Are you a PITN? Part 1 of a 3-Part Series on Being a Pain in the Neck


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We all have someone in our life that is difficult to deal with or just plain obnoxious. Maybe it’s a neighbor or a sister in-law or even an employee. Whoever it is, we often leave a conversation with them thinking, “wow, he is a real pain in the you-know-what!” He’s a P.I.T.N. or otherwise known as a Pain In The Neck. For me, it’s my cousin Debbie. Don’t get me wrong; she’s my family and I love her, but she’s one of those people who is never happy, complains about everything and loves to make things difficult for others…a real P.I.T.N.

Now that’s what you call a P.I.T.N!

When thinking about how personal relationships can sometimes be very trying, it occurred to me how organizations can also be real PITNs to customers. These are companies that you just hate to have to call about an issue because of the expected run around you get from them or know that their poor customer service will leave you feeling bitter and angry for the rest of the day. PITN companies are also those who just have a way of making doing business with them difficult. I’ve always found frequent flyer miles to be a PITN of the loyalty program because of the black-out dates.

A friend of mine had an experience just recently that gave me the initial idea for this three-part blog series. Listen to this and you will understand what a pain in the neck this company was to deal with. I will leave the company anonymous and just say that it is a major banking financial institution. My friend, a die-hard Yankees fan, signed up for a Yankees branded credit card that was being advertized by this bank. One of the major perks that secured his business initially was the rewards program, specifically the ticket vouchers to Yankee Games that was part of the rewards program. The vouchers came with a ton of black-out dates which he only discovered after he signed up. A little disappointed, he continued his relationship with the card deciding to just be excited to be going to a game at all. When he found an available game, he followed the directions outlined by the service agent: tickets must be redeemed at the Yankee Stadium box office 2 ½ hours prior to the game. Inconvenienced, he left work early and made his 1 ½ hours journey to the stadium. He arrived early, stood in line for 2 ½ hours, finally gets to the front of the line, hands his vouchers to the ticket clerk, only to find out that the voucher tickets that came with this bank’s credit card were sold out. Oh, and not just for that game, but for the entire season! Here is an intended relationship enhancer that is actually a PITN! Think about your own processes for a moment. Which of them are difficult or obnoxious for the customer? Could your organization be labeled as a PITN?

Types of Barriers

It’s fair to say that PITNs are essentially barriers. In the corporate sense, these are barriers in doing business with an organization. These barriers could be at a company level, an individual level and at a management team level. Barriers are certainly not uncommon in call centers and customer service organizations. In fact, this is where the barriers most often live as far as the customer can tell.

If we look at barriers in a call center, they are often ones beyond the call center’s control. Some examples would be rules and regulations bestowed upon the center because of government regulations. The Healthcare, Insurance and Financial Services industries are very familiar with this. They are essentially governed by external forces that change the way they have to conduct business and business processes that ultimately affect the customer. Barriers come from the organization with direction to control cost by mandating the order, shipping or return processes.

At the call center level specifically, barriers also come from the call center agents. There are numerous reasons for this. For one, and I do hate to say it, but call center agents simply being lazy is a major barrier for customers. Not taking the time to take the next step in the service process is a major PITN for the customer that then causes the customer to making additional calls to resolve their problem. Another barrier is the lack of finesse. It never fails; every call center agent has to deliver bad news to the customer. However, with some finesse there is a better way to deliver that bad news. Call center agents need to be able to deliver bad news in a way that’s flowered and endearing to the customer. Lack of this finesse is absolutely a barrier in the relationship. Another barrier comes from the agent being reactive versus proactive. It make take an extra 10-15 seconds to take the extra step for some callers and offering to do so before having the customer ask makes a world of difference. Agents need to be anticipating the customers’ needs and thereby enhancing the experience and not be throwing up barriers and being a PITN.

Consider the source of aspects of the agent PITN barriers. Those beyond their control may come from the management level. Barriers are built when there is conflicting messaging of what is valued by the management team and what is expected of the call center agents. A familiar example of this is the case of call resolution. On the one hand, the management team requires the calls be resolved quickly by the agents. One the other hand, service delivery must enhance the relationship. This struggle forces the agent to get to as many calls in queue versus providing the true customer support that is needed – and the barrier is built.

Do we have a hostage situation on our hands?

Barriers and difficulty to do business with organizations do come in degrees. I like to categorize these onto a continuum ranging from mild to a hostage situation.

On the one end you have the “small enough to forgive”. From the customer’s perspective, yes, this situation/snafu was annoying, but they will forgive the company because they value the product or the service they received up until this point. Perhaps it was a bad day for the agent they were on the phone with and this is not a true PITN company.

The middle of the continuum is what I like to call “just enough to cause indifference.” The barrier has caused a feeling of “could-care-less”. The customer will not be an advocate for your organization or recommend you to their friends and family, but they also will not leave immediately.

Then we have the ‘biggest loser’ where your barriers are big enough to lose your customer. They run, not walk away from your organization and straight over to your competition telling everyone and anyone of their terrible experience along the way.

What’s coming down the pipe?

I talked a great deal about what a PITN is and even more about types and degrees of barriers. Next up in this three-part series, I’ll talk about uncovering these barriers and ultimately how to overcome them.

Do you have a PITN experience? We’d love to hear your story.

~ Dr. Jodie Monger, President

Jodie Monger
Jodie Monger, Ph.D. is the president of Customer Relationship Metrics (CRM) and a pioneer in business intelligence for the contact center industry. Dr. Jodie's work at CRM focuses on converting unstructured data into structured data for business action. Her research areas include customer experience, speech and operational analytics. Before founding CRM, she was the founding associate director of Purdue University's Center for Customer-Driven Quality.


  1. Jodie, I enjoyed your post. It always amazes me how companies work hard to create great products or services, and then make it difficult for people to purchase. We advise clients to really learn what the buyer experiences and then remove every (PITN) barrier. As you suggest, the objective is to create advocates, not critics.


    Chris Ryan
    Fusion Marketing Partners


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