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The Power of Technology (and People) in Customer Service

Customer Service isn't about technology - it's about people using technology

Just a few days ago, I was the "victim" of a bad customer experience courtesy of some powerful technology that was badly used.

I wrote about the situation in full detail in "Are Your Online Support Tools Ruining Your Business?"

Good Technology Enabling my Terrible Service Experience
Here's a quick re-cap: I bought a semi-expensive electronic gadget - a $400 radar detector.  When it arrived, it wasn't working properly.  I went to the manufacturer's website for an answer and found none.  I clicked on the "Chat" button to speak with a support person, and was told that the support center was closed, but if I detailed my problem, someone would get back to me.

I spent the time to type in a long and detailed description of my problem.  A couple of days later, I got the following email response "It is good to hear from you!  Please feel free to give us a call and we will be glad to help.  Thanks for your interest in Beltronics!"

Let's just say I did not react well to what I believed was a remarkably stupid response.

It would have been far better if they hadn't installed a Chat application at all than to set the expectation that they would actually do something helpful if I spent the time to type in all the details of my problem.

The Micah Solomon Connection
I mentioned in my article some words of wisdom I picked up at an event I attended last month in Austin where the keynote speaker was Micah Solomon - he's a customer service guru and was just featured in Forbes Magazine ("Four Things Every Business Can Learn From Apple").

I thought it was quite interesting when I got an email (typed on his iPhone!) this morning from Mr. Solomon, which read:

Dear Hollis,

Fantastic article!

I'm not here to comment on whether you are or aren't a well-regulated militia-of-one, Hollis. But assuming that you are (and that you're attempting to get the radar detector to work in an effort to remind yourself to go the posted limit in order to enhance the safety of citizens in the great state of Texas) I'm glad to comment on your attempts to have a reasonable customer experience.

I find, as did you, quite a few things glaringly wrong in what happened.  Here are just two:

1      Lack of recognition of the changed pace of customer support expectations.

I have found this lag at even the historically great companies:  LL Bean telling me their fulfillment operation was closed all weekend (instead of rushing downstairs to put a replacement pair of shoes into UPS) for example.  Please- if you want us to shop 24-7,  you need to support us very close to those same hours.

2      Making you contact them for what I would call "stupid stuff."

Customer touchpoints are a chance for a company to shine, but only if the touchpoint (contact) happens at the customer's choice.

In your case, your initial need to contact them very likely could have been avoided through FAQ's and other self-service mechanisms, and certainly your need to REPEAT-contact them could have been avoided if they had just read (uh huh!) your first query -instead of getting back to you with entirely data-free boilerplate.

Micah Solomon

Business keynote speaker and author of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service

Click here for a free chapter or here to purchase

Thumbos courtesy of iPhone.

Author Solomon is following his own advice.  Although I didn't buy anything from him (so I'm technically not a customer), I wrote something about him online.  He read it, and emailed me.

Oh, and I get a free copy of his book.  If it's any good, I'll write about that too.  It got 38 reviews on Amazon.com - all 5 stars.

Another Great Example
While bored at the Airport yesterday morning, I tweeted from my iPhone.  I had just ordered an iRobot Roomba (robotic vacuum cleaner).  I don't have much spare time, and thought maybe a Roomba would give me a bit more.

Barney the Pig

I have a bit of a pig issue at home - so my floors are dusty.

I literally - not figuratively, have a pig issue at home. He's a great friend, but he sure tracks in a lot of dust and such.

And I get an awful lot of "Pork Chop" and "Bacon" jokes.

I sent out a couple of tweets about it this upcoming contest of Pig vs. Roomba.

 

And sure enough, the folks at iRobot tweeted back:

They think the Robot is going to win.  I don't think any of those Roomba people have ever lived with a 150+ pound pig in the house.

We'll see who prevails - my guess is that the pig will overwhelm the Roomba, or possibly eat it.   Check out my tweets this coming weekend if you want to know the preliminary results.

I was amused over the exchange - but more than that, I realized that these folks cared enough to listen (and to respond).  I was looking forward to the arrival of my new gadget...and their silly response to my silly tweet actually enhanced my ownership experience.  They cared enough to engage.  I feel "good" about being an iRobot Roomba customer - which is important as these little doo-hickeys cost hundreds of dollars.  Bravo, guys - I feel happy that I gave you all that money.

And In Last Place...

I still haven't heard from the electronics manufacturer.  Interestingly, when I Googled their name in Google News, my article about the customer service experience I had with them came up right near the top of page 1.  Tough to miss - IF you have someone who looks for such things.

Unlike with iRobot, I do not feel valued.  I do not feel good.  I do not feel like they care.  I am not happy I gave them all that money.

I hope someone at their company stumbles across this article - not because I want to scold them, but because I hate seeing a company with a good product and hard working employees stumble like this.  There is no reason for it - it doesn't need to happen (and it shouldn't happen).

Technology Isn't the Solution for Customer Satisfaction

As Wozniak so aptly put it (on the cover of Solomon's book), it's about the "twin importance of people and technology".  Technology alone doesn't help customer service - as we've seen in this case, technology helped precipitate my unsatisfactory experience.  I would have had a considerably better experience had such technology NOT been in place.

Technology alone - it costs money to purchase (or to subscribe to), consumes resources to configure and support.  It can give the company a false sense of security.  And (possibly) really mess things up.  Just say "no".

Instead, invest in the right people.  Instill a culture of customer service.  Use the "right" technology to AMPLIFY your core commitment to customer service - NOT to fix customer service or make it magically better.

If you are committed to giving your customers a great experience, technology can (and probably will) make it an even better experience.  If you're not committed to customer service, technology will probably just magnify a lack of focus in that area.

First things first.

What to do if "This Happens to Your Company"
If this kind of customer service "event" happened to me, it's happened to many other people.  I'm just the one who happened to write about it - because I like to write about examples of where technology was used really well (so that other people can follow the example) or where technology was misused (so that people can learn from someone else's mistake).

So if you're at Beltronics and you have budget and authority - call up someone like Micah Solomon - his phone number is listed on his website.  If for some reason you have to leave a message, I bet he'll get back to you quickly - with a relevant and intelligent response.

•   •   •

Note:

Hollis Tibbetts is a Software Strategy Director for Dell Inc.'s Global Mergers and Acquisitions organization.  He writes on a number of software marketing and technology topics, including marketing "best practices", growth strategies, Data, Integration and Legacy Modernization.

More Stories By Hollis Tibbetts

Hollis Tibbetts, or @SoftwareHollis as his 50,000+ followers know him on Twitter, is listed on various “top 100 expert lists” for a variety of topics – ranging from Cloud to Technology Marketing, Hollis is by day Evangelist & Software Technology Director at Dell Software. By night and weekends he is a commentator, speaker and all-round communicator about Software, Data and Cloud in their myriad aspects. You can also reach Hollis on LinkedIn – linkedin.com/in/SoftwareHollis. His latest online venture is OnlineBackupNews - a free reference site to help organizations protect their data, applications and systems from threats. Every year IT Downtime Costs $26.5 Billion In Lost Revenue. Even with such high costs, 56% of enterprises in North America and 30% in Europe don’t have a good disaster recovery plan. Online Backup News aims to make sure you all have the news and tips needed to keep your IT Costs down and your information safe by providing best practices, technology insights, strategies, real-world examples and various tips and techniques from a variety of industry experts.

Hollis is a regularly featured blogger at ebizQ, a venue focused on enterprise technologies, with over 100,000 subscribers. He is also an author on Social Media Today "The World's Best Thinkers on Social Media", and maintains a blog focused on protecting data: Online Backup News.
He tweets actively as @SoftwareHollis

Additional information is available at HollisTibbetts.com

All opinions expressed in the author's articles are his own personal opinions vs. those of his employer.