Paul English Interview – Part 2 of 3

This post continues the interview with Paul English, founder of GetHuman.com as well as CTO and co-founder of Kayak.com. Part one can be found here and we’ll finish it up tomorrow.

This part of the interview covers some interesting topics such as the upcoming GetHuman 500, customer service at software and other technology companies, why small companies have advantages over big companies when it comes to customer service, and an interesting way to look at Dell’s customer service problems.

6. Do you think more companies will meet such standards as time goes on and they start to be more aware of customer service?

I do and I think one of the things we are going to be doing (I haven’t really talked about this yet, so I’ll give you the scoop on it). The next initiative we are going to do at GetHuman is once a year, we are going to publish something called the “GetHuman 500”, which is a list of the 500 most commonly called companies by consumers as defined by us. We have a number of research techniques that we use to come up with that list, and then say, for the next year, these are the companies we are going to target.

Lorna Rankin is the woman who runs the GetHuman project for me. Lorna also has contractors who help us test and evaluate these companies.

Right now the GetHuman standards are sort of public drafts for review, but within 30 days, we’ll publish a “v1” GetHuman standard and once we have this, Lorna’s team will call and rate each of those 500 companies on those criteria. Dell may be a 2 out of 10, Land’s End might be an 8 out of 10., We will publish the ratings to consumers to say “We are the GetHuman team and we are the advocates and the champions for this. Based on everything we learned, these are the five things that consumers demand, and this is how the 500 companies stack up with what consumers demand” I think this is going to be a big deal.

7. What companies do you notice consistently provide great customer service?

Well, on the retail side, Nordstrom is famous for their service in their stores. I only experienced this recently at the Nordstrom store in San Francisco on Market Street when I walked into this giant store and came up to me and said “May I help you?” A lot of times I am actually annoyed when people come up to me and say “Can I help you?” because I want to be in and out like a lot of men . We aren’t really there to shop, we are there to get something done. The guy was great and I told him I was looking for a man’s leather belt and he walked way, way, way across the store to the other side and showed me all the belts they had. It was incredibly cool, and they are legendary for that. I’ve since tested their phone system and their web site and it carries through in their philosophy.

LL Bean and Land’s End are great too. One of my favorite companies is a company called Tivol Audio. They make very cool radios and have great customer service.

I work in the travel industry. JetBlue has great customer service. Southwest has good customer service on the phone. Those are some of the good guys.

8. What about software and technology companies?

It is a tough one. It is interesting that most technology and phone companies have terrible customer service. I’m not exactly sure why that’s true. One of my theories is that phone companies and tech companies are run by tech people and because tech people understand technology, they assume consumers will and they don’t have the levels of obsession and empathy over how consumers actually feel. Most of us in the tech industry and telecom industry, we fail to see how consumers feel about how they interact with us.

9. Are there companies you deal with that consistently provide terrible
customer service?

This is a tough one because given my role, if I explicitly name companies that I personally hate, it might remove my ability to be completely objective. What I would say is that as a category, telecom and technology, and if you look on our site, we will soon be publishing ratings from consumers.

If you look at Dell for example, between you who might be a paying customer who might have an issue where you don’t understand something with the computer or the computer is broken, and the engineer, the man or woman who can actually fix that problem, there are seven or eight layers between you and that engineer. When you put that many layers between a paying customer, and the engineer who can fix it, the engineer loses a sense of urgency and their empathy is diminished a little bit, Then, what happens is, instead of fixing the problem, they [the company] don’t fix it, and they just need more and more customer service, and they whine “we can’t afford to have humans answer the phone”, and it causes them to raise the prices. What they do, instead of fixing the problem, is they put more and more barriers, and if the CEO and the engineers and not hearing customers screaming and swearing at them every day, and they instead put these barriers in place, they don’t have as much of a sense of urgency.

It is why startups always beat big companies. If you read Clay Christensen in Innovator’s Dilemma, which is a phenomenal book, he explains why innovation happens in small companies and not so much in big companies. I have a couple corollary theories to his:

  1. Small companies can’t afford customer support. The guy who is building the widget or designing the software actually has to answer the phone and they learn really, really quickly because they are hearing what customers are experiencing several times a day.
  2. Startups will put in a little more hours and a little more of a sense of urgency. If you have screwed up for a customer and because your startup doesn’t yet have the arrogance of a success of a big company, you cannot rest on your laurels. When you screw up, and confuse a customer, because your software is not easy to use, you work really hard to fix it.

In their last earnings report, one of the analysts downgraded Dell and one of the specific things they said was that Dell was getting hammered with people being pissed off at customer service and Dell is really wrestling with this. Not only is that an expensive thing for Dell to figure out, but when customers are pissed off, they don’t become loyal. They don’t buy Dell computers, they don’t tell their friends about it, they don’t buy printers from Dell. Then, they’ll look elsewhere. They will buy an HP printer, not a Dell printer. They’ll consider switching to Apple or buying a Compaq or whatever.

The analyst really pointed it out that consumers are so outraged by bad customer service that he attributed it to an actual decline in orders.

The analyst report Paul is referring to was covered here, here, and here (among other places).


10. Do you think customer service will become a competitive advantage for
Kayak.com in the future?

I hope so, but there is something more important, which is not so much that they will use Kayak.com.com and say, wow great customer service, but what is more important is they will use Kayak.com and say “My god, I can’t believe how simple it is..” The secret sauce that allows us to be so simple is my obsession with customer service.

I personally talk on the phone to several customers a day. You might say “Why is the chief technical officer spending his time talking to customers on the phone who include 70 year old grandmothers who are retired and don’t travel that much, or whatever.” By talking to those and having my engineers talk to those customers, my god do we learn where we screw up. By that obsession, the direct result is the software works pretty well.

The reason we are winning more and more reviews and products rewards and a major award that we won that you will hear about tomorrow (August 13) is because we are obsessed with eliminating every single possible question the customer could ask us about our software.

4 Responses to “Paul English Interview – Part 2 of 3”

  1. Lorna Rankin, Director, gethuman.com said:

    Nov 29, 06 at 10:56 pm

    In August you posted a blog about Paul English and gethuman.

    Paul and I wanted to let you know that we recently released the
    “gethuman report card”– assigning grades A (excellent) through F
    (failure) to each of the 500 companies on our list.

    These grades are based on extensive testing for compliance against the
    gethuman standard, a specification based on input from thousands of
    consumers.

    We would appreciate it if you would help get the word out– now that
    we point out the good, the bad, and the ugly, we’re hoping that
    consumers will feel empowered to help drive real change in how
    companies handle telephone customer service.

    Kind regards,
    Lorna Rankin
    GetHuman Director – http://www.gethuman.com

  2. Service Untitled » JetBlue’s recent problems - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Feb 21, 07 at 12:45 pm

    […] JetBlue is similar to Southwest in terms of customer service. The company seems to be well liked by passengers and is also a low fare/high customer service type airline. Customer service seems to be a major focus of theirs and the company seems quite upset about all that has been happening lately. I haven’t talked about JetBlue at all before (though Paul English said they were pretty good in terms of customer service in his interview). […]

  3. Nancy Green said:

    Mar 03, 08 at 6:42 pm

    I have used Gethuman for quite awhile and it helped me on getting to a live person for many websites. Today when I tried to log in from the shortcut I have on my computer I was only able to get a green screen and nothing else.

    Is there a way I can get back to the Gethuman site?

    I would appreciate any help on this.

    Thanks for your service,
    Nancy Green
    Winchester, Tn.

  4. Service Untitled said:

    Mar 05, 08 at 8:22 pm

    Nancy,

    You can still get to at http://www.gethuman.com.