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A Customer Complaint, 4,000 Years Old, Lives On


When considering customer service it is wise to remember William Shakespeare,
"The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
The entrance to the British Museum in London is located between Russell Square and the Bloomsbury gardens; the building dates back to the 1600’s. Included within its collections are an ancient granite stone and a considerably more ancient clay tablet. Both artifacts are carved with messages of historic significance to modern business and are indicative of how much, and how little, has changed over the ages.
Adolph Leo Oppenheim is cited as having read, and translated, more cuneiform than any other person of the modern era, he died in 1974. He is known as one of the most distinguished Assyriologists of his generation. Mr. Oppenheim was presented with an ancient Babylonian clay tablet, dating to 1750 B.C., acquired by the British Museum in 1953, and mysteriously opaque to translation.
The secret to revealing the tablet's message required the use of the more recent object, dating to 196 B.C., a granite stone known today as the “Rosetta Stone.”
The Rosetta Stone - The British Museum
Written in cuneiform on clay from southern Iraq nearly 4,000 years ago, as translated by Mr. Oppenheim, is a customer complaint from a tradesman Nanni to a merchant Ea-Nasir:
When you came, you said: “I will provide fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”
What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money, deposited with you, but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory.”
The tablet goes on to complain that an improper grade of copper ore has been delivered, after an arduous gulf voyage, and implies deliberate misrepresentation and further delivery delays.
Nanni's Clay Tablet Customer Complaint - British Museum
Today, customer dissatisfaction does not require hand-carving clay with a sharpened reed and allowing the message to dry in the sun. Publication no longer consists of one messenger showing the tablet to a single recipient.
30 seconds of discontent via circa 2015 A.D. social media can provide millions of views, and cost millions of dollars, within days. 
Patrick Stewart, best known as captain of the Federation Starship Enterprise, wished to set up a new Time Warner Cable account and met with long wait times, disconnects, forwards, call backs and more. He posted this tweet,
All I wanted to do was set up a new account with @TWCable_NYC but 36hrs later I’ve lost the will to live.”
Famously, passenger Dave Carroll watched from his airplane window as United Airlines baggage handlers damaged his custom-made guitar; he filmed it with his phone. He called and emailed United Airlines to no avail. His band wrote a four-minute song about the incident and posted it on YouTube (below). The video has over 14 million views. The complaint reportedly cost United Airlines 10% of its market cap, or $180 million.
Dave Carroll to United Airlines - YouTube
Hawke & Co, a US clothing firm, stepped face first into the following firestorm:
Christian Conti:
“Ordered from @hawkeandco and had my order cancelled and they wouldn’t honor the discount on other products. Big fat “do not recommend!”
Hawke & Co responded:
“@cconti We’re sure your 320 followers will understand.”
Painful, and viral.
While back in London, according to a poll by the British communications agency Fishburn Hedges and Echo Research, 36% of people have used a social media platform to contact a big company and 65% said it was a better way than call centers to get in touch with companies. "A lot of us at the moment are not complaining necessarily through Twitter, but as we progress, it certainly is a medium of choice, and organizations will need to be able to respond appropriately,”
Good customer service is invaluable, just ask Zappos. Bad customer service is timeless, just ask Ea-Nasir.

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