My cable box crapped out the other day. It would start up, but it wouldn’t load the channel menu or access any of my recorded shows.  So I went online to find the customer support phone number. After clicking around for a while, I got ahold of a service rep. They agreed to send a service tech out to take a look.

When the guy came by, it took him  about two minutes to diagnose the problem: I had a lemon. He swapped it out with a new box, spent about five minutes setting it up, and off he went. When I asked him why my old box had given out so soon, the cable guy was diplomatic: It could have been a lot of different things; it’s hard to say; the new one should work better. But reading between the lines, it sounded a lot like, That box was a dud.

That got me thinking about just how much the cable guy should be required to tell me about my cable box. Is he obligated to tell me exactly what a repair would entail? If the box really was a dud, would he have to tell me that?

The concept of transparency in customer service can be a little slippery. For instance, most people would agree that openness is not only proper, but essential — it may even win you extra kudos with impressed customers who are more willing to forgive a human error or lame product if you just fess up and explain the situation.

But there are times when it can be a little more complicated than that. For instance, if the cable guy just told me straight up that the brand of cable box I’d bought was known to crap out after six months, I might well have found his honesty and candor refreshing, and let the whole thing pass without a complaint. But what if the problem is bigger — and what if it threatens to cost the company a customer?

Like what if the airplane you’re boarding has a mechanical breakdown? It may well be an easy fix, nothing to fret about. But passengers are known to get a little antsy on planes, and hearing that a tech needs to tend to the engine before a cross-country flight isn’t exactly comforting. What’s the right call?

I certainly don’t think there’s an easy answer. Does your company have a policy on openness and transparency in dealing with customer repairs? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

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ABOUT Ian Stewart

Avatar photoIan is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.