Oh, CRAP. We're Now Named TARP. Maybe It's Time To Change. Again.

This company's mission is to help its clients "profit from interaction" with customers.You're probably never heard of it.

This company's mission is to help its clients "profit from interaction" with customers.

You're probably never heard of it. But at about the time the Macintosh was born, it was cited by Business Week for teaching companies how to use toll-free 800 numbers to handle customer complaints. Two years after the Mac was introduced, this company set up Apple's first 800 number.

The company's name?

Not auspicious in either its first or second incarnation.

The company was originally called Citizen Research Assistance Programs, when founded in 1971. But when it was about to be hired for a study by then-Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Elliott Richardson, the federal government put a kibosh to that name. It said it would not interact with "an outfit whose name was C.R.A.P.,'' as vice chairman John Goodman (no, not that John Goodman) now puts it.

So C.R.A.P. changed its name to T.A.R.P., Technical Assistance Research Programs. Now, it is simply TARP Worldwide, with a set of clients that includes Hewlett-Packard, T-Mobile, and Cisco Systems.

Of course, the federal government may force it to change its name again. More indirectly, this time.

T.A.R.P. now is the Troubled Asset Relief Program that has been created out of the subprime mortgage mess. Through T.A.R.P., the United States Treasury is empowered to buy up to $700 billion of "troubled" assets held by financial institutions.

Maybe it won't be necessary. But this is the company who pioneered the quantification of the effects of word-of-mouth and claims to have coined the term "word of mouse."

In the introduction to his new book, "Strategic Customer Service," Goodman notes that "more than 50 percent of all new customers for investment, retail and health-care products come from word-of-mouth referrals."

Let's hope that it's not Bank of America or Citigroup that now comes calling, with hands out.

There's only so much "strategic customer service" an outfit can afford.

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