A Digression from the Other Side of Customer Service

I have a little bit of a rant that I need to get off my chest.

One of the things that happens when you work for a company that provides products and services to a large consumer base (as I do) is that people are constantly asking you about how they should handle problems they’re having with your company’s products or services.

Many people are under the impression that there is some secret back channel for customer service, and that knowing someone who works for the company gives them special access to this back channel.  Please let me burst everyone’s bubble by revealing that no such back channel exists.  I am a customer of my employer’s services, and I call the same customer service line or access the same service portal that you do when I have an issue.

In large enterprises the customer service apparatus has been designed to deliver as much standard customer service to as large a community of customers as possible at the lowest cost possible.  These designers of these systems walk a very fine line between the convenience and personalization customers receive and the costs associated with delivering that level of service.  While customers of many mass markets companies have expressed frustration or even outright anger at low levels of customer service, they’ve clearly demonstrated with their spending that the majority of customer are unwilling to pay for a higher level of service.  

Some companies are starting to explore the use of social media such as Twitter to help provide “personalized” advice on a broader scale, and I’m hopeful for the potential of social media to give customers better advice on how to navigate customer service and get questions to complex service issues.  Small companies are often able to deliver this level of customer intimacy, and it’s the holy grail for enterprises to rediscover this.

I understand my friends’ and colleagues’ frustration with mass customer service models.  I feel it, too.  I feel it from every company with which I have to interact to have service issues resolved.  When a company rises above my expectation for standard mass market service levels I am genuinely shocked, amazed and impressed.  It is very, very rare that this happens.

My advice to friends and colleagues is to go through the standard customer service channels and present your issue or problem clearly and accurately.  Document everything.  Be calm.  Be polite.  Be patient.  Scour the company’s web site for information about your product or service before you make the call.  It is also always helpful to scan customer forums to see if any other customers have faced your same issue and have found a resolution.  This advice does not come from any insights of being an employee.  It’s common sense.  I employ the same practices when I call any company with a service issue.  Know that sometimes the resolution to a service issue is to let it go and move on (either with the same company or move to a competitor).  Knowing how to effectively engage customer service channels is a million times more valuable than knowing someone at the company.

One response to “A Digression from the Other Side of Customer Service

  1. Great advice, as always August!

    I think Verizon would gain a lot of credibility and kudos by having a group in customer service to handle problems like Frank Eliason’s excellent team @comcastcares. They really do try their best to fix things quickly and efficiently.

    Getting rude and stroppy customer service agents on the phone from any company is tough when you are trying to be polite and resolve your problem though.

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