Customer Service from an Outside Perspective

Most of the conversations I have about customer service are with one of the following groups of people:

  • Customer service executives
  • Marketing executives
  • Operations executive
  • Entrepreneurs wanting to learn more about customer service
  • Frontline customer service representatives
  • Customer service “professionals” (writers or consultants)
  • etc.

These are the people I usually talk to about customer service. They are usually involved with customer service heavily and know quite a lot about it. Ironically enough, for these people I am usually the “outside perspective” because I’m not involved with their organizations directly. If I do become involved, it is usually only for a couple of weeks as a consultant. I’m the outside perspective with different opinions about how things could / should be done. However, it can be taken a step further.

Yesterday, I read a post on Noah Kagan’s Okdork about why he thinks customer service “sucks ass” (his words). Customer service does suck, but some of these issues he mentioned weren’t things I would think about mentioning.

I’ve met Noah before and know he is a smart guy. He knows a lot about marketing (especially in a Web 2.0 world) and has a pretty practical, no BS approach to business. He is a lot more “in your face” than I am and that makes him a good marketer. I would also imagine it makes him a pretty vocal customer.

With that in mind, Noah’s customer service suggestions were:

  1. Don’t ask to put me on hold.
  2. Don’t play shitty music.
  3. Answer after 1 ring.
  4. Don’t say you are going to record the conversation.
  5. Don’t advertise.
  6. Don’t ask me about my day.

These are things that most customer service “experts” have already thought about. I know I have thought about (and most likely written about) everything he mentioned (though I don’t believe that makes me expert). However, when someone who isn’t that involved with customer service mentions them, they are an outside perspective. If that someone is a fairly vocal and well informed customer (like Noah), it is an outside perspective that you will A) hear and B) is probably worth listening to.

Nothing Noah said was that original or unheard of (sorry!), but not many things in customer service are. A lot of it is just common sense and thinking about how you can make an experience better. Getting ideas on where the common sense can be applied and how you can make the experience better is something that an outside perspective can be great at. It is one of the reasons companies hire people like myself.

Here are my responses to Noah’s suggestions:

  1. I disagree. I think representatives should ask permission to put a customer on hold.
  2. I agree. This is something I have discussed before (also see the link in #5).
  3. I’ve heard stories about a phone being answered so quickly that it actually startles the customer. It is a good idea to answer the phone within 1 – 3 things. If an IVR is answering the phone, it should be immediately.
  4. Most companies are required to do this by law. I am sure they can make the message a bit more creative, though.
  5. One of my earliest posts was entitled “Don’t give them a sales pitch.”
  6. When a representative asks this, they usually mean well. But, in general, I don’t advise it.

Somewhat long story short: get an outside perspective whenever you can. It will be valuable, especially when the person you are getting the perspective from knows what is going on.

3 Responses to “Customer Service from an Outside Perspective”

  1. Major said:

    Aug 18, 07 at 12:35 pm

    Noah does bring up some good points, but I find myself agreeing with Doug more often on these topics.

    I always ask customers if I can place them on hold. Often times, when I ask them, they just say “Yes” or “Ok”, but sometimes they’ll mention something that might help me once they’re on hold. I find it rude when people say “please hold” and BAM – I get hit with the music. (Which leads me to #2, where I agree with Doug and Noah) 🙂

    Answering quickly is always good, but waiting for one ring to finish should be a minimum. I’ve definitely surprised some people before when I’ve picked up too quickly and the customer has half of a donut in their mouth, expecting to be on hold for an extended period. My company does not have one of those menus (press 1 for x department, press 2 for …) and all calls are answered by a live person (whose goal is to answer in less than 4 rings at all times).

    Sales pitches on support lines are bad. If you’re calling the sales department, then I think they’re okay. Also, I prefer to ask the customer how they’re doing – I can use it as an “emotional dipstick” so that I can handle the call properly and courteously.

  2. Service Untitled said:

    Aug 18, 07 at 3:06 pm


    Thanks for your comments! Good responses from yet another perspective. Much appreciated!

  3. Service Untitled » Little Things That Add Humor - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Aug 20, 07 at 9:14 am

    […] On Friday, I talked about Noah Kagan’s suggestions for a company’s customer service department. A common theme among his suggestions involved humor. […]