Institutional Failure

failure-2With the decision of the Grand Jury in the case of Michael Brown, we have once again seen riots, looting and damage to businesses in Ferguson, MS.  

And to be honest, when watching the protesters and the damage both in Ferguson and other cities around the country, all I could think about was how damaging to their cause it all was.

Ask One Question …

My belief was that if you were able to poll the protestors and ask one question: “Did you vote in the last election?”  The answer would be “No” from the significant majority.   After all, slightly less than 1/3 of eligible voters voted in an election that dramatically changed the makeup of Congress.

But a couple of events and my reaction to them caused me to begin to understand a little the nature of the frustration and helplessness that people often feel when dealing with institutions.

In my own case, I have Xfinity Internet and TV in my condo building.   It is the only supplier that brings those services to the building.   Over the last six weeks or so, my internet has exhibited significant slowdowns, slowing to low single digit Mbs performance despite my paying for a much higher speed.

I Did What Any Customer Would Do …

So, I did what any customer would do; I called the company.  After some wait, I was connected with a “service representative”. This person had a speech impediment, so a phone service position might not have been the best for her, but the total stupidity of the response made things a lot worse.

She asked the usual questions like my name and account number and what the problem was. But after each answer, she repeated the words: “Thank you for providing that information.”  After each individual answer! 

Since she couldn’t solve my problem with my internet, she kept offering to “make my account better”.  She tried to sell me at various times during the call; faster internet, (despite the fact they couldn’t seem to deliver what I was already paying for) a home phone, a new DVR, and more movie channels.  All of this despite the fact that I kept trying to tell her that I was completely happy with what I had; all I wanted was my internet fixed.

Only A Threat That I Was Going To Sue …

After what seem a lifetime of this with my frustration level rising, only a threat that I was going to sue them if they didn’t address my problem got me to a technician who after about 5 minutes of testing set up an appoint for a home technical visit.

The second incident relates to a friend of mine who was my administrative assistant earlier in my career.  Besides being a great assistant when I needed one, she is hard working, ambitious and one of the nicest people I know.  Recently she had a situation with her daughter and Kaiser Health in Los Angeles with an apparent case of malpractice leaving her daughter with a loss of sight and a disfigured eye.  

She has talked to several law firms in the LA area and they have declined to take the case because the monetary rewards are not large enough. In California, pain and suffering is limited to $250,000 with a ballot initiative raising it to $1 million failing in the last election. 

Can You Believe The Level Of Frustration …

Because her daughter is a college student, the law firms don’t want to take the risk of not being able to prove economic damages due to the loss of the eye. Can you believe the level of frustration? Your child loses an eye due to someone’s incompetence and you can’t find an attorney because the monetary damages may be too small.  It’s easy to see how the system is failing.

We could add many other institutions such as Bank of America who repeatedly lost applications for loan modifications and repeatedly foreclosed on homes at the same time another part of the bank claimed they were negotiation a loan modification.

And while the bank paid large fines, no one dealt with the individuals who lost their homes. Or the auto makers, literally killing people with faulty ignition switches and airbags. And although not clear yet, GM may be able to be exempt from some damages due to its bankruptcy.

The Contrast To This Is …

The contrast to this is Nordstrom, a company that has institutionalized not frustrating the customer.  A friend of mine bought a hair dryer there.  When it didn’t work properly, they exchanged it.  No request for receipt, no paperwork; just a simple exchange and apology.

We all have stories of being forced to deal with institutions we would rather not. Sometimes there are no alternatives, in others; we have no choices related to who services a mortgage. Or due to an employer’s plan; where we get our health care.

And No Matter How Frustrated We Get …

And, no matter how frustrated we get, we don’t riot, burn down businesses or hurt people. We simply suck it up and live with the high blood pressure and other stress related illnesses that these frustrations cause.  But should we have to?

So Why Do Some People Take To The Streets …

So why do some people take to the streets instead of the ballot box?  Because of repeated examples of where the system doesn’t work for them.  Management of institutions, whether governmental or business are primarily interested preserving their positions and perks. 

Those they serve come well behind that.  And eventually you want to strike back however you can.  In many cases, striking back is against your own self-interest, but frustration will do that to you.

We Should Be Asking Ourselves …

As history shows, sooner or later, the reaction to these businesses and institutions that are deemed “too big to fail” will go far beyond our passive acceptance.  As all of us look at the businesses and institutions we represent, we should be asking if we are part of the solution or the problem.