The Creation of the Cranky Customer

woman upset on the phone

One of the things that has increased steadily over my 16 years as The Phone Lady is requests for skills on communicating with an upset client/customer. There are numerous reasons why these skills are more in demand. One is, as a society, we are still working through the aftermath of the pandemic, which includes higher levels of impatience and some downright crankiness.

Another is our history as consumers. Over the past few decades, most of us have aligned ourselves with at least one multi-national corporation – be that a big box store or an online retailer/supplier. These large companies know how to “crunch the numbers”. They know it costs them less to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one. The solution is to quickly give something to an emotional customer. And this has taught all of us to get angry sooner so that we get something for free.

Recently I unwittingly encountered this solution in a different format – and I’m still feeling cranky. I’m not sure if by chance, I became part of some A/B testing, or if the process this company has designed is simply a disingenuous way of appearing to value customers while increasing revenue. Either way, it supports becoming quickly annoyed in order to get excellent service … and adds to the challenges faced by every customer service representative.

What is the solution I encountered? And is it already impacting you?

Late one evening I received an email informing me of a substantial monthly increase for an online subscription service. The notice arrived mentioning the cost per week, which didn’t seem like much, but when I multiplied by 52 … it was too much. For me, the service no longer matched the price tag.

I went to my online account expecting that cancelling the subscription would be easily available as one of my account options. No such luck, which I found odd since I both signed up and paid online. After a bit of a search I discovered that if I wanted to cancel, I had to phone a toll-free number.

Now, as The Phone Lady, you would think this would delight me. After all, the company actually wants to talk to me, right? But my spidey-sense told me this was a calculated move on their part; that once they got me on the phone, they’d offer me something.

I was right. By making the effort to call the number, move through several menus and reach a representative, I was asked, “Why are you cancelling?” I was honest – the service is now too expensive for me. I shared this in a very straightforward and pleasant way. The representative immediately responded with the special offer but not for a month, or three months, but for an entire year. And it was a substantial offer – $5 less per week!

And yes, I accepted. But after I hung up the phone, some crankiness set in, and it’s definitely possible I may change my mind.

I’m not receiving this offer because the company values me as a customer. I’m receiving it in part because of chance and in part because I did the work.

Why chance? Well, the email about the increase did not go to spam and my inbox isn’t overflowing, so it was easy to notice.

And the work? I’m quite persistent when it comes to online searching, so I wasn’t discouraged by the buried details on how to unsubscribe. Nor was I deterred by making the phone call and moving through the menus. The effort has now saved me $260.

But the experience has left me with many questions. Is the company testing out how much they can actually charge? Based on subscriber reactions, will they send out another notice and give everyone the discount they’ve offered me? And is the discounted price still creating a profit for them?

Or do they know that the majority of subscribers either won’t see the notice and/or won’t take the steps to cancel or complain? In other words, unwittingly, are other subscribers not only going to cover the cost of my discount but support the company in charging even more next year?

For me, this type of “service” supports cynicism, it teaches us all to be more aggressive customers. And this is costly for every business that values its clients and works hard to deliver the best possible experience.

Two requests:

  • Check your inbox and spam. Make sure you aren’t neglecting the emails announcing increases to your online services. Call the companies’ bluff and do the work.
  • Let me know your thoughts/experiences in the comment section below. Companies and organizations that provide genuine customer service need support and your stories and comments will strengthen my ability to deliver.


2 thoughts on “The Creation of the Cranky Customer”

    • Thanks, Penny. This continues to irritate me to today I’m cancelling the subscription. They’ll likely ask me “why” but I doubt my answer will have an impact.


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What's The Phone Lady doing?


  • Remote learning experiences + one-on-one coaching for women entrepreneurs (More info about this three-year program here.)
  • Team and individual coaching with a national moving company to refine their sales process
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  • Remote seven-part sales training program for US-based SaaS
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  • In-person workshop on job search skills for women in the trades
  • Remote half-day webinar on written correspondence to customers

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