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Lessons from Rackspace

Rackspace had a really bad week last week. A truck literally crashed into a part of their power system (which from my understanding was already having a few problems that day) and their entire datacenter in Fort Worth, Texas was taken down because it was at risk of overheating. When an entire Rackspace datacenter goes down, a lot of web sites go down – many of them well known, an even great number mission critical to the client’s business. All of their customers pay a lot of money and have high expectations of Rackspace, so the situation was tough.

Rackspace, though, handled a very tough situation very well. The outage got a lot publicity because many well known web sites were down for a period of time while Rackspace was working on restoring the service.  A lot of blogs reported on the outages during and after the downtime.

From what I can tell, Rackspace did a fairly good job at handling the outage and its related affects. I’m not a Rackspace customer, but am pretty familiar with the company (see my interview with an executive from the company here). During the outage, they follow the guidelines I suggested for “keeping customers in the loop” almost perfectly.

Firstly, the company setup a dedicated blog to update customers during and after the outage.  The blog doesn’t have an archive, so I can’t tell what they posted as the outage was going on, but their follows up are good. They’ve posted in depth information about what happened, what’s being done to fix it, etc. They posted a very nice timeline explaining what happened as well.

The company’s CEO, Lanham Napier, has made himself very visible. A majority of the posts (and a video) are from him. The CEO getting involved and talking to customers is important.

The company also kept customers in the loop via their account portal (where they submit tickets, etc.) and through the points of contact for the various customers. The company kept their employees in the loop, which is critical. That way, when customers called, they didn’t have to hear the “we know nothing” excuse that many companies (especially ISPs) give when there is an outage.

Here are some things they can still do / should have done:

  • Had perspectives on the blog and in press releases from people besides the CEO (who didn’t do poorly at all). Different perspectives help. IT people might want to read a more technical explanation than the sales people.
  • Briefed journalists and their customers more frequently – the more information to the more people, the better.
  • Offered refunds or credits to the affected customers. (I’m not 100% sure if they did this.)
  • Follow up with customers in a month or two and make sure they are happy.

Overall, Rackspace did a good job at managing the events. It only turned out to be a couple of hours of downtime, but that is a couple of more hours a month than Rackspace customers are used to.

Sample Customer Survey – Toyota

I have already told you about my experience with Toyota (the good part and the bad part). A few days ago I got a survey from Toyota in the mail. I could either fill out the paper version or go to a web site called Toyota Voice and answer the questions there.

I decided that I share the questions that Toyota asked with Service Untitled readers. Commentary will follow soon.

Pre-questions:
They asked these questions to verify that the survey was going to the correct person, that they had their records straight, etc. Toyota said the survey would take about 5 minutes.

  • <shows name and address> Is all of the information above correct? (Yes or No)
  • Is NAME the principal driver of the VEHICLE TYPE?
  • We do not have an e-mail address for you on file. Please provide your address:
  • Do you still own/lease this VEHICE VIN# NUMBER? (Yes, No, Never Owned/Leased)
  • Did you have your VEHICLE serviced at DEALERSHIP? (Yes or No)

Survey Questions:
This is the actual survey.

  • Why did you choose the dealership? Trust dealership personnel; Authorized Toyota dealership; Convenient hours; Referral/recommendation; Coupon/service reminder; Other
  • If you made an appointment, how would you rate the following?(If no appointment was made, skip to question 3) Excellent, Good, Average, Fair, Poor, N/A
    • Waiting time on the phone
    • Effort to understand needs
    • Availability of appointment times
    • Confirmation call
    • Comments on question
  • Please rate the following when you first arrived and had your service order written up:  (Five Point Scale – see above) 
    • Promptness of greeting you                         
    • Courtesy of service advisor                         
    • Effort to understand service needs                         
    • Recommendation of appropriate work                         
    • Explanation of work, cost & time required                         
    • Length of time to drop-off vehicle                         
    • Comments on question
  • In regard to the work done on your vehicle, please rate the performance of the following: (five point scale)
    • Completed all requested work                         
    • Quality of work performed                         
    • Work completed within time promised                         
    • Effort to obtain parts
  • Was your vehicle fixed right the first time? (Yes or No)
  • If not fixed right the first time, what explanation was given?  (Check all that apply)
    • Could not identify or duplicate condition
    • Deemed normal condition
    • Parts not available
    • Work not performed properly
    • Other
  • After the service of your vehicle was completed, please rate the following: (five point)
    • Explanation of costs                         
    • Explanation of work done                         
    • Price paid met estimate                         
    • Helpfulness of cashier                         
    • Ease of picking up vehicle after service                         
    • Length of time to pick up vehicle                         
    • Cleanliness of vehicle
    • Comments
  • After your service visit, did the dealership phone, mail or e-mail you to determine your satisfaction with your service experience? (Yes or No)
  • At any point during or after your service visit, did you ask the dealership to resolve any concerns regarding the visit? (Yes or No)
  • If yes, how would you rate the following?  (five point)
    • Efforts of dealership personnel to resolve the concern                        
    • Outcome of the contact
    • Comments
  • Please rate the service department on the following: (five point)
    • Hours of operation                         
    • Cleanliness                         
    • Comfort of waiting area                         
    • Amenities in waiting area (television, magazines, refreshments, etc.)                         
    • Ease/convenience of parking at the dealership
  • Please rate the overall performance of the dealership on this service visit: (five point)
  • Would you return to this dealership for future service needs? (Yes, No, Undecided
  • Would you recommend this dealership to a friend or relative as a place to service their vehicle? (Yes, No, Undecided)
  • What aspects of your service experience did you LIKE MOST?
  • What aspects of your service experience COULD HAVE BEEN IMPROVED?

What are your thoughts after seeing the survey? I will provide mine in a post soon.

Importance of Culture

The importance of company culture in customer service isn’t something I talk about that frequently or that directly – especially in relation to how important it is. An upcoming interview on Service Untitled features a company that has an extremely customer-centric culture. The company’s CEO says the culture has been a big reason for their success.

Most other great customer service organizations have a culture that realizes the importance of great customer service and encourages great service. Exceptional customer service does not happen by accident and it starts off at a company culture level.

Think of words or phrases that might describe a company’s broader culture:

  • fun
  • hard working
  • customer dedication
  • respect / integrity

A lot of these are relative buzzwords, but they do have substance. Company’s that value and promote hard work and customer dedication will probably make better customer service companies than those that list “lowest prices” as one of the elements of their culture.

Culture is usually influenced from the top down, often starting in the beginning of the company’s history. Not all companies start off as an X organization and end up a Y organization, but establishing a new company culture in an established company is extremely difficult.

With that in mind, the best time to start building a customer service culture is now. The bigger you get, the harder it will be to build a culture for something that you don’t already have.

Some of the most objective, least “touchy feeling” advice I have for building customer service friendly cultures is:

  • Encourage great customer service and reward those who provide it.
  • Have policies, procedures, etc. that allow for the provision of great service.
  • Maintain a constant focus on customer service.
  • Have fun as individuals, groups, and a company.

Those are just a few of the many ways to build a culture that is customer service focused. There are of course hundreds of other ways to do it (and I don’t claim to know all of them by any means) and many of the ideas are extremely good.

Regardless of how you make it happen, a culture that focuses on customer service is required to being a great service organization. If your culture is not there, the exceptional customer service won’t be either.

Remember Family Names

228983728_adb8ff532e To me, a company (or small business) really knows you when they know the names of your family members. Great companies and customer service providers remember the little things about you, your family, and so on. Essentially, they take in interest in what you do.

Try to make it a point to learn the names of your best customers’ family members. Their wife (or husband), their kids, grandkids, best friends, etc. Just try to learn the names of the people that are important to them. Use their names casually in conversation and try to mention them.

If you can do this, you will gain a lot of “brownie points” with those best customers. It makes them feel special. People love to be recognized and love it when service providers know little details about them and the things that matter to them.

A general goal of your customer service interactions should be to learn about the customer on a more personal level than their name, telephone number, and email address. Any information you can get to personalize the customer service experience and make the customer feel special is good information.

For more on the subject, see these posts at Service Untitled as well as this great one from Glenn of AllBusiness Customer Service. This whole posts reminds me of a terrific article I read about great bosses in Inc. Magazine. Great bosses pay attention to and know about the little things. So do great customer service providers.

Photo courtesy of notme2000.

Anthony Rodio from SupportSoft – Part 3

This is the third and final part of the of the interview Anthony Rodio, the Chief Marketing Officer for SupportSoft.

This part of the interview talks about some challenges SupportSoft is dealing with, what changes Support.com users can expect over the next 6 – 12 months, a bit about licensing their technology to other companies, and then a wrap up about how remote support has the potential to change customer service.

Continue Reading

Anthony Rodio from SupportSoft – Part 2

This is part two of the interview Anthony Rodio, the Chief Marketing Officer for SupportSoft.

This part of the three part interview focuses on SupportSoft’s (an enterprise company) entry into the consumer market (including some lessons they learned) and why consumers would choose SupportSoft over their OEM (the computer manufacturer).

Continue Reading

Comment and Win!

This week started off with part one of a three part interview with an executive from SupportSoft, the company behind Support.com.

To add a little interest and excite, anyone who comments on any of the posts involving Support.com and/or SupportSoft, will be eligible to win a free USB massager. It is a neat little gift that makes a great gift for you or even a customer service stocking stuffer.

Service Untitled has been given a couple of massagers to giveaway, so get commenting! (And expect some more giveaways in the future!)

Use information to make the experience better.

Golf_Cart-2seat In part of my constant travels, I was at a high end country club last week. Country clubs are a great place to be if you want to learn about customer service.

A surprising amount of country clubs don’t actually have very good customer service – it is usually acceptable (sometimes a small step above or below that).

Their customers often have very high expectations and can be extremely demanding. It is a tough place to work as a frontline customer service provider as well as a manager. There is a lot to deal with and it is very different than working as an inbound customer service representative for a technology company.

As I was walking by the pavilion where members drive their golf carts after a game of golf to get their clubs cleaned and such, I heard an interesting exchange. The member asked the attendant what the score was for the sports game going on at the time (I think it was a football game). The attendant knew it and told the customer. They started a conversation about sports and discussed a few other scores and games. 

The attendant having this information not only provided the customer with a quick, correct answer about the score, but also a way to start a conversation. Starting a conversation and building a rapport with a customer is extremely important to great customer service.

If you have things that you know your customers are interested in (like sports at a country club) and you can use that to relate to your customers, do it. Have your attendants, waiters, etc. know the sports scores and know the general rules about the sports offered. It is little things like that that will end up making a big difference in the long run.

Logistically, this isn’t hard to make happen. Employees don’t have to memorize and know everything, but a general knowledge is definitely useful. It is not hard at all for employees to look at the television screen when they go for a break and check out the scores.

Various companies can do various things to relate to their customers. Chances are that there is at least one common interest shared by a majority of your customers. It is your job to find out what that common interest is and start relating to it!

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