Friday, July 15, 2005

Love thy customer

I was in a meeting today (normally that wouldn't qualify as it's own sentence, but recently I have been extremely geeky [read: depressed] and haven't been much on the old 'let's sit down and shoot the shit' game). Anyway, we were talking about one of the features of a certain Intranet service that I am in charge of, and one of them was called 'Portal out of the box' or PoB for short. Basically, this gives any department or global entity the ability to create their own portal site, using standard modules and interfaces.
The comment of the woman in charge of internal communications was 'we have chosen not to use that here, because we worry about the consistency of the user experience.' What was really at work is that it allows departments to communicate without that communication being mediated by the internal comms folks, which is a threat to their control. It is probably a safe bet that my future as a corporate blogger is limited here...
Fast forward to a posting that I saw concerning Dell computer's customer service. I think that this guy made some very good points. This guy seems to be pretty influential, and within a week of his post, Dell announced that they were shutting down their cutomer care messag boards.
I don't know the story, but he communicated directly with a senior director, and mentioned aspects of legal liability that obviously got someone to over-react. It was mostly about the at-home service guarantee, which, if you looked at the boards, looks like is worthless, because the technicians don't bring parts. This blogger correctly pointed out that saying you would do one thing, and then not doing it (at-home computer repeairs) is fraudulent, but rather than really looking at why a customer was accusing them of fraud, they immediatly looked for ways to elimenate any exposure they might have, which apparently included elimenating the customer care mesaging boards.
I had an all-around disappointing customer-service experience with amazon.com. First of all, I ordered the MCSE test preparation set through the U.S. site, becasue the Japan site doesn't sell it. Ok, whatever. So, three days ago, I got one of those notices that the post office leaves when you aren't at home (what do we call them in English? I know the Japanese word, but not the English..) So, I asked them to bring it at a time when my wife would be home. I got home that night, and ripped open the package only to find a boxed set of the Little House on the Prairie books. I was understandably confused, so I looked at the address label, and it was addressed to someone in Fukui prefecture. How, I wondered, did this package end up at my house? It turns out that it came in a white bag, which had it's own label. Somehow there was a mixup.
So I went to the amazon.com website to find their customer service number. Hah! I may have spent thousands (easily: I would reckon probably in the neighbourhood of $10,000 during the last 9 years that I have been shopping there) of dollars at their store, but they have decided to force me to use a cluggy e-mail tool that slotted problems into types that were not describing my issue, which was that I wanted to make sure that the lady in Fukui got her book, and that I got mine.
The nice thing about google is that if something exists, you can probably find it:
(800) 201-7575. The disappointing thing wasn't that the woman was rude, only that she didn't seem to have a clue. I wanted to do the right thing, and she just didn't seem to get it: I wanted to tell her the name of the person who did *not* have her boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder because of the screwup, so that amazon could re-send it, since she told me that I had to send the box back to amazon.com, fronting the international postage until they gave it back to me in a credit. She didn't want to know the person's name.
"Well, what about her book? She is going to get it much later than she should. Don't you think that if you know she isn't going to get it, because you are telling me to send it back to you, that you should re-send hers?"
"Don't worry, your MCSE set should be arriving in a few days."
I ended up telling her to escalate the matter, and then she comes back and says "if you are willing to send it to this other person, we would be very grateful." Being grateful to me, rather than simply clueless, seemed an improvement. The basic issue, though, is that she never seemed to think about "what will make this customer and the other customer, who hasn't raised a trouble ticket yet, but certainly will since her books definitely won't make it to her, the most happy?" She seemed mostly concerned with closing the trouble ticket, not doing what is best for the customer. That is not the same as the old amazon.com, whose customer service was amazing and unique: I got a copy of The Ruling Class DVD included in one order just because someone there thought I might like it (I did). In Japan, they used to put paper book covers on each book they shipped. You really got the feeling that they cared about customer service. I did not get the warm fuzzies in my most recent delaings, and I still do not have the MCSE test set...I have actually run help desks, so I understand the importance of measuring performance with hard numbers, measuring what you are doing, and using quality control to make sure the answers to standard questions get answered the same. But that is no substitute for a human who cares about me. In this age of outsourcing call center work, I really wonder how often the question gets asked of call center staff: Do these people love our customers? And will that love make itself known? amazon.com used to be able to say that.
In my very brief sojourn to another part of our company, I was in charge of a web site for partners. One of the things I was working on was getting forums up and running. The hostility to the idea from nearly everyone save me and my (not official, but nonetheless) boss was interesting. I felt that considering the small number of people we had dedicated to supporting partners, it made sense to do something that allowed partners to participate in a community, and help one another by answering questions for one another. The objections basically boiled down to "nobody will use them," "that won't work in Japan," "this poses big legal risks," "who will make sure nothing untoward is said?" and so on. There are always five reasons not to do something, but I will almost always take doing over not doing. The thing I dislike most about lots of people in my company, and, really, in this country, is that they are so averse to any kind of risk, that the risk of doing anything ends up greater than the risk of doing nothing almost every time, and they take the less risky course of action.
Letting go of the power you have over your users or customers is the hardest thing in the world, but the old adage, 'if you love someone, set them free,' is true here: The love will be returned. Both Dell and amazon.com used to get this.
Interestingly, there is also wiki application that global has implemented. I can imagine the local howls at any of our people actually using it...all the more reason to do it!

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