Service of Big Companies Making Small Ones Look Bad

April 4th, 2011

Categories: Accommodation, Annoying, Big, Communications, Control, Customer Service, Dependability, Dissatisfaction, Mistakes, Quality Control, Small


I know of three recent instances in which large corporations made small business people look incompetent or irresponsible. I had to share.

A friend thought he’d lost it when he tried to download a document to a major international office support business. No matter what he clicked or how hard he tried to follow the instructions, he couldn’t send it. He finally picked up his laptop and brought it to the store. When he got there–the branch doesn’t give out its phone number–the staffer said, “Oh, you have a Mac. You can’t always download from a Mac.” Couldn’t the website have noted this weakness in a warning? Is a customer’s time of no value? I empathize. When technology lets me down I always blame myself.

vintagetelephoneoperatorThe second instance happened to me. A client was setting up his booth at an exhibit in NYC. I was on call should he need anything as his partner wasn’t able to assist him. I didn’t leave my office from the time I knew he was scheduled to download at the dock at 12:45. I check the phone periodically–a habit–by picking up the handset to hear if the telltale quick dial tone indicates that I have messages. After 4, there was one. My client left it for me at 1:30. I was horrified. My voicemail is part of a major corporation’s package. It’s not the first time that the phone message system has let me down. I’ve been at work until 8 pm some nights and only the next morning do I get a message left for me at 4 or 5 pm the day before.

And then there are those missing emails. I know I don’t get all of mine. The proof: Just last week I read an email response sent to many people on a committee. I’m a member but I never got the original one. When I checked, I was on the first TO: list. Scary.

On the bright side, there was some service connected to these instances of big companies making small ones look bad: They translated into a post.

These examples are not a conspiracy to knock out the small guy. No company deliberately harms its customers. I nevertheless feel helpless and frustrated because I can’t control every aspect of my business. Can anyone? Do you have any similar examples?


6 Responses to “Service of Big Companies Making Small Ones Look Bad”

  1. David Reich Said:

    Unfortunately, things don’t always work the way they should. And when they don’t, it can make someone look bad.

    Regarding the reliability of emails, I’ve learned the hard way that emails are not always instantaneous, nor are they guaranteed to actually arrive. Many times I’ve had emails just seemingly disappear into the ether. If something is really urgent, I usually try to back it up with a call or voicemail.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Funny how we assume emails all arrive, or that a person will see the ones sent, which is why like you I follow up, if the info is time sensitive or important.

    I triage emails and skip over some if they arrive in the middle of a deadline or that I see while I’m at a meeting outside the office and figure I’ll get back when I return to my desk. If too many pile up….I might miss some.

    I am guilty of thinking that a voice message left is a voice message received but that’s not always true!

  3. Hester Craddock Said:

    One of the major issues all civilized countries have been grappling with since they first came into being is that of minority rights. This is why the US Senate has a “super majority” of 60, before it can pass important legislation and why the Sherman Anti-trust Act, passed into law over a 100 years ago, is still on the books and still an important factor in protecting the public from “big business.” Despite what you may hear said to the contrary, we are lucky to have both.

    Increasingly, one hears reference to President Eisenhower’s warning to the public in his Farewell Address, to beware of the “military-industrial complex.” Thanks to the benign neglect of an increasingly pliant, television sated, zombie-like, and poorly educated public, “big business” has become the single biggest threat to individual freedom in the history of the Republic. It now even decides, in all too many cases, who should be elected to office by judiciously spending its money to support those candidates who will vote “right” on issues important to it. And if both candidates are prepared to vote “right,” it supports both to ensure its “bought” vote.

    As to “big business” caring for its customers, based on my 30 years working for two giant corporations (two of them as “senior management”), the gentleman who said, “The public be damned!” had it right. The only thing that counts in business is how to make more money. One way to do that is to destroy the competition, and of course, the easiest competition to destroy are the little fellows.

    As a matter of moral principal and patriotic duty, I will never shop in a larger store if I can find a smaller one to patronize. Unfortunately, this is becoming harder and harder to do, but doing it has the added benefit that I tend to receive better service and buy better made products.

    In closing, I suggest that the wellbeing of the country would improve in direct proportion to the extent to which the power of “big business” and big government is diminished.

  4. Lucrezia Said:

    Just about everyone has a horror story to tell while doing dealing with either big, small or medium sized businesses, and those with the slightest bit of spirit, have gone to war vs any or all of these entities. As Mr. Reich wisely observed, someone is bound to screw up somewhere.

    I don’t enjoy stress, so will cheerfully pass it on if and when annoyed. This has brought me coupons from huge entities, such as Duane Reade, a reorganization of shopping carts from a local CVS (after being publicly humiliated by a buzzer going off when finding one in a designated area) along with free meals, discounts & etc.

    Smaller entities are easier to deal with, and usually a kind word in the right direction brings about positive results. Said kind word also works with large corporations who give their reps some power. Citibank once relieved me of some $40.00 of legal charges after the right tone of voice appealed to the person on the other end.

    It’s a good policy to make a game of it when adversity strikes. Learning to make the right moves pays. Chess anyone?

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hester, I am sad to read what you write [so articulately]…

    It shows how naive I can be. There’s a saying about a good salesman being the first one to fall for another salesperson’s pitch. Guess the same thing can be said of PR people. Having helped with mission and vision statements, and selecting ethical companies with great products to represent, I like to think that there are good corporate citizens out there. Obviously people and corporations are in business to make money regardless of size–to provide good products and services as well or natural selection should put them out of business.

    Come to think of it, it can be very hard to find a person to speak with or write to at some big corporations. With all the talk of transparency, phone numbers and email addresses are often tucked away so cleverly that only a person’s nearest and dearest can find out how to reach a soul.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I try to emulate your philosophy and approach. That said I was mortified to have missed my client’s call. It made me appear inattentive to the point of being disrespectful, and nothing can repair such damage to an image because there are people with reputations of overbooking and not being where they say they will be. I used to rent space in a law firm and one of the lawyers kept his clients waiting for hours.

    While I tuck in my schedule the time to write letters both positive and negative to praise or berate, there are limits. Hearing of three glitches in a week was not a good trend.

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