An example of (usually) effective communications

business and consumers

I recently joined an interesting little aggregator / life-streaming sort of service called FriendFeed.  I’m finding both the service and the customer service to be admirable.  Here’s a recent set of comments on their support list from one of the founders:

That is a very good point […] this was unintended […] This was a bad decision, and we will undo it promptly today.  Thanks for bringing this to our attention.


And then soon after:

This issue has been fixed and pushed [live to production]

This, typically along with other communications from the company, contains several core components of what I feel is (typically) effective customer service communications.  The note…

– Thanks the user for the feedback.
– Acknowledges the problem.
– Expresses regret.
– Specifies action that will be taken.
– Confirms the action, reiterates the appreciation, and closes the loop.

Or, more succinctly, here’s an often-good cycle for similar situations:  Thank, Acknowledge, Apologize, Promise, Provide closure.

So why don’t more companies communicate in this way?

  • As companies grow, particularly into mass markets, their users may not be reasonable or respectful.  This makes it harder to diagnose and communicate.
  • Also as companies grow, this type and tone of support becomes less doable.  Personal responses from those who are actually doing the coding certainly doesn’t scale, and responses from intermediaries may end up being little more than canned responses.
  • Acknowledging a mistake can—especially in the charmingly litigious culture of America—lead to additional liability from shareholders, angry/greedy customers, etc.
  • Sometimes the problem and/or the next steps are not inherently clear.  Saying, “We’re not yet sure if this is a problem, and are not sure if/when we can change the behavior” is likely not to play well in Peoria.

So given an “ideal” and the challenges listed above, what might be some good common ground for customer-service-oriented communications?

  • Acknowledge receipt of the message.  
  • Manage expectations (don’t promise a response if you can’t deliver).
  • If you have automated, non-1:1 support offerings, make them effective and delighting rather than cold and cumbersome.
  • Remember that, for a wide swath of your users, English is not their mother tongue.  
  • In correspondence, use your name.  Even a first name is a start.  
  • Empower your users to help each other.  Don’t just put a forum, cultivate a community.  And give love to your superusers!

What are your thoughts on customer-service communications?  What do you love?  What do you hate?  What are some companies that are doing it right?

P.S.—A little welcome-back note for myself.  I’ve been working on a really comprehensive and reasonably “deep” article to post here or on my upcoming wiki, but haven’t found the time to put it all together.  So I’ve kept putting off resurrecting my blog, hesitating to post something too fluffy or flippant or insufficiently deep, yadda yadda yadda.  That’s not very blogger like, is it?  Not everything can be a masterpiece.  And I’m sick of my micro-blogging efforts being used as a substitute for chatting with you loyal readers here, even if the conversation’s gonna be a bit more on the bite-sized level.

P.P.S.—You can find me as “ThatAdamGuy” on FriendFeed. 😀

8 comments… add one
  • Louis Gray Mar 1, 2008

    Transparency can be hard for companies who typically work in secrecy, to protect their intellectual capital, to avoid disclosure and at times, to reduce the amount of communication, making the rare “from a mountain” comments seem ever more important.

    FriendFeed has the luxury of being founded by intelligent folks who already have a history of success at one of the best environments to learn best practices. As a small team, they have also eliminated the layers of bureaucracy common at other companies when it comes to communication, from PR to the CEO. FriendFeed is both rebelling against the old way of communication and forging a new standard.

    I believe many companies will be more open over time, some to their detriment, but FriendFeed is doing this right.

  • Adam Mar 1, 2008

    Louis, I think nearly everyone would give thumbs-up to FriendFeed at this point.  But I am, as suggested above, unsure that such communications are scalable.  Do you have any examples of such openness in the context of much-larger companies and/or much-larger userbases?

  • Louis Gray Mar 2, 2008

    I think neither one of us can find HUGE companies that do this. I have seen SmugMug tries to be as transparent in a similar way.

    http://blogs.smugmug.com/release-notes/

    Speaking of bugs, why is Sunnyvale, CA seen as German? 😀

  • Adam Mar 2, 2008

    Yep, Smugmug is pretty admirable in this regard.

    As for the German flag on your entry… either you’re using a proxy OR my blogging software amazingly knows that there are a lot of German folks in Sunnyvale 😉

  • Tom Mar 6, 2008

    My wish for customer service is that when you get an automated machine you should be able to press 0 and talk with a live person instead of having to listen to the entire recording.

  • John May 1, 2008

    Tom is right, you should interact with humans only,
    machines can not generates the answer which are going to be asked, for that you need to make a ticket, and after the ticket resolved machine reply you as per your query. Human interaction makes works so easy and fast in communications.

  • Devastavtor Jun 9, 2008

    5 After waiting too long for the ?person who can help? who is some mythical creature in my opinion, the call gets disconnected as there is no talking done and waiting only.

    it`s perfekt!!!!

  • STdio Jun 18, 2008

    “Tom is right, you should interact with humans only,
    machines can not generates the answer which are going to be asked” – I agree completely! but unfortunately the possibility of limited human!

What do you think?