Customer Service

Periodically, there will be a horrific customer service experience that somehow catches the attention of the media and for a while we talk about customer service again. Most recently it was Comcast’s famously poor customer service that came under the microscope. Usually when this comes up we like to point to brands that are known for their great customer service: Zappos, Apple, Costco, Amazon, Nordstrom.

These companies deserve their kudos. I’ve had personal experience with the CS teams at all three and I can say they made a potentially painful experience into a very easy one, which only endeared me more to them.

For many companies, it seems like they consider the secret to good customer service to be a secret sauce or impossible goal, but giving good customer service is pretty straightforward. There are a few simple rules.

  1. Respond Quickly
  2. Be honest and genuine
  3. Don’t be a jerk
  4. Trust the customer

Sure to Respond Quickly, you need to be staffed appropriately to handle the flow of customer questions and issues. That might seem cost prohibitive, but the money that it costs to answer a customers question within a few hours will dramatically improve both the perception of the customer service as well as the perception of the company and the brand. Plus, a customer who feels like they are being heard will likely be nicer to the CS representative, which makes for a happier and more productive CS team.

Being honest and genuine is important. If customers don’t feel like they are talking to a real person, the feel like they are talking to a nameless, faceless corporation. That doesn’t endear them to your brand, and that doesn’t make them treat the CS person any better.

The third and fourth points are pretty closely related. If you assume that the people contacting you are honest, you will always try to do the right thing by them. Will that lead to the occasional bit of waste? Sure. But the goodwill it generates from your customers far outweighs the cost of possibly giving out something to a less-than-honest one.

Good customer service creates brand ambassadors for you, not just a retained customer. Look at these two recent exchanges from customers of Spotify:

How Spotify Made My Day

Spotify gave me the greatest customer service experience EVER!

Those exchanges show CS folks as real people, with senses of humor, who trust their customers and actually enjoy helping people. Compare that to Ryan Block’s call. The thing is that people won’t necessarily post or tell friends about a good customer experience, but they will definitely tell as many people as they can about a bad one.

From a management perspective, how do you encourage good customer service?

  1. Make sure that Customer Service is the job of everyone in the company
  2. Trust your CS reps
  3. Reward CS reps on positive interactions, not throughput
  4. Give good training, not scripts

When I say that customer service is everyone’s job, I don’t mean that everyone needs to spend time on the CS line (although nothing will get your CS team some mad respect like being in their shoes for a day or two). What I mean is that you should treat customer service and customer issues as a top priority. CS is your best line to your customer’s issues and they need to be heard. Also, it is ok for employees to reach out to customers on sites like Quora or twitter. It shows that the company cares.

Trusting your CS reps, like trusting all of your employees, is critical. Nothing makes your job stressful like the feeling that you are being watched or that someone is looking to catch your every mistake. That stress absolutely is obvious to the customer on the other end of the e-mail or phone, and it doesn’t lead to a positive experience.

Traditionally, CS has been considered an expense to be minimized. CS Reps were rated on outcomes and throughput, not on answering customer’s needs. It may seem insane to you, but many if not most companies still operate this way. This may work, but it doesn’t create brands that customers love. It creates brands that customers tolerate right up until the moment they can switch. It’s a short-term gain for a long-term loss.

Train your CS reps to actually handle customer issues, and give them the tools and power to fix things. If you have constant turnover in your CS department (a good way to do this is to ignore all the rules above), you don’t want to spend the time or expense to train your CS team beyond the bare minimum. This leads to people dealing with customers who feel helpless themselves that further frustrates the customer. Instead, spend the time and the money to really train up your CS team and empower them to fix as much as possible. Anything a first-line CS rep can’t fix themselves should be an actual bug that they can follow up with developers on directly. Empowering your team and trusting them to do the right thing leads to more positive interactions with customers, which only strengthens your brand.

Treating customer service as an expense to be minimized is akin to showing disdain for your customers themselves; and no one wants to support a company that doesn’t care about their customers’ problems.

skype nightmare

someone is faking my skype # for robocalls. So I get a dozen people *69ing every hour. Some leave angry voice mails.

I never used it anyway, so I just cancelled the skype number subscription, thinking that it would actually CANCEL MY SUBSCRIPTION. Except Microsoft won’t cancel it until the subscription runs out. IN NOVEMBER. MS customer support never replied to my messages.

Will probably need to create a new Skype account, which is lame.

Running a phone service is hard, running an IP Telephony service is harder. I expect the same level of support that I would get from a telephone service provider, but I also expect that I should have complete control and access, just like any web service. Unfortunately Skype is doing neither in this case.

Dear Alaska Airlines and Apple Computer…

Yes, I’m an idiot. I left a valuable piece of my property on your plane, Alaska. I know that you are not responsible for items left behind, it’s my fault, not yours.

However, that was the last flight of the day and the item in question was out of sight of other passengers, but my newspaper was sticking out, which meant that it was likely that the seat pocket would be examined in cleaning. It’s extremely likely that my property was picked up by one of your employees either after the flight or in the morning before the next one. I immediately registered with your web site for the item in question, identifying not only the flight, but the seat (thanks for not posting a phone number, but only an impersonal web page. It really shows how much you care). So, given that this kind of thing happens all the time, I did hope that there was a chance I would get it back. It was a long shot, to be sure, but not a non-zero one.

Now you Apple, thank you for creating the mechanism so that I could track my device, send a message to it, lock it and wipe it. In this case, I can’t locate it or send a message to it as it was on airplane mode. So, most likely, whoever has it has either wiped it, failed the login and had it wipe itself, or is trying to hack it (or fence it). Since, by your own definition, the device is now stolen property, maybe you could let me know when someone else tries to use it after it has been reset? No, of course, you can’t do that. Doing that would mean that you might be liable in all sorts of ways, right? There are so many ways that some mechanism could go wrong like that, that your corporate council decided it was best not to get involved. Even though you could actually immediately notify me the minute that the device registered to me with the unique ID you use to track your customer’s devices popped up again. This actually works out better for you, because now you’ll have sold me the same device twice.

So, yup, I can now troll the net looking for the device myself in a time-consuming, frustrating and fruitless attempt while constantly reminding myself of my own mistake. I wasn’t that fond of it in the first place, but I actually need it for a project, so I’m not left with much choice. I’ll need to file this as just another case of crappy customer service.

Thanks for nothing guys!