Would you like an insult with that?

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Customer service is important for any business, and online retailers are no exception. That’s why ForeSee Results tracks customer satisfaction for e-tailers such as Amazon.com, LLBean.com, Gap.com, and others. (If you’re curious, Apple.com tied for the fourth-best score in the holiday edition of the Top 40 Online Retail Satisfaction Index.)

Since how a company deals with its customers can have a big impact on image and even sales, it’s probably not a good idea to, say, e-mail a customer and call him “an idiot,” and tell him to “shut the hell up.” But that’s exactly what I got after complaining to Sunset Live Entertainment, an online music seller.

The short story of my experience: I used to purchase concert recordings from a Web site called DiscLogic. Sunset purchased DiscLogic and recently got rid of most of the content I liked. But Sunset’s live music area promised some free concerts, so I thought I’d give them a try. I came across a Radiohead show from 2001 and before downloading it I was asked to create an account with my name, address, phone number, and so on. I did so and downloaded the show—only to find it was made up of haphazardly tagged MP3s and came with a text file that I recognized from my live-music trading (Radiohead is one of those bands that, implicitly or explicitly, lets fans record and trade its concerts) as one recorded from a radio broadcast and freely circulated among fans.

And to make things even worse, each song only had less than 30 seconds of actual music, and the rest of the files were just dead air. I wrote to the company to complain and asked to have my info removed from its database—I felt duped into handing out my personal info—and the insult-ridden tirade alluded to above was what I got in response. I forwarded the e-mail to the CEO of the company, and got a brief reply that he’d look into it. After not hearing back, I e-mailed him again and got two more nasty e-mails, this time directly from his e-mail address.

Now, I’m willing to bet that the CEO of the company probably didn’t pen those e-mails, but someone from his company did. It’s possible that someone hacked the company’s e-mail, but I’m a firm believer in the principle of Occam’s razor, which basically says that the simplest and most-logical solution tends to be correct—and having given the company ample opportunity to explain the situation, I feel justified in that conclusion.

So what’s my point here? Well, if the company had made an effort to figure out what went wrong and followed through, I wouldn’t be writing this today. But just as good customer service costs little, bad customer service can cost a great deal. In this case, Sunset hasn’t just lost a customer, it has gained an anti-customer—someone who actively tells people how bad it is.

Have you had any bad customer service experiences? If so, please share it in the forums. Think of it as a cathartic way to end the year before starting fresh with 2007.

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