92 of 121 DOCUMENTS

   The Boston Globe

   February 11, 2001, Sunday ,THIRD EDITION




   LENGTH: 831 words

   RECENT WORKPLACE massacres - four employees murdered at a truck plant
   in suburban Chicago and seven employees gunned down at a high-tech
   firm in suburban Boston - have again raised fears among workers and
   their supervisors in companies large and small.

   Could a co-worker from hell be seated at the next desk? While many
   corporate officers have responded aggressively in an attempt to reduce
   the risk of a violent incident at the hands of their own employees,
   little attention seems to be paid to another risk lurking just outside
   the company reception area.

   It isn't only workers who blame their problems on the company.
   Disgruntled customers, clients, and even patients sometimes seek
   sabotage, violence, or even murder to avenge perceived
   mistreatment by banks, loan offices, manufacturers, law firms,
   hospitals and clinics, schools and colleges, unemployment offices, and
   courthouses - in short, by "the system."

   Every year several dozen workers are killed at the hands of customers
   or clients who feel like victims of injustice and decide to take
   matters (and guns) into their own hands. Over the past decade, at
   least a dozen such cases have involved mass murder. In 1999, for
   example, 44-year-old Mark Barton killed nine people at two Atlanta
   day-trading companies where he had lost a half-million dollars buying
   and selling Internet stocks. Barton was on a suicidal rampage, but
   first he exacted revenge against the trading firms he held responsible
   for his financial woes.

   Vengeance was similarly the motivation behind many other
   customer/client rampages in recent years: Eight people were
   slaughtered at a San Francisco law firm by a distraught former client;
   three physicians at the Los Angeles County Medical Center were shot by
   a chronically ill patient; four public employees were gunned down at a
   courthouse in New York's Schuyler County by a deadbeat dad; and eight
   others were shot to death at a Jacksonville GMAC office by an
   embittered customer whose car had been repossessed.

   Twenty years ago it was virtually unheard of for a dissatisfied
   customer to seek murderous revenge against a firm or company. However,
   fighting city hall has taken on a new and ominous meaning. Economic
   resentment is now felt not only by vengeful employees but also by
   disgruntled clients and customers who seek to get even with the system
   - to win one for the little guy.

   In a complex, bureaucratic society, more and more citizens are feeling
   powerless against the red tape and unresponsiveness of big business
   and government. Most, of course, will do little more than complain
   loudly about injustice. But increasing numbers refuse to sit back and
   take it.

   Part of the problem lies in the impersonal or ineffective response of
   customer relations. Increasingly, consumers are frustrated by
   automated phone systems with endless and confusing button-pushes and
   lengthy holding queues, notwithstanding the claim by a recorded
   receptionist that your call is important.

   Once in a while, the frustrated caller is transferred to someone's
   voice mail announcing that the right person to talk to is away for a
   month of Sundays.

   On the rare occasion when a live human being picks up, it is likely to
   be some overburdened, uninspired, and poorly trained customer
   relations representative who would never have been hired at all during
   less prosperous times. All too frequently, the customer relations
   associate attempts to justify incompetence by suggesting that the
   computers are down or that a computer error is to blame for his or her
   inability to resolve your predicament. In many companies, customer
   relations personnel are the last to be hired and the first to be
   fired. Customer service has too often become customer disservice.

   And now, with virtually every company having an Internet site, getting
   help and satisfaction is almost impossible. The corporate Web pages
   (absent address and phone numbers) instead offer a section on FAQs -
   frequently asked questions - but they are seldom the questions that
   you seem to have. For that, you have to log on to

   Unlike prescriptions for reducing employee violence, a company can
   rarely profile or screen its clientele or refer angry customers to an
   employee assistance program. Yet a solution to the problem of the
   vengeful customer is clear. In the face of growing alienation and
   cynicism, large companies and agencies must upgrade and humanize their
   customer relations efforts. They must make easily accessible an
   adequate number of competent and concerned human beings rather than
   impersonal machines. And, above all, companies must remember the
   adage: The customer is always right, especially when he is holding an

   James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice and
   Jack Levin is the Brudnick Professor of Sociology and Criminology at
   Northeastern University. They are co-authors of "The Will to Kill:
   Making Sense of Senseless Murder."

   LOAD-DATE: February 12, 2001



   Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company