Customer service is the new marketing...
Because when you do it right, your customers tell their friends, and your business grows. But when you do it poorly, all it takes is a click until you're the laughing stock of the internet.
Earlier this week, Ryan Block, who happens to be a tech journalist and the VP of Product at AOL, recorded a gut-wrenching conversation of his attempt to disconnect his Comcast service. Then, he tweeted it, to his almost 90,000 followers. The story was picked up by media outlets such as Ars Technica, NPR, Huffington Post, Good Morning America, and The Washington Post, just to name a few. In just two days, 4.5 million people have listened to the call through soundcloud and added the negative experience as a strike against wanting to do business with Comcast.
Comcast is now in crisis mode and has issued an apology.
We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and Ms. Belmont and are contacting them to personally apologize. The way in which our representative communicated with them is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives. We are investigating this situation and will take quick action. While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect.
But this is likely an issue of too little too late. Part of the reason why this recording went viral is because it rings true with so many people. Comcast has been ranked as the worst customer service in America, in any industry. People empathized with Block because they had likely experienced something similar themselves. That empathy fueled the social sharing and erupted into what is now a big stain on Comcast's reputation. A brand's promise in their commercials means nothing if the experience doesn't match it.
So what went wrong? To contrast, let's compare Comcast with one of America's most loved customer service brands, Zappos.
A Customer Service Mission Makes the Difference
At Zappos, their mission isn't about their product, it's about the people they serve. Their mission puts the customer front and center: to provide the best customer service possible. They've created a culture where their employees know where to take a stand, even in difficult situations like an unhappy customer. The challenge with many conglomerated and publicly traded companies like Comcast is that the individual representing the organization is far removed from the mission and doesn't feel a personal connection to the company. That's why it's important for leaders to use their mission statement as a rallying cry for the culture they want to create.
Incentives Make the Difference
In Comcast's apology, they indicated that this representative didn't act in accordance with his training. But training is just part of what causes an employee to act. When Comcast investigates this issue, they need to ask themselves if they're incentivizing the right things. The position of this rep is what's known in a call center as a retention representative and in many organizations, if their disconnect ratio is too high, their job is on the line. It's difficult to default to a training guide if you're wondering if you're going to be able to pay your rent next month.
In his book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh shares his insights into how measurement can backfire in customer service.
Most call centers measure their employee's performance based on what's known in the industry as "average handle time," which focuses on how many calls each rep can take in a day. This translates into reps worrying about how quickly they can get a customer off the phone, which in our eyes is not delivering great customer service. Most call centers also have scripts and force their reps to upsell to generate additional revenue.
At Zappos, we don't measure call times (our longest call was almost six hours long!), and we don't upsell. We just care about whether the rep goes above and beyond for every customer. We don't have scripts because we trust our employees to use their best judgement when dealing with each and every customer.
So sure, there's the onus on the employee to live up to his training, but the company needs to also make sure they create a culture that supports the values that are in that training. Block agreed that he felt that the problem was much more systemic than a poorly trained employee:
2/ It's clear the rep had a strong incentive (or threat) not to disconnect our service, and felt an inappropriate level of pressure.— Ryan Block (@ryan) July 17, 2014
3/ It belies a dysfunctional system that pits call center reps + customers against one other for the benefit of the company.— Ryan Block (@ryan) July 17, 2014
What do you think? Are there other reasons the customer service at Zappos and Comcast are perceived so differently? Let's keep the conversation going in the comments.