Rethinking Customer Service: Why Innovation Isn’t Only Needed On The Cutting-Edge

Bad customer service. We’ve all experienced it. The problem has become so commonplace that we willingly accept it, and what’s worse is that many companies have too.

Many frustrating customer service stories begin with a phone call:

  • “I called to ask a question about my bill and couldn’t find a way to speak with a human.”
  • “My internet was down, and I spent over an hour on hold, only to be told to contact my computer manufacturer.”
  • “I just wanted to change my address, but my call got transferred to four different people.”

Poor service isn’t just limited to phone calls. Online chat, email, even face-to-face conversations can all be a nightmare. Normally, such a large problem would have businesses and entrepreneurs working on a fix. Yet, where are the innovators in customer service?

There are some. Online shoe retailer, Zappos, has made a name for itself by focusing on customer service. CEO Tony Hsieh has a well-known story about how he inspired his customer service team to make the customer #1. However, this leaves one asking, why aren’t there more companies out there doing this?

Improving customer service is not an easy problem to fix. There isn’t a magic bullet or a single piece of technology that can pull the whole thing together and make it click.

Yes, companies like Zappos have poured millions into specific systems designed to route customers and ensure their requests are addressed in a timely manner.  However, those systems are simply the tools that people are using when they say, “Hold on a minute while I bring up your account.”

What really matters in customer service are the people. Do they listen? Do they care? Can they help? And, this is also what makes the problem so difficult. People can’t be molded and trained with any one piece of technology.

Once again, in the case of Zappos, they have invested heavily in building a passionate, consumer driven team. Even their non customer facing employees are required to spend time training in their call center. Why? They want to make sure the entire company understands the innovative core of their business – a top-notch customer experience.

Unfortunately, few companies have come to the same realization. They seem to come in two types. First, there are the large, bureaucratic behemoths like phone and cable companies. For them, it has always been and will always be business as usual. Consumers suffer through painful service issues because, well, what other choice is there? These companies know this and reciprocate with the same indifference.

The second type is more interesting. These are the startups, particularly in the technology world, that seem to shun good customer service as a part of their business models. One notable example of this occurred when an Airbnb user had a particularly dreadful experience that left her home trashed. Airbnb floundered to help, until she finally went public and the incident garnered national attention. Terrible PR for a young company.

Another is Facebook, which actually was the inspiration for this post. For the past week, Sara has been trying to update her contact information on her Facebook Profile. Yet, each time she goes to do this, the operation fails with a blank screen. So, she went to the Facebook Help Forums with the hope that someone would be able to help. What she found was appalling. Thousands of users reporting issues, bugs, and concerns with hardly a Facebook moderator to be found.

Instead, Facebook’s apparent take on customer service is to let its users solve their own problems. It truly is the blind leading the blind. And, of course, Facebook’s website is without an email address, contact form, or phone number for users to contact the company.

Sadly, for many companies, customer service simply isn’t cutting-edge or sexy enough to be considered important. This is sad. A little innovation could go a really long way.

Feel free to leave a comment about your worst or best customer service experience.