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Customer Love Rewards

Headsets.com is an incredibly interesting customer service-centric company (see my interview with CEO Mike Faith here). They do a lot of things that make them a very down to Earth, customer friendly organization: they have flexible return policies, great employees, a big selection, competitive pricing, etc. I have a huge amount of respect for the company. I was exploring their web site a few nights ago and came across this page: Customer Love Rewards at Headsets.

The concept is pretty simple and not totally original, but it works. The company has a points/reward systems for purchases. You get 10 points for every dollar you spent (a $100 headsets gets you 1000 points) and 10,000 points for your first order.

The idea is a nice one. It provides customers with a simple way to get rewarded for purchases. It’s a great customer loyalty program. Great customer service (Headsets.com calls it “customer love”) makes customers loyal anyway, but an actual customer loyalty program with some nice prizes never hurts.

Their program is nice because it’s incredibly straight forward. It isn’t loaded with legal terms and conditions and people are able to keep their points once they claim one prize. The prizes aren’t bad, either. If you spend $20,000 with Headsets.com (about 80 fairly high end headsets), you can get a nice Aeron Chair or a high end digital camera (might make a nice prize for a high performing customer service representative).

They also had some humor built into the program. If you spend $10 million with them (which I think is more than 10% of their annual sales), they will literally buy you a house. Who knows if any customer will actually get to that point (something they point out), but it’s amusing to see if anyone does.

I like how a straight forward company took a straight forward approach to something that is usually loaded with terms and conditions.

By the way, Customer Service is the New Marketing is on Monday, February 4. If you are interested in attending this great conference on customer service, it isn’t too late to register. Use the code SUBL and you’ll get 15% off the registration price.

Featured speakers at the event include Tony Hsieh (CEO, Zappos), Alex Frankel (Author of “Punching In”), Michael Murphy (Head of Customer Service at Virgin), and Robert Stephens (founder of the Geek Squad). There are also two panels (one on scaling customer service, another on community and customer service) and a lot of great lunchtime workshops (including one that I am running).

Find More Honest Employees

susmall This thought came to me fairly randomly – partially based on an experience with a friend who had been very honest (and was later rewarded) and partially based on a discussion with a colleague about out of the ordinary interview techniques and content (a subject that has always interested me). So, keep that in mind – this is very random. I’m not quite sure if it is even legal.

How does my idea work as an interesting addition to a job interview?

While you are interviewing a potential employee, instead of asking 20 questions about ethics, honesty, morals, etc., place a $5 or $10 bill somewhere in a hallway that the candidate will have to walk by him or herself. See what the candidate does with the money – does he or she pocket it, leave it there, or turn it in?

Exactly where you leave it probably doesn’t matter, as long as the candidate will be very likely to see it and it isn’t completely obvious: leave it right outside the building’s door, in a hallway, near the reception desk, etc. If it is right outside the interview room, it may be too obvious. Make sure it isn’t in an area that is too busy or someone else might beat the candidate to it.

I have used my (terrible) graphic skills to draw out a diagram (see above, click for full size) of how this could possibly work. The diagram leaves two possible locations for the $10 bill – about three quarters of the way down a hallway and near a reception desk. If it is placed near the reception desk, the receptionists have to be distracted and not paying attention to where the bill is.

I think this serves a purpose, though. It identifies three types of employees:

  • Indifferent or oblivious employees will either not notice or leave the bill. They aren’t bad, but aren’t good, either.
  • Dishonest employees will put the bill in their pocket and walk out the door without saying anything.
  • Honest employees will hand the bill in to someone at the reception desk or the interviewer.

This could really work for retail or hospitality (i. e. restaurant) companies that have issues with employees stealing. What do you think? Could this work? Is it even legal? Has someone done it before?

Click here for a full size version of the diagram above.

Not good at customer service?

failure This blog focuses almost entirely on what people who are good at (or want to be good at) customer service should do.

But what about those that aren’t good at customer service? Or those who have tried customer service, didn’t like it, and don’t want to do it anymore? What can these people do in a customer service-centric organization?

The first step is figuring out why the employee didn’t like customer service. Did they not like dealing with upset customers? Were the hours tough? What went wrong?

If the reason doesn’t show the employee is anti-social or against working on a team, then it is probably okay to move on to the next step. If the employee might be anti-social or doesn’t work well with others, chances are they won’t fit in well with any part of the organization. Even people in relative “loner” positions need to be able to work well with others within the organization.

If the employee couldn’t handle the hours or something like that, then you can look for other parts of the organization for the employee to work in it. There is usually plenty of behind the scenes work to be done in most companies. Handling upgrades/downgrades, data processing, updates, etc. What can be done often varies a lot from company to company. A lot of employees do well in these areas if they don’t like the frontlines as much.

A good way to figure out what might be a good fit is to ask the employee where he or she would like to work. If the employee’s suggestion seems reasonable, give it a try. If you’ve tried to accommodate an employee a couple of times with no success (and other employees do well in these roles), then it is probably (unfortunately) the employee. You’re bound to encounter people that just don’t fit in at your company. It’s expected.

The most important part is to give those that are willing a shot.

Wired tells us why customer service sucks.

su_customer_service In its most recent issue, Wired told us why customer service sucks (their words, not mine). They blamed:

Some call centers’ focus on getting customers off the phone versus resolving issues.
Outsourcing and offshoring to places like Bangalore, India and Manila, Philippines.
Unmotivated and untalented customer service representatives.
Customer service representatives that are distracted when serving customers.

The best customer service companies don’t run into these issues: they focus on resolving issues and customer satisfaction; they rarely outsource and if they do, they outsource to quality companies; they hired motivated and talented representatives; and they don’t force representatives to help more than one customer at once.

The issues that Wired pointed out are interesting because none of them are difficult to fix. It’s really easy to change policies to measure customer satisfaction and stop outsourcing. The most complicated one is the issue with unmotivated and untalented representatives and by the way Wired words the paragraph, the companies could just tweak their personality tests and avoid that problem.

The short article (part of a series of explanations about why things like traffic, batteries, and customer service suck) also cites some interesting statistics that I had never read before (no source is listed):

  1. Employees in Bangalore will work for 85 percent less than equally qualified US employee.
  2. One out of three call centers don’t measure customer satisfaction. One in two don’t measure employee satisfaction.
  3. The ideal customer service rep (according to personality inventory tests) is uncreative, has low incentive, and demonstrates limited empathy.
  4. Half of all service reps are talking, emailing, or IMing with another customer at the same time. One quarter handle up to four people at once.

I’m curious as to where Wired got these statistics. They seem like customer service hyperbole to me, but they’re interesting nonetheless. My thoughts:

  1. I’m not an outsourcing expert by any definition, but I don’t think the cost savings are that dramatic, especially not in Bangalore. The wages that Indians are getting are only going up. The Philippines is looking like it’ll be the next India.
  2. I would say that most measure customer satisfaction. How much they care about it is likely a another story. Only 50% measure employee satisfaction seems believable, but I think HR would put more of a effort into that than the survey shows.
  3. These aren’t ideal qualities for a customer service representative. Tests are relatively easy to tweak to look for ideal qualities, so this is surprising and doubtful.
  4. For email or live chat support, I might believe this. For phone support, I seriously doubt it. 

What are your thoughts about the Wired article? Were they right on or did they miss it totally?

Illustration credit: Wired’s Martin Woodtli (full size here)

Comcast Customer Service

comcast_logo ISPs have a reputation of providing terrible customer service. My experience with Comcast over the last two weeks or so was an example of the company living up to its reputation.

I had been having intermittent issues with my Internet for a while. Comcast had been out once before, looked at the computer for about a minute, and said nothing was wrong. Everything was fine for a month or so and then the issues started happening again. My Internet would go out for an hour or two and then come back. No apparent reason for it going out randomly – it just did.

Since I couldn’t stand my Internet randomly going out, I called Comcast again. They tried to troubleshoot (which consists of blaming my router for the problem) and realized they couldn’t get a connection to the modem. A service call was scheduled for later in the week after 5 PM.

I was home by 5 PM and waited until 8 PM before calling Comcast. I called them and they said the service call had been canceled. They didn’t know who canceled it or why it was canceled, but the service call was canceled. I had waited at home for three hours and the call was canceled.

They had no additional information about why it was canceled, which was ridiculous. Their best answer is that they (the people who do the service calls) sometimes call in advance to make sure someone is home. Apparently, I had to wait home all day, in case someone from Comcast called. I asked to talk to a supervisor, but instead spoke to a “team lead.” He told me that he would try to get it rescheduled to Saturday (my preferred time), but at the moment, the only available time was Wednesday after 5 PM. I told him that I wanted to hear back from Comcast by 11 PM that night with a yes, no, or still working on it answer. He assured me that I would hear back.

As 11 PM rolled by, I had not heard anything from Comcast. They failed to do what they said they would do once again. I called on Tuesday evening to confirm my Wednesday service call and it was still scheduled.

At exactly 5:00 PM on Wednesday, my phone rang. It was the Comcast represenative confirming I was home and available. He told me he was in the area and would be there in a few minutes. By 5:15 PM, he was working on my computer. Apparently, nothing was wrong with it. After trying to sell me a modem about 5 times, he checked outside to confirmed nothing was wrong at the street level, and left.

The entire experience was absolutely terrible at worst and mediocre at best. I’ve written quite a bit about service calls and this experience was not the best by any means.

Companies that do service calls can learn a few lessons from my Comcast experience:

  • Communicate the times very clearly.
  • Never cancel a service call without talking to the customer.
  • If a service call is canceled, ensure you record all the details.
  • The company’s central office should have a better idea about what the field representatives are doing.
  • If you make a promise (whether it be to show up or to return a phone call), keep it. If you’re unable to keep that promise, don’t make it.

37signals understands downtime.


37signals is a smart company. Not only have they seen incredible success with their product line, but they run an extremely successful blog, have gotten more press coverage than most companies 50 times their size, and have a very good reputation. They also read other blogs and knew not to make the same mistake that DreamHost made when they had some issues with their service.

Last week, all of the products/services made by 37signals were offline for about two hours. The problem was with their load balancer affecting their connections. It seems like a pretty technical issue that most customers probably wouldn’t understand if explained fully to them.

37signals did a lot of things right with their announcement:

  • They said what happened.
  • They addressed a big concern early on. Was data lost? No.
  • They apologized.
  • They said they weren’t happy about what happened and apologized again.
  • They offered compensation to affected clients, even though they don’t have a formal SLA plan that requires them to do so. They also made this process easy.
  • They said they had the best service provider out there, but the company dropped the ball (see below).
  • However, 37signals repeatedly said the problem is ultimately their problem and their fault. They claimed full responsibility.

Commenters on the post pointed out that 37signals only used one load balancer (when two are often standard), which is their fault, not their service provider’s fault. An employee from 37signals replied and said they will be adding one. As mentioned above, they claimed full responsibility for the downtime. It doesn’t matter who’s fault it is, but it is their problem.

37signals was also pretty responsive to comments on TechCrunch. They updated their status web site frequently during the outage. Basically, 37signals handled the situation as well as any company I’ve seen.

There are very few companies who do things as well as 37signals did with this situation. From what I’ve read, how 37signals handled this situation is how they handle most others – very well. Kudos to 37signals.

A Collaborative Book

We’re definitely living in the Internet age when a group of bloggers who often don’t know each other can write a book on marketing. This is what they did for The Age of Conversation (the story is here) and now the same group of people (plus additional bloggers) are going to be writing a new, collaborative book.

The book’s topic has not been finalized yet (you can vote on it here), but here are the three choices:

  • Marketing Manifesto
  • Why Don’t People Get It?
  • My Marketing Tragedy (and what I learned)

These are some great topics that could be very interesting. I personally voted for “Why Don’t People Get It?” I think that question could generate a lot of very interesting responses. The group of bloggers that ends up writing this will surely be a great group with a lot of experience in a lot of different areas.

I think this is going to be a lot of fun and I encourage you to look into it. Vote on the topic, look into helping contribute as an author, help promote the book. There are plenty of ways to help and the more people that help, the better.

The proceeds from the book are going to be donated to Variety, The Children’s Charity. I’m proud to be involved with this great project.

Unrelated to this, I wanted to point out this post by Seth Godin. It’s a post about how an inflexible policy / those not caring at Apple degraded the experience. One would think they fix the problem, but since no one at the store seems to care (unlike some of the customers that do care), they don’t fix it.

Refunds and Customer Service

er290 I got an email asking about returns and refunds. A search revealed a nice post about returns from late 2006 (published the day after Christmas – I actually had good timing with a post). However, I have never covered refunds in too much detail.

A refunds is different than a return (which often entail an exchange). A refund can also be given for a service or for a defective product. What makes a refund a refund is that there is money be returned – often issued back to a credit card (or a charge being voided) and sometimes the money being given back as cash.

Refunds are more billing related than anything. Depending on the software used by the particular company, giving refunds can often be tricky and rather time consuming. I’ve seen systems that can issue a refund in 15 seconds and ones where it takes 15 minutes (plus a manager approval) to do the same thing.

There is often a lot of paperwork (that the company insists upon) to do a refund. Customers are sometimes forced to fill out forms and all of these annoying things. Don’t make your customers do this – just refund it to their credit card and maybe have them sign one receipt with everything on it.

When someone asks for a refund, you don’t want to go into an annoying retentions situation, but it’s fair to ask why the customer is asking for a refund. You have to word it like “Okay. I can definitely do this refund. May I ask why you’re requesting a refund, though? Is everything okay?” You have to be sure not to sound as if you are trying to hassle the customer.

Another issue with refunds (especially via credit cards) is customers are often unsure of how they will look on their bill. I advise representatives to briefly explain how it will look so there are no surprises (and calls to customer service) in two or three weeks when the bill comes in.

To make the refunds process as simple as possible:

  • Have a computer system that makes it easy (this is probably the most important thing).
  • Ask customers why they are requesting a refund (but don’t make it a big deal).
  • Explain any unique policies or procedures to customers (such as how a charge or refund will appear on their card).

Like with most things related to customer service, if you think the refund process through and keep the customer in mind, it’ll make sense.

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