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. 😀