Paul English – Part 3 of 3

Here is the third and final part of the interview with Paul English, founder and co-founder (respectively) of GetHuman.com and Kayak.com. In this part, he talks about why companies should concentrate on customer service, what small companies can do to ensure great customer service, and more. To read this part of the interview, just click on the more link.

Part 1 of his interview can be found here and Part 2 can be found here. I appreciate Paul taking the time to talk to me and provide his thoughts. Service untitled will certainly be talking more about him, GetHuman, and the GetHuman 500 in the future.

11. Do you think customer service is something that companies should concentrate on more?
Absolutely. One of things that I mentioned at SpeechTek that boggles my mind: if I could point to one thing that is the main cause we as consumers have terrible customer service it is that the CEO bonuses the head of the call center based on their cost savings. They run the call center as a cost center. A lot of business units run as a profit center and a lot of other business units run as a cost centers. If you tell an executive, I’ll give you a $100,000 bonus if you change your cost per call from $2.11 to $2.04 what do you think that executive is going to do? Very clearly, he’ll lay off Americans, build more stuff overseas, have higher and higher containments rates in their aggressive IVRs, remove numbers from their web site as Amazon has done, they are going to be very very aggressive.

The thing that is puzzling to me is how come if you look at the direct reports of the CEO. On one hand, the VP of Marketing is spending money trying to find people talk to, while on the other hand the head of customer service is buying IVRs and laying off Americans to try cut the cost down as low as possible and prevent customers from talking to anyone. It is a ridiculous disconnect.

If you really believe at your core that the customers are everything, you need to cherish every interaction you possibly have.

Just a very quick story: you asked earlier what my involvement was in customer service systems and I’ll tell you an embarrassing story. I had sold one of my companies to Intuit and I later became VP of Technology for them. I went to the call centers and looked at how customers interact and the whole experience. One thing I realized was that when customers would buy QuickBooks, they would call our call center in Tucson, AZ, and wait for a rep and then speak to a rep and get everything configured.  They went through registration, got it configured so QuickBooks could start working for their business. I listened to these phone calls and thought this was crazy, I’m an engineer – I can automate this. My team built a mini-survey into QuickBooks and kind of guess a bunch of stuff and be very intelligent about automating the setup. QuickBooks or any accounting system can be intimidating to a plumber or to a woman who runs a dress shop, or to any small business person., It can sometimes be a little bit annoying or intimidating. I tried to automate it and it worked pretty well in that it saved us costs and it was faster.  The day that Scott Cook [Founder and Chairman of Intuit] found out about what I had done, he ripped my head off. He said that “Small business people don’t like accounting. If you rob them of the one opportunity we have to talk to them and say it’s okay, we’re going to make this fun, we’re going to make it easy, and tell me more about your business, and we’ll give you advice on how you can use QuickBooks.” He said “you just destroyed our ability to build some loyalty and comfort in that customer.” So Scott made us rip our all of our new code and put back the system how it used to be. Scott is a smart guy. He knows the old way was more expensive than our new way, but he was very smart to recognize by interacting with customers (if you do a good job), you can really connect with the customer and you can earn their loyalty. They will buy more products and even be happy to pay higher prices sometimes, and they will tell their friends about you Scott is a phenomenal marketer and he understands customer loyalty and learning from customers. I wish other CEOs understood that.

12. What can small companies with limited budgets do to ensure that their PBX and IVR systems are the best they can be?
I’m not actually up to date on the latest technology for IVR. Return all your phone calls, put your phone number and email on every page on your web site, and try to build a relationship with customers and try to understand what is confusing to them. Don’t ever say “god that customer is stupid, they don’t get it”. If you are an intelligent small business person, whenever your instincts want to say that a customer is really stupid, if you are really clever you can go “Hmm, I bet other people have this frustration and confusion too. What can I do as a creative small business person to get rid of this confusion and turn this into an opportunity to delight them, I will do way better than other small businesses who aren’t smart enough to do that conversion of frustration to happiness.” I think it is more about methodology about how you think about customers and not so much about the technology you deploy.

For example, the PBX unit at Kayak.com is a piece of crap and we are throwing it out right now and are in the process of about to buy a new one. Even though our system is junk, when we are in the office, we answer, when we aren’t in the office, we return your call. I have my personal cellphone number on my business cards and most emails I send out to customers, so we make it easy to get in touch with us.

13. Do you miss operators who answered the phone when you call a company?
Yeah, at Kayak we have two people who take primary responsibility. When neither of them are available, it rolls over. I’ll answer the phone, Steve will answer the phone. If someone isn’t available, it does go in the dreaded voicemail, but we try to call back as soon as we can. The system emails me when I get a voicemail and I’m a Blackberry person so when someone leaves me a voicemail, my Blackberry alerts me.

14. Anything you’d like to add?
No, I don’t think so.

Thanks again to Paul for talking to Service Untitled. Tomorrow’s post will be about the importance of making a connection with the customer.

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

  1. Maria Palma (CustomersAreAlways.com) said:

    Aug 16, 06 at 4:06 pm

    Doug,

    Thank you for sharing this great interview. Paul really confirmed alot of my thoughts about why businesses keep doing what they’re doing – and not doing – when it comes to customer service.

  2. Service Untitled » The Welcome Email - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Jul 20, 07 at 10:02 am

    […] If you feel that you can do a good job, then it may be worth it to have a vague welcome email (see question #11 (part two) of this interview with Paul English). However, if your goal is to cut down on the number of support requests, then it is a good idea to have a welcome email that people will read and get use of. […]