A History Of Customer Service

Customer service Thisissamstown

Customer service is dead!

Or maybe not but at a time when CRMs, data, tools would allow to provide flawless, fast and responsive service, it does seem that the quality of service has never been any lower.

It is not even needed to look at – or just think about – the “garçons” calling names on the terraces of Paris. Any random shop around can now offer this kind of terrible quality and lack of respect and still for a more than expensive price.

So what ? Do companies not understand that quality is definitely an asset and a serious means to make a difference ?

It does currently look like people have gotten accustomed to cheaper prices, customisation, fast availability and/or shipping even from the furthest lands. But as much as the wares are available and new brands popping everyday, very little of these do make any difference.

Launching some “exciting” urban clothing range is easy. Get a funky name, send a few dollars to a random Chinese factory, get the clothes, send some to a few urban “artists” and sell them for a premium. Wether you are hip hop or hop hip, never mind, this will be short-lived, money certainly made and customers so daft that they pay a premium for some random street sh*t certainly not worth respecting.

Bear with me, I am giving you a business model, free of charge.

Values what ?

Values is the word. Respect also works.

Offering services, selling goods or any other work in which something is delivered to customers should imply quality and respect.

Failures are acceptable and accepted. sh*tty goods are not. We are currently living in an era of speed-consumption. People buy, a lot, very often, discard, very often and buy again. And everybody hates defects but who should care. Employees are employees, chains are chains, production goes through half a dozen countries and, in the end, no one is responsible. So no one cares.

That is until there is very very serious trouble (think healthcare or car makers).

Bring fantasy figures to kids for a premium and you will be rich and safe.

The circle of customer service ?

Just a look at an old enemy. The customer support department. The most hated one… At least a great picture of the changes and evolutions of the customer service overall.

Years ago, in the previous century, customer support could still be reached by phone, sometimes for free and we could speak to people actually speaking the same language and basically having a clue about what they were doing there. On top of that, these people were basically customers themselves and could go lengths to assist with an issue.

Some years later, these dinosaurs disappeared and a great migration happened. Cheap happened. Those support services were sent in countries such as Morocco, India, Philippines and so on. And the experience definitely changed. The evolution of customer service did create a new kind of experience. Raging customers facing an impersonation of uselessness.

After hours queuing on the phone people mumbling what would be supposed to be your local language would read a script telling you what to do with your microwave when you would actually call for the Internet… . Oh happy days.

In recent years, the trend has seen some changes. We could see various brands in the UK advertise about their local call centres, implying people speaking the language and some kind of quality certification. Fair enough, a step towards this vintage trend ? Quality.


Are we at a crossroad ?

Recent experience, mine indeed, tends to show that kind of trend.

Customer service and support has evolved. Social networks have changed the face of support and given companies a new option to let customers “speak” to people in writing. Easy – and rather easier – when it comes to handling unhappy customers.

However, new tools or not, the basics remain the same. Understanding the needs and willing – or not – to deliver quality.

My recent experiences with the likes of HSBC, Skype, Ergon or even Dodo have definitely been great if not amazing.

On the other hand some companies have not changed at all and still use the same old templates for their customer support. Mobile and Internet companies in France I am looking at you as service has never shown any sign of getting near acceptable (with an exception for Orange, I must admit).

In any case, coming back to delivering service, be it for external customers or internal customers, the very foundation is to be willing to actually deliver service and quality. This goes through empowering the people who will be delivering it and leaving room outside the scripts and all the (stupid) rules for actually providing help.

And regardless of who you are (“chief” or company), whatever your expertise is, do not pretend to even think you know the tools and can write the processes to make your service “social”.

My recent test of that : having to contact support for a password issue. No problem. Get on the site where there is a menu for support. Click. Enter support page and define I have a problem. Click. Now define type of problem. Click. Now go to standard issues page. Click. No answer matching. Click. Need to contact support… really ? Click. Chat option is preferred. Ok, click. Chat will open, fill question. Type and click. Wait a bit. Ok, click. And… can not connect to server, chat failed.

Repeat above process. Same error. Close browser. Clean. Try again, same error.

Look for phone number. Can not find it. Google. Ask people. Get one. Call, reach South Africa, speak with support (on the second day…) and be told after 15 minutes that they can not help. Yay!

Finally find another U.S. number and get to… India maybe. Expose problem and get told that it is chat only. But the process I read said that if the chat is down, we are allowed to call. Yes but chat only. Yes but process… .

Let us get to the end of it. After about half an hour of arguing (for, basically, no valid reason), waiting for two “check with manager” and definitely seriously considering every kind of option from alcohol to drug to manage to keep as calm as possible, I finally managed to get my case closed successfully, e.g. get the help I needed.

Disrupting the service

Disruption is used a bit too much these days but it may be the right word anyway.

Customer service needs disruption. And startups are actually disrupting it even without saying it. Most startups are useful in this regard because although they tend to “disrupt” markets – or at least view their business as a market disruption – most of them do not really reinvent anything. They just change or add features but the main disruption is in the service provided.

Startups do know about customer service. And most tend to take an oath about quality.

That is where the disruption is. Doing vintage business like a century ago when quality was key and the only kind of customer would be a happy customer.


In bed with Zappos

A cheeky title for a post about customer service through Twitter and the way Zappos nails it.

So much for the literature, better for hailing a best practice on customer service.

The story begins late at night. A warm summer-like night in Paris, France. The stage is set in a random flat, home to a random, mustache-wearing guy … (blame Movember for that; and show support too) lying on a sofa/bed (and now the title does make some sense …).

Suddenly, the silence of the night is broken by a shout. A tweet in fact.

Listen to the noise.

Indeed. Do listen.

Back to business and the use of networks (Twitter in particular, here), it is crucial not only to have a presence but also to listen to the overall “noise” made on the network.

Your brand may appear there – hopefully it does because otherwise you are non-existent – for either good or bad reasons.

In any case, capturing the positive and/or negative feedback is key to the customer experience and service you are providing.

The tweet I received was, in fact, a reply to a tweet I sent about an article I curated about Tony Hsieh and the Downtown Project in Vegas. The reply came from Zappos’ customer service handle. In a short and easy form since the tweet, to @sampavin, read “:)”.

Mind you, I am always happy to get a smile. Read a few lines above about the positive/negative feedback bit.

That was positive.

That also shows how Zappos are listening to the Twitter noise and catching mentions related to their “ecosystem” (Tony Hsieh, Vegas, Downtown Project) and not solely to their brand.

And they even go beyond that.

Engage with people.

Yes, they not only listen and take note but they do also engage with people.

Please note that I have never been a Zappos customer in the past and that was my very first interaction with them.

But here, not only am I getting a smiley (as I said earlier, it is always nice) but also a mention by a Twitter user with a lot more followers than I have. Vanity ranking : up :)

And that was not the end of it.

A short reply from me, a mention of a trip to Vegas and we ended up sending half a dozen tweets each with me getting an invite to have food at the Zappos campus.

Let me say that again, I have never been a Zappos customer and that was the first time I would interact with them.

From a brand point of view, having paid attention (to the noise, again) and taken time to engage with an individual is a positive message sent out.

And going the extra-mile by having a chat and being nice is just amazing.

Be amazing, create value.

This is a wonderful experience. First because it goes far beyond customer support.

I am not a customer. And I did not tweet to them, be it to ask a question or complain. My only move having been to tweet an article related to “acquaintances” of the brand.

Yet they showed appreciation.

And we could chat.

And they offered value to me, by offering a tour of the campus, followed by food (supposedly good – I need to check that now) at the campus.

All out of nothing. I did not expect a thing (even the contact in the first place) nor was I asking for anything.

By doing so, they create an amazing value for the brand.

I now “know” Zappos beyond the sole name and brand. Further than knowing, I have had a taste of a wonderful customer experience. So, just a few tweets transform into customer acquisition and, not the least, advocate acquisition too.

Proof is … this post. I am writing about best practices with customer service through social networks but Zappos provide the real-life example of a best practice.

Listen, engage, be amazing.

Keep these three bits in mind to create a mind-blowing experience for customers.

And a quick reminder (an actual major one in fact), this does work when there are real people behind the wheel.

That is my last take from this Zappos best practice, the people handling the Twitter account are real people. They act, speak, engage and behave like real people, not scripts.

That does make the difference.

I had written a wee piece on the good, the bad (and ugly) use of Twitter for customer service, I shall add a fourth; the best, which is described here.

Now, way to go for all, sort your tweets and be amazing ! (at customer service for a start …)

… And high five to the Zappos people !


By the way, whoever agrees/disagrees, do feel free to hit me in the comments below.

Apple is still wonderful

Apple, currently in the spotlight with Ashton Kutcher’s Jobs and Carl Icahn‘s Twitter “masterpiece” after taking a few hits from Android rivals is still running the show and winning the hearts of customers.

This very post comes from my recent experience with the company. First, while looking from far away. Then from becoming a customer. And last from turning more and more to Apple.

There is no point in telling Apple’s story again and again. The innovation, the design, the user experience and customer service.

They had it all when not any tweet or speaker was mentioning those. Apart from Jobs himself.

But then, in these troubled times for the brand, why are they “still wonderful” when I look at them ?

No geek nor Apple lover?

Yes, that is me. My very first Apple purchase was an iPod shuffle. The very small, clippable, device which I have been using since then when going out for a run.

I have also never been a geek or anything like interested in computer and computing. Meaning I would go crazy in front of my frozen Windows and fight my way through viruses with anything called Norton but would not even think about any Mac.

I also remember a time when customers would mainly be beardy geeks and developers or people with money and inflated self-esteem.

This has kept me slightly away from the brand for years. And then I finally tried it again (always liked my iPod so much that there was no reason the product would be poor) and I purchased an iPhone 4.

It was a great phone. Even if I still admit being frustrated with the fact that everything around it was under Apple’s control (and iTunes for instance).

I liked it anyway and was more than annoyed when it was stolen.

Am off. And back with a discovery.

That “tragedy” drove me towards Android and a very poor Samsung experience followed by an average Sony one.

Those were enough for me to recall that my iPhone 4 was a pleasure to use in the end. Hence my purchase of an iPhone 5.

And a new path walked on my Apple journey : the Apple Store.

For the very first time in my life I actually entered an Apple Store and bought my phone there. That was an eye-opening experience on the actual quality of customer service provided.

I did not enjoy it, I truly loved it.

That was in Glasgow, Scotland.

Back in Paris, I have been to one of the stores a couple of times and was back there today to get a new MacBook.

Yes my Apple squad has kept on increasing. But what I noticed again, other than the usual high quality of the laptop is the ever-amazing quality of the service provided by the staff.

I spent almost two hours there and had three people taking care of fixing any issue and making the experience the best for me.

And that happens in a well-designed shop where anybody can enjoy to stay for a wee while (at least when it is not packed with “tourists” – people just wandering around) and still be fairly relaxed.

Apple is wonderful.

That is where Apple is wonderful. There is no way any of their current competitors can match this level of quality and service provided.

And this is a game-changer. Customer experience (or say user experience) is one of the hot topics at the moment.

Apple have had it mastered for quite a while and they now have completely turned me into one of their minions :)

So, fellow minions, tell me, is customer experience what got you hooked ?

The good, the bad (and ugly) use of Twitter for customer service

Social media. The word is everywhere and corporations are getting there little by little, for marketing, for engaging customers, driving sales Good, bad, uglybut also to provide customer service or support via Twitter.

This is a “new” trend and large companies are actually setting up accounts – or using some current ones – in order to provide an additional contact option for their customers and offer an extra level of service.

The adoption of Twitter by brands has been quite good so far but mainly in order to do content marketing, not necessarily answer customers.

Yet, with Twitter allowing people to easily give shouts at these company accounts, it does seem that the market itself has pushed – and still pushes – towards this use for customer service.

However, regardless of being top of the crowd and officially offering support via Twitter, companies do have to get their act together with a proper structure and a clear understanding that the level of service expected is no different from what customers may expect when entering a shop or an agency and facing actual employees.

Some companies tend to do it right and offer good service.

How good are they ?

From recent experience, HSBC, for example proves to be quite responsive (usually one of the pain points as these company accounts do face crowded timelines) and the “operators” behind the account do post a tweet to introduce themselves when taking over.

Not much of a difference but it does give a sense of humanity to the (Twitter) handle.

Airlines also are in my “good” ones with Air France and Easyjet. Slightly different positioning for these two yet a level of customer service quite on par with each other.

The second might struggle a little bit more with responsiveness, as seen by some people tweeting again to ask for answers but I still do like the fact that both accounts tend to follow their customers in order to provide answers through private messages as soon as it is not an easy fix.

Not only does it save some (to a lot) of timeline space but it also shows a sense a privacy that is enjoyable from a customer point of view. Reminder : tweets are public and while people following my account may know about me reaching out to an airline about an issue, I would appreciate that not every single person, bot, alien or whatever else out there follows my dialog with the company.

One last bit on the good usage of Twitter. I did mention earlier the companies with no specific support account but which people can still touch through their standard Twitter account. Good handling of Twitter requests on these accounts may depend on the community manager(s) and/or the company’s policy but how enjoyable and rewarding is it when a “message in a bottle” sent with little hope to a brand’s handle ends up being answered in the right way (e.g. not by a “go f**k yourself!” but rather a “how may I help you?”), quickly and efficiently enough.

Enough with congratulating big companies here, that is what most startups do everyday and even if their good handling of Twitter requests may stem from a need to gain visibility, fix beta product used by early adopters or just make sure they set the foundations right with their first customers, the quality of service offered is definitely something every company out there should look up to.

Evil Twitter How bad can it get ?

Well, this is where it does get nasty. Twitter being yet another means of communication, some may think it can be handled in the same way as phone or email.

That means sitting some people in front of the screen and providing them with recommendations on how to deal with customers (scripts … ) : expanding the call center to social media.

From personal experience, French telecom company SFR is now on my list of sworn enemies after I spent a week running through all their departments before trying to end the pain by making use of their Twitter handle (dedicated to customer support).

The sad bit here (apart from the fact that most of the other contact means are pretty unresponsive) is that this was a good example of call center Twitter.

The responsiveness while not being that bad showed that handling a busy timeline requires tools and/or added staff.

Yet, the understanding of requests definitely was nowhere near what people would expect. And that is a fact, any issue or request can only be a 140 characters one. Meaning customers have to ensure they can summarize the question but, also, that people doing the support on the other side must, at least, be able to understand the request and, further than that, be able to ask for clarifications if needed.

Which, when done in public, while facing a crowded timeline, does get nowhere but close to a mess.

This is where DMs are a must-use.

Another recent example shows how understanding (e.g. being able to not only understand the written sentence but also the context and who the customer is – or is not) is Bank of America’s handling of some rants in which their handle was used.

How is it even possible for the operator behind BofA’s Twitter to offer assistance with their account to the twitter of OccupyLa whose wording was rather about telling them how much they suck better than asking for details on savings accounts.

Customer service through Twitter is something truly new. It bears a new concept as this is basically a public square where everybody can shout at each other while wearing a mask.

The handling of that does not require call center skills (people at OccupyLA would surely not spend ten minutes on an expensive-as-hell support phone number, listening to brain-melting messages just to get a chance to hit at the company. On Twitter, it takes seconds and a few words) but a very different set of skills and mindset as well.

Twitter, a necessary tool at the moment ?

A dedicated user myself, I can only say yes, definitely. However, looking at the good and bad points, it does require some thinking and structuring before jumping in; whatever the use.

But as soon as a company does make the decision to make use of Twitter (and social media in general) for actual customer service and support (I leave aside marketing being slightly less crucial), they need to ensure getting things right and not consider it as part of their basic usual customer support framework.

That is basically the same as hiring a skilled social media marketer when it comes to developing online presence and content marketing.

I love Twitter as a tool, as a media and I definitely like customer support being handled through this means but companies have to ensure they have the right skill and mindset to make it successful.

It is not marketing as people see it but, as a reminder, any message getting out to customers is marketing.

Any bad message or usage is, in the end, bad marketing.

Customer service is marketing too. Make sure to use Twitter (and all social media) in the good way to deliver a good marketing message.

Everything corporate is marketing

Everything corporate is marketing