Republican Greg Gianforte, a candidate in Thursday’s special House election in Montana, was cited overnight for misdemeanor assault after an incident in which Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs and other witnesses say Gianforte slammed Jacobs to the floor and struck him more than once after Jacobs asked him a question about the American Health Care Act that he didn’t want to answer. In addition to being a potentially legally and politically troublesome act for Gianforte to have committed, it’s also an ironic one: The candidate, it turns out, made a fortune in the world of modern corporate customer service by telling businesses how to answer questions.
Specifically, Gianforte was the founder of a company called RightNow Technologies, which he launched in 1997 and sold to Oracle in 2012. The company’s business involved making and selling the software—including the voice-automated menus we all know and love—that companies like Sprint and AIG use to operate call centers. Inside the industry, Gianforte wrote and spoke frequently about the importance of making sure that every person seeking information from a given company receives a respectful, helpful response. From a piece he wrote in 2007:
The strength of a company’s brand and its bottom-line business performance depend on how well it understands and responds to customers. To deliver excellent customer experiences, it’s essential to actively listen and respond to your customers as they’re communicating with you.
Gianforte has published multiple papers about the importance of answering questions. In 2009 he told a conference audience that his company’s goal was to “rid the world of bad experiences,” noting that the rise of online media allows individuals whose inquiries have been handled poorly to amplify their grievances. “This is a new and unique problem that didn’t exist five years [ago] in terms of the impact it can have on organizations,” Gianforte. Incidentally, the audio recording of Gianforte’s apparent attack on Jacobs has already been played on YouTube more than 1.3 million times.