Your call is
not important to us
Customer service costs time and money, but it's worth doing
Outside of California, how many of us order up something from our baker with an email? How many of us have the local café on MSN? Do we set up an appointment with the barber over Skype or order in office supplies using Facebook?
Though these ideas may seem silly at first, the ease of “choose your own communications method” has a certain allure. It allows customers to do business in the manner that most befits their lifestyle.
I have recently found myself on the receiving end of a very pleasant customer service experience. Searching for a transmission on the internet led me to deal with a company called Bodyline Auto Recyclers.
The search results gave me the name of the company, a link to their website and most interestingly a “live chat” option. I was intrigued by this. I will be honest when I say that this alone led me to click on their site and try them first for the car I needed.
I know next to nothing about cars and after almost a week of searching for the right used part, to be able to conduct business with this company using methods of communication that were convenient to me was refreshing.
Their website has a little MSN Live Messenger widget on it. On the other end of it was a human being. I sent a tentative message describing what I was looking for, and lo and behold someone answered me and helped me solve my problem.
This sold me. Real-time human interaction with a company I want to do business with, using a medium (phone, Instant Messenger or email) of my choice...
Working in IT had gotten me acclimatised to pointless FAQs, snarky moderators on pointless forums and IVR phone systems that lead you in endless loops, ultimately getting nowhere.
Customer interaction is often dictated by corporate politics. How do the owners of the company want their customers to be able to interact with staff?
Each method of customer interaction can eat up time. Time, as we all know, is money. Sadly, many companies see this as a vital place for cost cutting and seek to use technology as a barrier to communication.
If you have ever had to deal with Google – or a Canadian ISP – you will understand what I am on about. Here I have discovered a company that has successfully merged the real-time interaction of an actual helpful human being with the multiple methods of communication that modern IT has to offer. They are not ruled by an algorithm. They were not using technology to dodge customers or redirect them through an obstacle course of standardised questions.
This random car-parts shop across the continent has not earned my praise because they implemented some fantastically difficult and complex enterprise communications system. They did not set up Microsoft Live Communications Server, marry it to a PBX and route it through seven proxies.
They did not embrace Twitter and Facebook, put up a blog and create an enhanced reality hive-mind with a near-field communications iThingy in 3D smell-o-vision. They used a dirt-simple MSN widget on their website and put a remarkably helpful warm body on the other end.
This humbles me. It reminds me as a systems administrator that IT is not about the technology, the buzzwords, the whitepapers or any of the other self-important tripe we wave around while trying to feel important. IT is about how you implement technology to actually enhance the lives of the people using it. One used transmission at a time. ®
@The Unexpected Bill
Good customer service indeed sells. I mean, the customer service I got from these guys was so fantastic I felt it was worth an article. The story is even better than the article tells.
You see, when I first called these guys looking for a transmission, they said they had the right one and they put it in the queue to be shipped out. I get a call the next day and they guy says "my boys apparently cut the kickdown cable on this transmission taking it out. What do you want to do?" I didn't know a think about what this meant, so he said he would get details on how this would affect me and call me back. He called his transmission guy, who told me "it would be a $300 job to reattach a new kickdown cable, assuming you can find one." I was heartbroken; the transmission they were selling me was $350 after shipping!
So the guy noodles around for a day and gets back to me. He says “I found a buddy of mine with one of these trannies. I’ll tell you what; we’ll sell it to you at the same price we quoted you on the original.” I was blown away. Gast absolutely flabbered.
Here is some random company on the other side of the continent that not only lets me use the tool I am most comfortable with (instant messenger0 to talk to a live person in real time, but they bent over backwards for me. They didn’t know me from a hole in the ground, had no previous business relationship, no reason to treat me “special” that I can think of. Yet lo and behold: fantastic customer experience.
A couple of days later I was thinking to myself “hey, I should actually get off my duff and crank out an article or two.” I thought back to this company and thought “you know what, screw all the negativity and scandal. I want to talk about someone being awesome.”
So yeah, good customer service on this guy’s part totally got them an article. I logged onto the instant messenger earlier today (after I discovered my editor had published it) and sent him the link. He was quite surprised, apparently it’s been printed and is now on the company bulletin board. ;)
The whole experience contrasts starkly with my day job. At my day job the CTO of the company is banging on one more time that we need to “completely redo the website.” I feel frustrated because I am trying to counter this with “it’s not what the website looks like that matters (it’s perfectly fine, aesthetically speaking,) it’s what is ON the website and what FUNCTIONALITY it provides that matters.” This is countered with “our website is crap, we need to start over.” There is a distinct temptation to cry/scream/howl/sob in frustration.
The reason our customers shop at the store I work at…the reason I like this random car wrecker I found on the internet…it has nothing to do with /presentation/. It’s because when you send an e-mail/text/IM/whatever there is a warm body on the other end that says “hello, how can I help you?” They then proceed to /actually help you/!
As such, I guess the whole article is a bit of cathartic venting. Since my voice is seldom heard around here, I cast my idea into the wild interwibble:
It’s not what your website looks like that matters.
It’s how you use it.
And you're absolutely right that this sort of service should be praised and supported. But that's where I think there's a problem.
The truth is, providing this level of support does cost more. That's not a problem if customers genuinely appreciate and support the company for providing it, but most are driven by the short-sighted desire to find the cheapest option. That's cheapest in terms of the cost of the item, not necessarily cheapest in terms of efficient use of their own time.
Anyone in the business of retailing knows that customers will ruthlessly exploit companies like this one to benefit from their expertise. Then, having been given the information they need, use it to buy from a cheaper supplier. Cheaper, most likely, because they don't pay enough in wages to employ knowledgeable staff or put them enough of them in customer-facing situations. Just read and honestly appraise the comments for the Reg's recent article on UK retail customer service. Sure, those companies which provide poor service will lose many customers, but those customers still won't pay more to go and buy from companies who cost more because they provide better service. You'll see comments from people who will happily do exactly as mentioned above - visit a local business with knowledgeable staff and pick their brains, then go shop on Amazon or similar for a cheaper price. Ina few years time, they'll be complaining that those local businesses no longer exist and - surprise, surprise - no-one offers good service anymore.
Declaration of interest: My line of business is not retail, but professional services. I've seen the high street representation of my type of business decimated by distinctly unprofessional, barely competent individuals who undercut more proficient companies offering vastly superior services and soon put them out of business. Customers are more interested in cheap than good. I've seen cheap companies offer the basic, bread and butter stuff, so that those capable of more sophisticated services lose that part of their business. But those better companies still have to pay their bills. Customers then wonder why the more specialist things they can't get from the cheaper people suddenly cost much, much more from the specialist.
I have no idea what the answer is. In an ideal world, those businesses offering the best service would prosper. Reality is not like that. Of course we all begrudge paying a premium for service, but we all expect to be paid realistically for our own time and it's just not reasonable to behave as though good service costs nothing.
Not the conduit, but the person
While I can see you experience, my conclusion would be diffierent:
Most companies need simply more FTEs for customer communication. Not other forms of contact conduits.
Since years, companies have tried to suppress support costs by issueing faqs, refering to "community" forums etc, which all have one thing in common: less people to do the actual communication.
It's that where the problem lies, not technology. The "Sales brings in the cash", "aftersales costs money" mentality.