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A Better Type of ISP

Tuesday’s post was about how a particular airline employee delivers exceptional customer service on a consistent basis. Today’s post is about an ISP that is taking the high road when it comes to customer service and actually paying attention to it. I’m not sure what is up this week, but whatever it is, it’s odd.

I read this post about how an Irish ISP called Perlico has an interesting IVR. Much of like I described in my post on little things that add humor in customer service, when you call Perlico, you can push 3 to hear a duck quack. They realize that IVRs are often long, annoying, and boring, and are trying to poke fun at it. In an industry as boring as Internet service, my thoughts are more power to them.

The interesting thing about Perlico having their quacking IVR is that it actually created a viral marketing campaign. 70,000 people called in 3 days – that is a huge number of calls. It’s great exposure for Perlico and everyone seemed to have a pretty good laugh about it. I’m not sure if they intended to do that, but it was a great result nonetheless.

Here is a segment from a radio show that featured the IVR (weird sentence). It is fairly funny. The voice on the IVR says push 3 to hear a duck quack just like the other two, very serious options.

Another thing that is very interesting about Perlico is that they post quite a few customer service statistics right on their web site. They show how quickly they answer the phone, how often they resolve issues, etc. The information is pretty useful and the transparency is great. Very few companies, much less ISPs, do that.

I think it is also worth noting that it is fairly simple to add the duck quacking IVR option and customer service statistics page to your web site. Not that complicated and it definitely sets you apart.

I love to see and write about companies that do something relatively common and add their unique twist to it. Those are the companies I find to be most interesting. They are the prime examples of what great customer service and a customer-centric attitude can accomplish. If you know of any companies like that, I encourage you to tell me. I write about them as I hear about them, but I am sure there are plenty more out there.

I don’t live in Ireland and am not a Perlico customer, so I can’t say how the company is first hand. However, I am guessing that they are better than most. Certainly better than Cox, right?

[Photo Courtesy of Spiralz]

Support.com Experience

Support.com I recently gave Support.com’s $59 System TuneUp service a try. Basically, a support representative goes through your computer using remote connection software (very similar to how Webmail.us did it). They do some tuneups and fixes to make your computer faster and work more efficiently.

The service competes with extra services provided by computer manufactures (see this interview with Janice Liu from HP for details about their offerings) and of course the services that the Geek Squad provides (interviews here). Support.com is strictly phone / Internet based, so they can’t really fix hardware issues.

Support.com has technicians based in their Syracuse, NY call center. It is all US based and the company (SupportSoft) started offering consumer services in December of 2006 or so. Before that, they made remote help support. The company is relatively small and has about 15 technicians on the floor at any given time, depending on the time of the day, etc.

When you call Support.com’s 1-800 number, you are automatically connected to the person that will be helping you. There was no hold time and I was surprised at the lack of menus.

After the technician collects your billing information, etc., you download the software and get it setup. The download and installation process wasn’t quite as simple as the software that Webmail.us used (Fog Creek Copilot) and took a bit longer. It wasn’t complicated, but was slightly more involved. The software doesn’t work with Firefox, which is disappointing.

The agent who helped me (Ryan) was friendly and seemed to know what he was talking about. He took a conservative approach (as opposed to going in and deleting a whole bunch of stuff), which I personally prefer. Ryan did a good job at avoiding dead air during the conversation, which is one of the biggest challenges during technical support calls.

My computer is running faster and the only problem I had was with Mozilla Firefox. When we uninstalled an older version of Mozilla Firefox, it uninstalled both the old version and my current version. It was really easy to get Firefox working again – I just had to download it and reinstall it. I could have called Support.com to have done that, but didn’t need to.

Ryan told me that Support.com’s most popular services included Spyware Removal ($79), Comprehensive Problem Resolution Service (they fix a problem for $39 or $99, depending on the issue). All fees are flat rate and Support.com guarantees that the problem will be fixed.

I liked how Support.com has customer reviews and feedback posted at https://www.support.com/reviews. At https://www.support.com/incidents, they also show some of the most recent problems fixed. The transparency is a nice touch.
After the experience, I filled out a simple survey. For some reason, Support.com sent me 12 emails. No idea why I got an extra 11 emails, but that did happen.

I’m pretty good about keeping my computer clean and working well, so I’m not sure if I would use this service. Would I recommend it to someone who doesn’t know that much about computers? Definitely. Support.com is a wise choice for someone who wants to fix their computer up from the convenience of their home.

Disclosure: I received the System TuneUp service from Support.com for free. I have no experience with any of their other services.

Customer Service Tips from FeedBurner

FeedBurner is a company I have always had a lot of respect for. I’ve recently started using their services for my blog and have been impressed with their customer service. I’ve interacted with a few of their executives and have been equally impressed with them as well. The company is generally well regarded and has a good reputation. They were also recently acquired by Google for $100 million. Pretty good, I’d say.

A blog I particularly enjoy is one written by the co-founder of FeedBurner, Dick Costolo called Ask the Wizard. While the blog has primarily focused on aspects related to raising funding and its related practices, Dick recently posted about customer service. Needless to say, that interested me.

Dick talks about his experience with an airline and a hotel. The hotel, which didn’t talk about its customer service at all, provided great customer service. The airline, which gave the typical “we love our customers” bit, provided terrible customer service. His point (and one of the things I try to talk about): don’t just talk about it, do it! Talk is cheap, action is better. Dick then goes on to say:

You cannot provide or foster phenomenal customer service by saying you have it. You can only provide and foster customer service by embedding the customer in your company.

Pretty good advice. His suggestions for embedding customer service?

  1. Serve only the customer.
  2. Be transparent.

I’d agree with these as well.

Claiming you are customer-centric isn’t good enough, you have to be live and breath customer service and the act/mantra of being customer-centric. You have to think about how everything will affect the customer and the customer experience. Your decisions should be based upon what’s best for the customer. In my experiences, companies either do these or they don’t. I’ve rarely seen a middle ground.

Transparency is something I have discussed a lot at Service Untitled. There are plenty of posts here that explain my thoughts on transparency and how important it is to a successful customer service organization.

It’s always interesting to hear entrepreneurs give their takes on customer service. A lot of them look at big picture things (which is good) and their opinions are quite interesting. “Customer service people” have different, yet still very similar ideas of what makes a great customer service. I just like seeing how the opinions and techniques vary.

Sometime over the next week or so, I’m going to talk about how FeedBurner should handle the whole getting acquired by Google process. I’m sure they have a great plan, but you know what they say about opinions.

Oh, and this company recently linked to my blog. I’m curious to see what they end up doing – it looks like it may be pretty cool. If anyone from the company reads my blog (which I assume they do), give me a shout. I’d love to chat. In fact, any reader that would like to chat is more than welcome to contact me.

Your Secret Weapon – Internal PR

This is a guest writer post by a Service Untitled reader Joseph Wilburn (bio and link below). It’s about a very interesting way to use a less known form of PR to help customer service. Enjoy!

Getting the real prospective on how your organization is functioning is always a good thing. It is especially important in a call center setting where the organization sets the tone for communicating the right message from the executive down to the front line and out to the client. In a high volume call center, there may be thousands of contacts and each one of those needs to be the best possible one it can be. How do we create an environment for that sort of contact? It is not always possible to control the externalities that may affect your organization, but it is quite possible to manage communication with the “internal public” on your front-lines. This concept is called internal PR, an oft talked about yet continually elusive management function. Internal PR functions can give structure to internal dialogue to keep morale high, stop persistent turnover, and provide a way to measure and manage crisis situations.

Internal social networking tools, blogs and Intranet especially are invaluable tools to get the frontline talking and trading experiences. Of course, as with all networking tools there should be guidelines for decorum, but this aside, they can give access to management for suggestions, social functions, and generally enhancing transparency in internal communication as a whole. When employees have a chance to express themselves in a professional environment this helps to support and boost morale amongst the frontlines.

An environment for good morale translates into higher retention rates for employees. Plainly, the more satisfied employees are, the more likely they will stay. This is crucial in the call centre environment where training is often job-specific and high rates of turn over create a persistent learning curve which projects an unpolished image to the outside client.

Creating an environment for internal PR to flourish is invaluable during times of crisis. If your organization is perceived as a competent communicator by its employees, the more faith they will have during times when everyone needs to pull together for mutual benefit. As well, having a greased communications machine helps get the message out quickly, to the right people, in the right manner. Frontline staff need not have a complete training in media relations, but rest assured (and this is from personal experience) the media will call your number to get a statement from an insider, even a call center agent, so plan for that eventuality.

Having a good internal PR machine can be likened to eating well. The healthier the communicative process is from the inside, the better the organization will look to outsiders. That just makes sense, if your organization serves itself well, it will be well positioned to serve its clientele in the same fashion. Of course, it would be impossible to train your frontline to be PR professionals, but with the right structure and process installed they don’t need to be. They will be able to rely on the management structure to help them communicate what needs to be projected and help to protect and build upon the goodwill everyone in the organization has strived to acheive.

About the Writer: Joseph Wilburn, is a Public Relations graduate student at Niagara College in Welland, Ontario, Canada. He has worked extensively in the call centre environment, from agent to management and is now transitioning into a career in PR. He blogs regularly at http://prcogitation.wordpress.com about PR-related issues from a student prospective.

By golly, I think Dell gets it!

I read this post today on Dell’s corporate blog and I smiled. I told myself (out loud) – “I think Dell is starting to get it.” They are a large company that is finally catching on to the whole “listen to the customer” thing.

The quick story is that Dell is going to offer Linux (Ubuntu) on certain systems. They formed a partnership with a company called Canonical, which is the company of sorts behind Ubuntu. Judging from their press release, Ubuntu is happy about it. There is a lot of positive feedback for Dell as well.

The more interesting part, though, is that Dell openly asks for feedback through their IdeaStorm site. The idea related to pre-installed Ubuntu had over 131,000 votes. It’s hard to ignore that, but kudos to Dell for 1) giving users a place to voice that feedback and 2) actually listening and acting on it. Here are the other top suggestions (in order of most positive votes – what’s in brackets are my comments):

  • Ability to have OpenOffice pre-installed
  • Have Firefox pre-installed as default browser
  • No Extra Software Option [this is available to XPS customers, and Dell is expanding the option to other lines in the future]
  • Option to have no Operating System pre-loaded [they sort of offer this, but from what I gather, not in the sense that the votes on IdeaStorm want]

I have no idea whether or not Dell will do any of those (I imagine they conflict with some of Dell’s agreements with Microsoft and other companies, especially the first three), but it will be interesting to watch.

Dell has been working really hard on improving their image and listening to customers. They have been sending people around the blogosphere to respond to comments, created their IdeaStorm site, worked quite hard on their blog, and more. To top it off, the company lists what they’ve done so far on their “Ideas in Action” site.

That is a lot more than HP or Lenovo does. It’s a lot more than many of the larger Web 2.0 companies do as well. Dell’s moves towards listening to customers is very progressive and they seem to be doing it at least somewhat right.

Granted, Dell still has a lot of room for improvement. They are getting much, much better at responding to feedback, but I hear the actual customer service they are providing is not improving nearly as much. Improving the actual customer service provided is a lot harder and a lot more costly. However, I think their actions so far show that Dell is motivated and they are working hard on improving.

Here are some quick things we can learn from Dell:

  • Go all out. If you are currently regarded as a company that doesn’t really listen to customers or respond to feedback, go all out. Start a blog, have people respond to comments, create an “IdeaStrom” like site.
  • Stay with it. Going all out for three months doesn’t count. You have to remain dedicated. Dell has dedicated more than a few employees (some of whom I have interacted with) to their “respond to feedback” cause. These people are working all the time on these types of issues.
  • Provide customers with a way to voice their opinions. Dell has their blog, the IdeaStorm site, and responds to comments on other people’s blogs as well.
  • Watch what people say about you. I’ve talked about this plenty! Use software to monitor what people are saying about your company. Then, respond to it.

This is a related post (entitled: Corporate Transparency) here at Service Untitled that you might find interesting.

Here are some suggestions about responding to customer issues that Robert Stephens of the Geek Squad and Best Buy told me (his words – only minor style edits by me):

  • Companies need to make it easier to communicate (all companies that have a phone number should adopt GetHuman standards)
  • It’s worth the investment in time. Whether you get 10 or 100,000 inquiries – deal with every one of them. Divide and conquer – meaning – the larger of a group you are, the more you should enlist in helping to respond to customer inquiries.
  • It’s therapeutic.  Executives often are too removed from the real action. Even handling 3-4 customer incidents a month really helps me to “stay alert” and keep a person fueled to constantly review every part of the experience and work to improve it. 
  • Every reaction should lead to action. I use every letter, e-mail, phone call, or blog entry as the beginning of an almost forensic process of 4 stages:
    • 1. what the customer reported. Should then cause:
    • 2. What was done to resolve it to the customers complete satisfaction, which then leads us to:
    • 3. What caused the problem and finally to answer:
    • 4. What will we do to prevent this from ever happening again.

Who would think there would be a day when a customer service person would say we can learn something from Dell.

Interview with Jack Hightower – VP of Sales at CarMax

I’ve talked more than a little bit about car dealers and customer service (post 1, 2, and 3). After having my miserable experience shopping for cars with some other companies, I decided to contact CarMax and see if they were interested in an interview. I got an interview with Jack Hightower, who is CarMax’s VP of Sales.

In part one of this two part interview, I talk to Jack about how CarMax started as an edavor of Circuit City, how they took big box retail and applied it to cars, their model, the challenges they face, and most importantly, what they do to make the car buying experience better.

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Interview: David Bryce – Part 3 of 3

This is the last part of the interview with David Bryce of Rackspace. In this part, he talks about Rackspace’s unique team structure, what the company does to ensure customer satisfaction, their most common challenges, some tips, and more.
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