We can gain such great perspective and leadership lessons from looking back at how previous generations handled the sweeping changes and crises of their day. I’ve been in London, England three times in the last few months working with an international executive team based there. As a classical art and history buff I add some extra time before and after each visit to browse a few of London’s wonderful galleries and museums each trip.

On the first of my three recent trips I checked out the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum). I fell in love with the place and went back about half a dozen times over the next few months. If you haven’t been and want to check it out they have a good web site. But Wikipedia’s entry is much more extensive and gives a great overview of the massive facility. It’s the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design with a permanent collection of 4.5 million objects in 145 galleries over 12.5 acres. I stepped a foot into each galley, but only really studied a tiny fraction of what’s there. That leaves lots more to look forward to on future trips!

The V&A Theatre and Performance gallery holds the UK’s national collection of material on live performance from Shakespeare’s time to today. While browsing there, I came across a short reference to “The Old Price Riots” in the early 1800s that provided some very clear customer feedback on the New Covent Garden theater! I was intrigued and had to do more research when I got home.

“The OP Riots” occurred when ticket prices were raised slightly for the New Covent Garden after rebuilding from a fire that destroyed the old building. Customers also objected to the new architecture and — in the religious and nationalist prejudice of the times — to the hiring of an Italian opera singer married to a Frenchman. Covent Garden was hemorrhaging money as protestors arrived late to pay for half-price tickets and then staged mass protests inside the theater. They wore OP hats, had OP songs and dance, raised OP placards, and circulated satirical OP handbills!

Incredibly, stage performances carried on during the riots — and continued for sixty-seven days!! The protestors won in the end. The old prices were restored. They even had an OP banquet with Covent Garden management to celebrate!

Rioting customers put a whole different slant on “the voice of the customer.” Sixty-seven days of riotous feedback is pretty hard to ignore! Today’s customers (internal or external) are much less vocal — to you. Today’s customers protest poor service levels by bad mouthing you to dozens — or with social media, websites, and protest songs that can go viral — to thousands or even millions of your customers. The best service providers tap into that dissatisfaction before it gets out of control. How well are you listening to your customers?