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Field Service and Customer Complaints: as Old as Ancient Babylon

Field Service and Customer Complaints: as Old as Ancient Babylon

Field Service and Customer Complaints: as Old as Ancient Babylon

August 2, 2016 ClickSoftware 0 Comments

About 3,800 years ago in the city of Ur (modern day Iraq), a man named Nanni began scrawling his message on a clay tablet. He then stormed from the palace and instructed his messenger to deliver the tablet to a merchant named Ea-nasir, who lived in an adjacent territory.

An excerpt reads: “Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way?” And later on, “Take note that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality.” 

These words represent the oldest customer service complaint recorded in history. Allegedly, Ea-nasir had taken Nanni’s money, promised to deliver high-quality copper, but shipped a poor quality product. And at this time in history, copper was about as integral to the Babylonian economy as streaming Internet service is to our own. Nanni was not happy, to say the least.

Clay tablet; letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir
Photo via British Museum

In reading the translation, it’s astonishing how modern the complaint sounds. Change a few words and it could easily be a disgruntled customer calling a service line about an HVAC install gone wrong, or cable TV outage.

This ancient tale proves that service complaints are as old as commerce itself. And whether these complaints are fielded via call center, online chat, carrier pigeon or cuneiform clay tablet – we stand to learn significant field service lessons from history. The complaint reminds us of three universal field service truths:

Make a Promise, Keep a Promise

Field service management is an industry full of promises kept and promises broken. We promise our customers faster response times, always-on service, and new flashy gadgets. When we fail to make good on these promises, we lose customers.

This psychology appears to be just as true 4,000 years ago. The very first sentence of the clay tablet reads:

“When you came, you said, ’I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.’ You left but you did not do what you promised me.”

If you make a promise, keep a promise.

Offer Everyone Dignity and Respect

The second point made in the clay tablet is in regards to Nanni’s messenger. It reads:

“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 through enemy territory.”

No matter your field service industry, the safety and quality of service given to customers should remain top priority. By disrespecting the messenger, Ea-nasir was disrespecting their entire operation.

In our hectic and busy workdays, treating every single customer with dignity and respect is imperative.

Poor Service Results in Lost Customers

In a dramatic conclusion to this lengthy ancient exchange, Nanni ends the trade relationship with the following sentence:

“I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.”

Civilization has had thousands of years to evolve, but the fundamentals of these complaints remain a common occurrence in commerce. If we wish to change field service management for the better, we should aim to improve our customer interactions, as well as our technology and processes. We can all take a lesson from Nanni, if from no one else.

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