Probably the hardest thing for companies to do nowadays; customer service. I can appreciate it’s difficult, and usually I’m not too upset when I don’t get a response or only after a long time – as long as I get a feeling the company is trying.
A few days ago however, I visited a presentation from Lithium. It’s a pretty interesting company that helps brands create communities (forums on steroids, to be disrespectful) and some other social media stuff. They had a panel discussion with three of their clients as panelists; KPN, TomTom and HP. The stated reason for these three companies to create a community? “Call-deflection”.
The idea is that if you create a community, people ask questions there and other people answer them, reducing the need to call customer service. Why do they want to do this? Because customers hate customer service and because it’s expensive.
“Call-deflection”. Think about that for a while. So customer service sucks and instead of fixing it, they ask their customers to fix it. Don’t get me wrong, the result is probably pretty positive, as I have no doubt that the average customer knows more about the product than the average call-center-voice.
But the cynicism was just shocking to me. We’re not talking about a company where sometimes the lines are busy or the person picking up the phone doesn’t know the answer, we’re talking about companies who actively try to avoid talking to you.
Of course this started back in the 20th century, with endless phone trees. That worked for a while but people started to figure out how to get to the end of the tree. So they moved all that stuff to India, ensuring that if you managed to get through, at least it wouldn’t cost them very much. Whole towns in India have adopted Texan and New York accents for this purpose.
But now they have found a new way to not have to talk to their customers – the community. For all the beautiful reasons they could have to start a community (learn their customers’ frustrations, ask for input on new products, reward loyalty), the one they pick is the polar-opposite; contact avoidance.
I just don’t get it. I have been involved in a few companies, all of them far from perfect. Also in customer service, I am sure there are plenty of areas in which they could have been better. But the one thing we always enjoyed was to talk to the customer and learn. From the early days of Cervelo when Phil and I visited every possible race to today’s world of Twitter and blogs, contact with customers is key. How can you ever hope to have a long-term relationship with your customers if you don’t want to talk to them? Bizarre.