. Ian, that really stinks. Sounds like it may be time to look for new space.
    Meanwhile, perhaps this story will make you feel better.
    Many many years ago, my boss and I came into the office on Labor Day holiday weekend. We had a big project to work on for IBM and they needed everything by Tuesday morning.
    This was in 1988. No email and no internet. We barely had fax machines. Everything had to be done that day (Saturday) and FedExed that night). If not, we were toast.
    So, I get in to work, and look around for my boss. No sign of her. Then, I hear splashing. There was a big leak – right over the copy machine. We got the leak shut down (eventually), but could no longer make copies.
    I had to print out 50 sets of hard copies of a 90 page workbook from my 8 page a minute LaserWriter. And then, repeat the process with the matching transparencies (remember those?).
    Somehow, we got it done and out the door on time.
    There was also a funny postscript (pardon the pun) though. We were using Macs (pre-Windows). The IBMers were amazed at all our fonts and graphics. They gasped, “How did you DO that?!” My boss just smiled.
    (I’d wanted to put little Apple logos on the bottom of each page. She wouldn’t let me).

  6. Makes you wonder what your building management’s head of marketing think their brand is all about, and the gaps between that and what you experienced.
    Also, when the group in charge of the product discounts an instance of customer feedback because “they aren’t our target audience”, maybe they are missing who the REAL audience is.
    Finally, it might be time for you to start looking for new space. Or at least, send an email to your firm to renegotiate your lease with a link to this post!

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