Category Archives: Poor Service

How to not respond to customers

Reply target

Recently I had the need to contact a company for support concerning a feature they removed from one of their product which I, and many other users, sound extremely valuable. Despite it being a free service, the support team responded on a weekend in time that would put most enterprise vendors to shame. However, the content of their message left a lot to be desired:

Thank you for contacting us!

Personally, I’m glad you brought this out. At […], we are constantly working to improve our platform and products. Suggestions from […] like you are an incredibly important part of that process. Updates can be done without notice, we will keep you informed if we make an update on our platform. We want you to know how much we appreciate your input and support!

Parsing this message, we find a number of items for improvement:

  • They start by saying “Personally, I’m glad” – but this is not a personal matter, I am interested in the company’s position, not the agent’s personal opinion
  • Then “At […], we are constantly working to improve our platform and products” – in this case they made a change that has negative impact on the customer experience, in the opinion of a large number users
  • Then “Suggestions from […] like you are an incredibly important part of that process.” – First, this is a general statement that has no bearing on anything, and second, I did not make a “suggestion”, I pointed out a change that’s making it harder for me to use the product
  • Followed by “Updates can be done without notice, we will keep you informed if we make an update on our platform.” – which is a plain contradiction
  • And the concluding sentence is “We want you to know how much we appreciate your input and support!” after doing everything to show that they don’t

This vendor, with a single response, managed to transform an otherwise satisfied customer with a product problem into a skeptical customer, questioning their commitment and willingness to provide service. Analyzing how this happened leads us to several conclusions:

  • Being too familiar and personal, with phrases like “personally” and “I’m glad”
  • Using phrases that sound good but have very little to do with the situation
  • Using feel good language as a substitute to meaningful information

Do your response templates suffer from similar problems or are you making it every individual person’s responsibility to produce their own customer responses? Have you ever read those responses with a critical eye? Or, even better, ask someone else to do that? If you service customers in multiple countries and cultures, are you aware of the differences in perception between those and your native culture?

Update: while writing this post I received a message from the vendor:

I’ve passed your message to our engineering team and will be better able to help with your particular question. You will receive a more detailed reply shortly; we appreciate your patience!

Which sounded like good news, until the following message arrived a day or two later:

Hi there,

We’re experiencing an extremely high volume of support requests currently and may not be able to directly answer every question received. Please browse our […] Help Center […] for articles that may help you resolve your issue, as it provides a lot of solutions to common issues reported by our learners.

If you have been able to answer your question in the last few days, there’s no need to reply to this message. If you have not been able to find your answer and still need assistance from us, please reply to this email and we’ll get an answer to you as soon as we can.

Thank you for your understanding as we continue to improve our support resources to help […] like you!
[…] Community Operations

Many companies have challenges handling growth, this one seems to do a particularly bad job at acknowledging it and taking the actions required.

I’ll post further updates when, and if, they are received

Sometimes The Extra Mile Is Free

Restaurant scene

Recently I visited a coffee shop while waiting to meet a friend. Walking in, I was impressed – the place was large, well lit and tastefully decorated. The food and pastries in the display cases seemed attractive, with quality ingredients and professional preparation. Clearly, those who designed and built this business aimed high, and their prices reflected that. As a long time observer of service operations I started wondering – could they deliver on the promise of the decor and the food?

Considering I only had tea, I couldn’t tell anything about the food except that other diners seemed to be enjoying it. However, from the service perspective I left with a few nagging points that directly apply to other service organizations:

  • The food is served in nice porcelain dishes which the crew clears once the customer has left. But, they do not wipe the tables, consequently, each table had some crumbs. Very few, but noticeable. When clearing the tables they do not use a tray, so we got a chance to see one of the crew walking slowly with a pile of dishes on her arms, trying not to drop them. Solution – get a tray, and put a little wet towel on it. Clear the dishes into the tray, wipe the table and be done.
  • When ordering a drink they take your order at the counter and bring the drink to the table. But, the crew has no clue how to walk straight while holding a cup. It was very comical watching one of them holding a saucer with both hands and walking slowly trying not to spill the coffee. Solution – rehearse, work on your muscle memory.

In both these cases, not only did the operation look unprofessional, but the employees were visibly embarrassed.

  • Last – my tea was delivered to the table in a cup. There was nowhere to dispose of the teabag nor were there sugar or stirrer on the table. I had to get up and get them myself, negating the point of table service. Solution? You guessed it. Bring a saucer, and place a few bags of sweetener on each table.

Now, there is a common thread between all these points. Fixing them will cost the business absolutely nothing, but requires an observant manager with a burning desire to keep improving the service. This begs the question, how much improvement could each of us make to our support operations at zero cost while helping our employees increase their skill and professionalism? How much better can we make them? What if we took the time to observe our organization from the side, and inspect every move and every action as they are perceived by the customer? Sadly, in many situations this seems to be everybody’s last priority.

How To Not Ask Questions

Time for feedback

A coworker of mine from many years ago had as one of her guiding principles “Never ask a question if you are not ready for any possible answer”. I was reminded of her, and her favorite principle, while discussing customer surveys and customer feedback recently

It is common practice in service situations to inquire about the quality of the service, and I am sure every person who is even remotely associated with supporting enterprise technology had participated in numerous discussions about surveys, customer forums and similar initiatives. But then, how much thought was given to making the results actionable and actually acting on it? Here’s an example I am sure many of us encountered while having a meal in a restaurant. Inevitably one of the waiters will come by the table and ask if everything is OK. Our answer, very frequently, is “yeah, everything is great”, even if, in fact, nothing is. I am sure we have all wondered what would happen had we provided our honest feedback in response – “the soup was cold and the bread was stale”

Now, anybody who has visited more than a single yelp page would know, negative feedback is an opportunity to make things right, but that opportunity is too frequently neglected, leaving the customer to vent over the internet and creating significant damage to the restaurant’s reputation

So, how should we address customer feedback? Here are some pointers:

  • Only ask questions that will provide you actionable information
  • When feedback is received, act as soon as possible and keep the customer informed
  • Clarify negative feedback, e.g., when a customer responds with a poor survey, call and discuss their concerns
  • Report back to the customer community through a newsletter, website updates, or similar means on all the changes you made based on their feedback, encouraging them to provide you with more information more frequently

Complicated? Not really, but it does require constant focus and commitment.

What methods are you using to collect customer feedback and encourage dialog?

What Can Enterprise Support Learn From Auto Rental? (Part 1 of 3)

Illustration of Car

Over the last few months I was engaged in a heavy travel schedule which had me renting cars from the same company repeatedly. The company’s process calls for travelers to register at the counter, either with an employee or at an automated kiosk, walk to the parking lot and wait in line for another employee to take them to the car, perform several ceremonial duties such as checking the fuel level, checking for dings, and verifying the insurance while attempting to make small talk.

Here is what my typical Sunday experience would look like:

  • Walk from airplane to counter
  • Register in kiosk, usually 2 or 3 minute wait, if kiosk is down wait in line for agent, some times up to 20 minutes, provide driving license and credit card
  • Walk to parking lot, wait in line again for agent number two, some times up to 15 or 20 minutes again
  • Walk with agent to the car while they attempt to make small talk (so, what brings you to town?)
  • Wait while they:
    • Circle the car to verify there are no dings and the windshield is not cracked
    • Start the car to ensure the gas tank is full
    • Complete the paperwork, verify insurance sign in multiple places on a busy form in the dark parking lot
    • Drive

Surprisingly, returning the car is straightforward and easy. Invariably, the agents would ask “So, how was our service?”

How would be your response to this question? Mine was usually “Your service sucks” and an attempt to explain. In the next few posts, we’ll see the many reasons behind this response, the improvement opportunities and lessons we can learn.

Post 2

How to Irritate Your Customers Without Even Trying

Evernote is an innovative service that allows users to clip webpages and other files, tag and store them centrally, and then search and access from anywhere. I have been a paying user for a long time and am generally pleased with the service. But, two problems make it inconvenient for me to use the service in certain situations.

I tried to get evernote’s attention to these problems multiple times, and received no acknowledgement, until today when I posted the following on one of evernote’s facebook threads:

“Two questions, 1. when will pdf clipping from safari return? and 2. when are you going to fix the stupidity that focuses on the notebook’s top when moving a note from the middle? This makes organizing information tedious and annoying. I am a paying customer using the mac client, and I find that evernote’s service is non-existant. I have been asking these two questions for a long time and never received a response or even an acknowledgement. Too bad to see excellent technology being undermined by dismal management practices and too much success too quickly.”

The response came a short time later:

“Sorry for your frustration. We are definitely hearing all of the feedback and try to acknowledge all of it as it comes in. Regarding your specific questions. 1. We don’t have a date on this, unfortunately the recent Safari updates has caused some issues with our extension. For a more in depth discussion and explanation you can check out our forum. 2. This feature requested is noted, thanks for passing along. We appreciate all of your support, I assure you we are hard at work continually improving Evernote.”

So, what’s wrong with this response? Many of us have written similar ones over the years. Well, I am glad you asked:

  1. Evernote say they try to acknowledge all feedback. Well, either they don’t, or they fail miserably at that. In any case, not a word about doing it better in the future
  2. Sending users to their forum with no pointer to a specific discussion or record. If there is information in that forum that’s relevant, please post a link, or better yet, summarize it here. After all, forcing customers to switch channels to get a response is one of the poor practices discussed in my previous post
  3. There is no indication of any timeframe or intention to solve the problems
  4. despite this, they end with an assurance that they “are hard at work continually improving Evernote”. Employees’ hard work is between them and their management. Customers pay for functionality and service, and could care less if they are delivered by people sitting by the beach on a tropical island while sipping drinks with little umbrellas

So, evernote, you received some free advice. Will you do anything about it?