Pink Floyd, Seinfeld, and Extremes in Customer Service

An obscure Pink Floyd song and a Seinfeld quote got me thinking about customer service.
Jul | 7 | 2010

Jul | 7 | 2010

One of my favorite Pink Floyd songs from the band’s later years is “Poles Apart”, off of its 1994 Division Bell album. The song was on my mind yesterday and I had customer service issues with two companies–and couldn’t have been more pleased with a third.

Verizon and Comcast battled throughout the day for “most frustrating, most indifferent, most incompetent company.” Comcast was in the early lead after improperly configuring my cable modem, causing me to be down for no reason at all for three fun-filled hours yesterday. Fear not, fans of Verizon: your horse made a startling run at the end with interminable hold times and disconnections. Nice! In the end, Verizon won by a landslide.

Note to Verizon: Learn the effing rules of Twitter or simply disable your account. By not understanding the basics, you’re just providing customers with yet another source of irritation. These days, there are many ways to do customer service:

  • phones
  • chat
  • Twitter
  • email

Don’t suck at all four.

The Moon

Jerry Seinfeld once famously said, “We never should have put a man on the moon. Now, every time that we can’t do something, we’ll have people saying ‘We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t do [insert name of ostensibly simple task like get a phone line to work].'” Of course, Seinfeld said it more eloquently than that, but you get my drift.

Contrast both of these calamities with the amazingly pleasant experience I had yesterday at my local tennis shop. Hours after I dropped off my racket in need of restringing, I get a call from a very friendly employee telling me that it’s ready. They did what they said they’d do when they said it. Ahh ….the beauty of simplicity in an otherwise frustrating day.

Simon Says

Look, I’m not a complete idiot. I understand that stringing a tennis racket is fundamentally easier than porting phone lines and ensuring that a cable modem is working. But when your core business involves phones and other “techie” stuff, shouldn’t most of your employees be reasonably good at it? And, while we’re at it, here are a few more questions:

  • Why does it take calling three reps to find one to diagnose my problem?
  • Why am I masking all of the calls?
  • Why don’t you assign reps specifically to handle a customer issue from beginning to end? Ownership isn’t a bad thing.

On a different level, small businesses just get customer service a hell of a lot more than large organizations.


What’s your view big company customer service? Can’t they learn something from the little guy?

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  1. Terri Rylander

    All you had to say was Pink Floyd and I was all over your post! Top of my list of all time favorites, right next to Dire Straits. Hahaha
    Seriously though, for the longest time, these big telcos didn’t have to worry about customer service because they basically had no competition. They still have very little, especially in the telephone space. But as VoIP, satellite TV, and even Internet options like Clear(Wire) come to play, they’ll need to start watching their backs. Unfortunately (or fortunately), these aren’t quite at mass adoption yet and have kinks of their own to work out.
    Having no strong competitors (except for each other – Comcast/Verizon), is still no excuse for poor service. I’m appalled by your continuing stories.
    Put some Pink Floyd on your Ipod and go take a hard and fast walk! Good luck.

  2. Corinna

    It is not just about being a big business but the perception of monopoly means that an organization does not have to pay attention to customer service like say…a small business. Hence the frustration with the two companies you listed. They believe you are at their mercy and they will do whatever they do in the time they choose. “Between the hours of 12-4 p.m.”

  3. Crysta Anderson

    Phil, you make an excellent point. But to take Corinna’s point and your Seinfeld reference – do you remember when Jerry turned the tables on the cable company and told THEM what window they should wait for HIM?
    I’m expecting a couch delivery tomorrow and hope they come early in the 4 hour window so I can run other errands.

  4. Alan Stein

    Good post, Phil.   I’m a sucker for anything that combines Pink Floyd, Seinfeld, and Customer Service in the title.   There’s no way that a big company can match the personal service of the best small companies, as I wrote about in a recent experience with a bed and breakfast.
    Big companies certainly don’t have a monopoly on bad service, however.  It occasionally goes the other way, as it did for me this morning.   I need new tires, had a local mom and pop tire shop recommended to me.   I called them to check their hours, and the guy answered the phone sounding like he was already irritated that I called.   He continued that way for our 20 second call.   I decided to go to a chain store, and they’ve been very pleasant to deal with so far (hopefully will stay that way through completion of the tires going on my car).

  5. Fernando

    “All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”.

  6. philsimon


    Thanks for the comments. It’s sad to hear that I’m not alone in my customer service hell. Perhaps the tide will turn as more people get fed up with inadequate support.

  7. Parker

    Welcome to the machine, Phil.


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