The Science of Customer Abuse

I work full time as a systems scientist in the software architecture field. After work I write two books. These books will not teach readers how to use MS Word. The first book, with the working title The Transformable Enterprise, aims to disrupt the field of enterprise architecture. The second book, with the working title Prescriptive Analytics, aims to define a new discipline of analytics based on counter-intuitive artificial intelligence.

However, the delivery of the townhouse that I purchased from Home Builder, swept my family into a never ending turbulence that started in April 2017 (when Home Builder provided me with seven Delayed Occupancy Dates within 45 calendar days) and still negatively affects my whole life. I no longer research and write books. Instead I participate in pre-delivery and independent inspections, schedule/cancel/reschedule appointments, buy and return furniture, write and submit forms, make claims, negotiate and renegotiate mortgage rates, send emails and call Home Builder and then follow up. I lose time and money. I lost sleep, because Home Builder installed A/C directly above the master bedroom.

While being systematically humiliated and abused by Home Builder, I realized something important: customer abuse is not what I thought it was. Customer abuse is a science that should be studied, researched, documented, and well understood.

Whereas companies with strong customer centric culture don't abuse their customers even if the opportunity to do so presents itself, others take advantage of market or other conditions at the customers expense without without doubt, hesitation, or regret. They abuse customers by

  • wasting their time;
  • wasting their money;
  • making them do useless work;
  • exposing them to economic, health, and safety hazards;
  • using information about them improperly;
  • limiting choice and keeping prices high;
  • charging unreasonable fees; and
  • violating their privacy.

This list can go on and on, with new abuse cases continually on the horizon.

Classification of Customer Abuse

Customer abuse can be classified as different types in a variety of ways. One classification can be based on source of abuse:

  • Abuse by Opportunity. Some service providers take advantage of exceptional circumstances and abuse customers by spiking the price of their services to levels much higher than is considered fair or reasonable. For instance, as hurricanes Irma was approaching, travelers began complaining about airfare gouging. However, not all airlines decided to take advante CNBC reported that whereas Delta Air Lines and United Airlines capped fares at $399, American Airlines and JetBlue not only capped fares for economy-class seats out of South Florida airports at $99, but also added more flights to meet the increased demand.
    A different type of situation occurs when—despite the delayed closing—purchasers are not interested in exercising their contractual rights to terminate their purchase agreements because of the rising real estate market. This type of situation provides builders with the opportunity, for example, to force purchasers to take possession of houses that are not ready for moving in. However, this kind of abuse would not be possible when the real estate market is in decline.
  • Abuse by Intent. Because airport authorities prohibit us from taking water beyond the security screening point and rents at many airports are ridiculously high, we sometimes have to pay $5 for $1 worth of water. Customers become the victims of systematic abuse by intent. On the other hand, the Portland International Airport enforces street pricing that doesn't allow businesses to charge a penny more for food and drinks just because itís at the airport.
  • Abuse by Design. Christopher Alexander, a great contemporary architect and design theorist said that fabricated plans always have many mistakesónot just a few mistakes but tens of thousands, even millions of mistakes. Some architects repurpose weather protection elements into decoration elements and then eliminate them for aesthetic reasons, whereas others place air conditioners directly above master bedrooms. Builders often force customers to sign off on defective drawings and specifications, which helps them justify defective constructs once design mistakes materialize in the houses being built.
  • Abuse by Construction. Construction defects can be caused by incompetent project management and supervision, use of low quality building materials, poor quality workmanship, and inadequate inspection, among other factors. Because builders are not interested in allocating sufficient and appropriate resources (manpower, materials, and money) for defect fixing activities, construction defects became one of the main sources of customer abuse.
  • Abuse by Culture. When senior management fails to create a strong customer centric culture that delivers impeccable service, construction workers sometimes abuse customers by (1) leaving garbage everywhere, including ventilation pipes and other engineering systems, (2) unceremoniously enter houses that are occupied, (3) use bathrooms and other facilities without owners permission, and even (4) verbally insult customers.

Documenting Customer Abuse

I propose a standard method of documenting and communicating occurrences of customer abuse using abuse cases. In the Science of Customer Abuse, an abuse case is a single instance or event of customer maltreatment, which occurs over and over again in our society. I describe abuse cases using a consistent format, which gives a uniform structure to the information about an abuse case. The abuse case template contains the following abuse case characteristics:

  • Type
  • Caused by
  • Description
  • Effect
  • Reason(s)
  • Areal extent of damage zone
  • Intensity of impact at a point
  • Duration of impact at a point

Customer abuse is a complex international phenomenon influenced by multiple factors. It must be made visible to the public, because it can be effectively addressed only at the collective level, not at the individual level.

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