This blog entry was originally published on November 10, 2002.

Some people have written to me suggesting that my experience with CompUSA was due to me being unreasonable. I recently received an email that suggests differently… from someone who works at CompUSA.

Read on to find out what “X” thought about my article…

I don’t want to cause “X” to lose their job, so I’m selectively quoting the email, and I have made edits which don’t affect the meaning of the letter to avoid revealing personal information about their identity.



I’ve read most of your site. I like it and that might be shocking to some people because I work [at a CompUSA store]. It’s hard work because I really care about the people, so if I ever have to apologize for another person’s mistake (often), I feel like I’m the one letting the customer down.

From everything I’ve read, I have to admit that you’re right. I’m stuck in a hard place, because I work for a company that doesn’t care to know or use my skills and abilities. It seems they want to make all employees act as robots with no training or communication on how to do their job. … Your site is great, because it makes use of a mass communication tool, thereby helping prevent a company from sweeping things under the rug. I wish more people would stand up and voice their concerns.

X also described how the manager at the CompUSA where X is employed reassigned X’s duties. Instead of doing the job that X had excelled at for years, X is now in a position where their skills are mostly wasted.

This illustrates the point that often, when a company provides bad customer service, they do it despite the best efforts of their employees. I believe that most people want to be helpful. However, if they’re put in a situation where being helpful is not just ignored but actually punished… Could you blame X if they were crabby toward CompUSA customers?

It’s important to remember: when customer service becomes systemically poor, it’s not because of the front-line customer service staff. It’s because of corporate policies–policies which are probably draconian, demoralizing, and rigidly enforced. It’s because of poor management. Yelling at a customer service representative won’t solve these things… but a complaint to a manager, or a well-reasoned letter to senior management, might start the ball rolling.

In the past, I think companies got away with shoddy customer service because “word of mouth” about their tactics would only spread locally. Occasionally, they might become the focus of a “consumer reporter” and need to mend their ways, but the odds were in the companies’ favor. The Internet has changed the equation: now, one shabbily-treated customer can spread word-of-mouth across the world. The lesson is: it’s a lot riskier to say “who needs that one customer?” nowadays.

January 2009 Update: Since this blog entry was originally published, CompUSA went bankrupt and ceased operations. The company was unable to compete with other big-box retailers such as Circuit City and Best Buy as well as Internet retailers, invested in a misguided attempt to sell cut-rate consumer electronics like big-screen TVs, and offered a consumer-hostile shopping environment—CompUSA was infamous for having uniformed security guards harassing shoppers at the exit. A new company with the same name is operating in a few states, providing deep-discount electronics.


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