Real Wealth’s Best Friend

Friday, 12:30pm
Reno, NV
I’m handy with the love and I’m no fool, I fix broken hearts, I know I really can…” (“Handyman”, Jimmy Jones)


There’s a lesson here somewhere: I use a certain well-known phone company for my Interwebs access, and over the years I’ve learned…

not to trust them.

Their customer service is all talk and no action. Everything I’ve wanted done has required multiple calls to agents who sound nice, promise immediate action, apologize profusely for past transgressions…

… and who then proceed to fuck up the simplest of transactions.

I gotta believe some of them are doing it for spite, just because they’re bored.

The others are simply incompetent fools.

Anyway, the better customer I prove to be, the worst it gets.

I pay my bills on time, and never bother to try gaming the system. Which means I occasionally get mired into obsolete billing models, where I’m paying more for less.

And when it’s discovered by some agent while she’s trying to un-fuck whatever the most recent mess is, they act like it’s my fault I’ve been ignored and abused.

In their world, any customer who does not obsess over their phone bill, constantly fussing with the options and sucking up the deals, is complicit in any bad deal that develops.


I just want the phones and Web to work.

So, you know, I can do my job, and help civilization progress another iota along the slow crawl to oblivion.

I don’t buy things on sale, because that’s a sucker’s game — I buy what I need, when I need it, and happily pay more for a fair value.

In other words…

… I’m a high-end, diamond-plated, near perfect customer.

Which, in the phone company’s eyes, makes me a chump to be exploited, over and over.

Shame on me, I know.

I toss everything they send me, except the bill. I don’t trust them to do the right thing in any deal they offer, and I will bolt for the first hint of a competitor who has better customer service…

… when and if such a competitor arrives. No luck so far.

I went through this in the 90s with first Gateway computers, and then Dell. I’ve bought a couple dozen computers in my time, and I always get the most hot-rodded model possible. Add on every gewgaw and dangling option they’ve got (and then add some of my own).

But I require good customer service. At first, Gateway rocked. Nurtured me through every new computer buy, and were there for me when the occasional problem rose.

Then they did some finagling with their model, and thought “Hey, why are we paying so much to staff the customer service division? Let’s cut ’em all loose. That’s the FIRST place to save real money.” And they ditched their super-excellent customer service department. Sent it all overseas, where non-English-speaking folks struggled to even answer the damn phone when you called.

After a lengthy battle to get them to fix the shoddy-ass new computer I’d purchased, I was done.

Went over to Dell, their main competitor. And, for a few years, I got great service again.

Then, some shit-for-brains MBA weaseled his way into the hierarchy and gutted their customer service.

Not “cost effective”, you know.

With a monopoly — like the cable company (which I hope is swallowed up by a passing black hole soon) — you can get away with Soviet-style customer service (or lack thereof). At least, until other options appear (like abandoning cable altogether and just finding shows elsewhere online) (or, God forbid, finding something better to do with your limited time on earth, and eschew TV altogether).

Meanwhile, don’t you DARE treat your customers like the Big Dogs do. Entrepreneurs are closer to the action, and should know that finding ways to keep that sliver of a percentage of your best customers happy can bring in a fortune.

Chasing the mobs of looky-lou’s who are dead broke and prefer stealing your content anyway is a fool’s errand (which is all too common in biz today).

Know where your real wealth comes from. Hint: It’s quality, not quantity.

Some of the more successful entrepreneurs I know have the tiniest lists imaginable…

… but those lists are stuffed with the best customers any biz could wish for.

And they trust each other.

They’ve earned it.

Just think about it, as you ignore customer service for another day.

That sudden draft of cold wind is another opportunity leaving your world for better prospects elsewhere…

Stay frosty,


P.S. For more insight to making customers get all excited about giving you money…

… be sure you’re armed with the right info. Start here

P.P.S. Yeah, the photo above is me, back at the beginning of my freelance career. First big computer buy. This was in the mid-80s, way before Gateway or Dell’s computer-shipping concept was even viable.

I had this computer put together piece by piece — a bulky monitor (orange dots on a black screen only as the interface), two IBM floppy disc drives stacked (and we’re talking REAL floppy discs, 5-1/4″), and a slooooooow dot matrix printer. I had to load DOS, then load the word processing software (MultiMate, now extinct)…

… and then load up a blank floppy to work on.

It was like being on the flight deck of the starship Enterprise, though. Just amazing technology. The prior day, I’d been writing my ads on an IBM Selectric typewriter. If I wanted copies made, I had to drive to the “copy making place”, usually a small printer. Nobody had Xeroxes in their home office at that time.

You laugh, now — but back then, this was the height of computerized entrepreneurialism.

I’ve been around the block a few times. It’s been a blast, but also very disorienting at times. I mean, my iPhone has more computing power than NASA used for the moon shots in ’69. Stunning…

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"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • Chetan says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the sage advice.

    The customer is a king for businesses when it’s getting its wings to soar. But when it’s flying high, the same customer becomes a speck of dust on the green paper that gets brushed off too quickly…

    A recent incident that struck a chord when reading this post…

    One evening, I returned home hungry and tired after a busy day at work.

    I’d no ounce of energy of left over in my bones to cook and so dialed the Thai restaurant that I frequent and ordered my favorite, hot and spicy, phad thai with minced chicken.

    In twenty-five minutes your order will be delivered, sir.
    Enjoy the meal…the voice on the other side confirmed.

    Those 25 minutes looked like centuries…when the delivery boy arrived, and it felt like heaven when he handed me the food packet.

    I wanted to pay by card but the boy had forgotten to carry the portable card reader, and I didn’t have the mini change in cash to pay… and that’s just 12 dollars!

    But the boy was kind enough to say, Sir, please have the food and pay us when you visit our restaurant. It felt good…

    But in two minutes the heavenly feeling turned out to be a near hell experience, and I’d a barrage of thoughts running through my head…

    …The boy came back running to my apartment and asked for the food packet which I’d just opened and about to eat the first morsel…

    Sir, my restaurant owner, shouted at me that I couldn’t leave the food packet without payment…So…Please…

    Something I would have done if I were the restaurant owner:
    1. I would have come back again for the payment…
    2. I would have asked the customer to transfer online
    3. I would have asked the customer to visit the restaurant at a later date to pay

    But he chose otherwise…he lost a loyal customer for a paltry 12 dollars!

    That was a good lesson to learn for just 12 dollars!

  • Al Brighton says:

    So what if, just what if, one of the big boys got real and realised customer service MAKES money. What could they achieve?
    This is one of the conundrums of business, what the accountants can’t count. Bad service costs businesses a fortune, they just don’t see it, can’t see it or just plain ignore it. How stupid can that be, really?
    We just teach people to really look after and love customers and ask them to pay for it and of course they’re happy to. Simple profit-making stuff.
    I reckon it’s worse in England than the US, and it’s getting worse here all the time.
    Rant over, now I feel better.

    • John Carlton says:

      You’re right — you’ve got to know what to look for when you adopt good biz practices like this. The MBAs dominating the biz culture here aren’t trained to think further ahead than the next quarter, so it’s all short-term growth stuff.

      A good entrepreneur understands the lifetime value of a good customer… which can often take a lifetime to play out. My friends in real estate know this — the average home owner changes houses every 5 years. That seems like a long time to stay in touch with someone who just bought a house from you, but it pays off if you last in the career. Every five years, a huge part of your list turns over. And buys a bigger house with you as the agent.

      Nice rant, Al. Appreciate the note…

  • Bob Long says:

    Customer service? A joke, almost everywhere, especially by those who feel (?) like they have customer service. Usually I finally get what I want if I am willing to wait. MY doctor’s office, however, is first rate. Usually it is the technology companies who drive me the craziest. Dan Kennedy wrote, many moons ago, about testing your own phone service because that’s usually where the weak link is.
    But, I am constantly amazed at programmer’s who have a goal of being as brief as possible in their written code. They write something which can have two meanings (or more) and we have to waste time figuring out what to do… but if they only put 2-3 more words in their description, it would all become obvious. Maybe though the worst is medical who don’t seem to have YOUR records even though your have given your data of birth ten dozen times…and guess what? They always have a really dumb excuse for why things have to be done a certain way, and none one which makes easy sense.

    • John Carlton says:

      I HATE that excuse: “Sorry, this is just the way we do things”. It’s bullshit, and it can murder your biz. We all have horror stories of someone interfering with what should be a simple transaction… and yes, all biz owners should regularly try to buy from their own sites and stores. That’s what a number of TV shows are about (like Bar Rescue)…

  • Kiran says:

    Great article John, and timely, too.

    Just yesterday afternoon I was on the receiving end of some shocking customer service from Apple (of all companies). I was even thinking of Samsung before I hung up the phone.

    I’ve calmed down since!

    But it’s a good reminder to astonish your customers with great service and value, because more often than not, they will return the favor. Everyone wins.



    • John Carlton says:

      Yep. Even Apple does it, occasionally.

      They do, however, often recover their senses sooner or later. I’ve been loyal to them for a decade, but recently got shafted by an employee when buying my current iMac. He didn’t explain I was taking out a loan on some inconsequential item, so I get billed .19 cents every month for a service that I thought I was simply buying for $100 or so. It’s idiotic, and affects my credit standing. Morons.

      Gosh, it’s fun to rant, isn’t it.

  • Bob says:

    You just got me thinking about a “new” business model. Call it concierge front-end service to the Big Dog Monopolies. (I confess, before I got to this, I started to follow the initial part of your rant and went on a tear about the phone company. Then I calmed down and it hit me.)

    There are people and business and people who do little more than resell the, uh, dog food that the Big Dogs push. They add value by delivering excellent customer service.

    These outfits offer what I would call concierge service as a front-end to the government or monopoly service provider. Don’t want to deal with California DMV? Join the Auto Club. Weary of the local Post Office? Get a box at Postal Contract Office.

    In a similar vein, there are providers that will sell you bullet-proof internet and digital calling on the existing Big Phone Company wires that already connect to your house.

    Car dealers bother you? Around here, there is a guy who will buy your new car for you. You tell him what you want, and pay him a fee or an hourly rate, and he finds the best deal, handles all of the negotiations, inspects, test drives, and delivers the car to you. He’s even turning away business.

    Customer service is not only good business, it can actually BE a business.

    • John Carlton says:

      I hadn’t thought about this concierge type service model much, but you’re right — it’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs with some decent knowledge of good salesmanship.

      Great add to the post, Bob. Thanks.

  • Varun Sharma says:

    Hey John,

    In sum, the culture around us is completely perishing in overproduction, in an avalanche of new-techs, up to the minute models, more words, in the madness of quantity. The slow collapse of once awesome – now shoddy modern institutions is a perfect symbol of the triumph of quantity over quality that the world has yet seen.

    Here’s the scary part, phone and computer companies are becoming worse each day because the policies that made them monopolies rewarded lobbying over customer service. A miserable trend that’s not going to stop soon.

  • Fascinating post, John — always a great read. Thank you for writing it.

    It begs the question, though: as a small entrepreneur, without a big budget to spend on creating a \’brand\’ for yourself around good customer service (I\’m in Australia, but US examples I can think of would be Southwest Airlines and Zappos) … how do you bring forward good customer service as a sizzling benefit in your advertising, when it\’s not as \’sexy\’?

    It hits home as I know my father (an alarm installation tradesman) does a better job than anyone else in town … but it\’s hard to say \”we run your wires neater and make you happier\” against some of the ballsier claims you might make.

    Seems to me that customer service is one of those things people only miss when it\’s gone … rather than appreciate when it\’s there.

    What do you reckon? Have you ever used it as a leading benefit?

    PS Love the picture — since reading Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets I\’d always tried to picture the \’spaceship\’ in my head. Now I know!


    • John Carlton says:

      Yes, of course it can be a leading benefit. Especially if the average person out there is experiencing bad customer service and shoddy workmanship.

      But you can’t just announce it. You’ve got to prove it. Testimonials go a long way here…

  • Peter Wright says:

    Seems so many folks have similar experiences with poor or non-existent customer service that some of them must also be guilty of delivering that bad service.

    I remember MultiMate too and Gestetner duplicating machines which needed stencils produced on a typewriter with individual keys, not a golf ball or daisy wheel.

    Must be getting really old.

  • PJ Pires says:

    If Nasa landed a ship in 69″ (which I REALLY² doubt)…

    …with a iPhone 7 can we conquer the full universe?

  • Thanks for the tips John! As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

  • Faith says:

    Thanks for pointing out how the members of the oligarchy operate and how every other business NEEDS to operate. Big difference.

  • Hey John,

    Thank you SO MUCH for using this blog and sharing your knowledge with us.

    I think that this week you posted something on Facebook asking if some kid was there following you.

    Well, I am a kid (I’m 23 years old), and I am following every single thing you write online. I’m rereading your books. I have the “SWS Workbook” right in front of me, with hundreds of notes.

    Even though I can’t answer you on Facebook (looks like you blocked answers from people that are not your friend), I’d like to answer you here, so you can see that yep, young people enjoy your work.

    Thank you again for sharing your knowledge and help me and others improve our lifes. Next year I’ll go back to Brazil and create my Direct Marketing Agency, and I’ll apply every single think that you teach.

    I also want to have pictures of the bad boys: you, Halbert, Bencivenga, Hopkins, Ogilvy, and all the others that are helping me in this journey there. That would be cool, right?

    Anyway, thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    – Just a kid from Brazil.

    • Sheikh Abdullah says:

      Hey not only you but i this old man’s stuff..and you know what. Im also 23 years old..(your comment is one year old so you must be 24 now)
      yup i know it’s amazing. Young guns reading Johns stuff.. I think sir john is in a plan of running some kind of young gangs ..and then take the whole 21century-civilization down.. LOVINGLY-EVIL SIR JOHN.

      P.S. Sir john, i also read your book every day. And Yes (I secretly handwrite it too)
      You are like father figure. I always think if my grandapa was alive.

      He would have also give me the same kind of advice that you give through your Facebook and blog..and emails..

      Anyways love you..

  • David says:

    Moan, moan, moan, , moan, moan… xxx <3

  • Troy says:

    Reminds me of a saying I’ve heard:

    “Want to win the drug war? Legalize all drugs and force people to buy them through Comcast customer service.”

  • tony says:

    You are right good customer service usually treated as daft bunch of people.
    Only a few companies know the power of good customer service

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