How we deal with children has changed dramatically since my youth, and if you were to believe the stories of our parents, even more so since their day.  The paddles hanging behind my teachers’ desks had one-inch holes drilled across the surface, and when asked why, we were told so that the paddle moved more swiftly, more painfully, with less air resistance.

Punishment is a strange notion, with deep roots in our culture.  While we may not emblazon scarlet letter A’s on anyone’s frock, or humiliate anyone in the town square shackles, it is central to our entire justice system.  Still, it is odd to encounter companies punishing their own customers – the people who have just reached into their wallets for their credit cards, and allowed the company to take some of their hard-earned lucre.

Medieval torture rack used to punish customers

In medieval times, torture devices were used in punishment.

I experienced an example of being punished by a company this very morning, when I purchased a copy of speech recognition and transcription software.  I had two choices: order the CD for $150, or get the digital version and download, also for $150.  Wanting it immediately, I made the digital purchase, doing my part to save the environment from landfills overflowing with discarded CDs – not to mention avoiding the extra costs of shipping.

If my computer crashes in a couple of months, though, I’d need to reinstall the software – but in order to download after that time period, I either need to pony up an extra $9.99 for a backup CD, or purchase an extended download for a little less. As maintaining the digital download on the part of Nuance has no cost to them, this is simply punitive and mean-spirited; a horrible way to start a relationship.

Spirit Air is another company that has built a sense of punishment in their offerings.  If you get to the gate without having checked in your second carry-on, you get charged $100, more than double the charge if you book the carryon when purchasing your ticket.  It’s no wonder that Spirit Air has been referred to as the American Ryanair, whose CEO famously called customers “stupid” for not printing out their boarding passes (thus incurring an extra fee).

Lest this post simply come across as a rant against another instance of horrible customer service, let’s consider what this might mean for our own businesses. What charges or processes do we have that punish customers?  Can we institute an annual review – seek out those punishing elements, and get rid of them as fast as possible? After all, if we learn from horrible customer service when we encounter it we can actually receive value from the experience – and if nothing else, at least the punishment will be a little less brutal.