Programming + Design

Online, customer service is king. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Brett Brewer   
Saturday, 18 August 2007

Recently I had experiences with two different companies that do business online that perfectly illustrated the difference between good and bad customer service and how important customer service is for an online business. I have always said that "content is king" on the internet and that this should be the foundation of any successful online business, but I haven't talked too much about the customer service aspect. It wasn't until I worked for a company that provided superior customer service that I realized how big a difference it makes in the long-term success and organic growth of a business. It is hard for me to tolerate bad service when I am subjected to it now that I know the difference between good and bad service, and that it can actually cost less for your business to provide good service if your employees are properly trained. I will now compare two experiences I had today with two different companies so you can see how drastic a difference it makes, simply to have a well trained customer support person who understands the underlying business and has the power to make a useful decision for the beneift of the customer.

Company #1: The unscrupulous VOIP provider 

The first experience was with a VOIP telephone service provider who shall remain nameless pending their response to my request to cancel my service with them sans $40 cancellation fee. You see, lightning struck near my house last week and fried my VOIP box and the gigabit network switch it was connected to. Having thoroughly tested all my equipment and having managed to get my network running again on my 100Mb router, I contacted my VOIP provider on August 11, via their web support form and described the situation and requested a replacement VOIP box. I hoped I would receive a timely and useful reply, but  having dealt with many similar web-centric businesses in the past, I expected I would probably receive an initial useless automated response telling me they would help me within 2 days, with some kind of subsequent message requesting me to call them. Which is precisely what happened.** The next day, August 12, I received the following reply:

Dear Brett Brewer,
Thank you for contacting XXXXXX Technical Support.
From the information provided, we understand that you want to replace the device as the device is not functioning properly . We are sorry about any inconvenience this may have caused to you.
We like to know more about your issues with a brief information about the same, so that we can troubleshoot and assist to resolve your problem If you require further assistance please call Technical Support at XXXXXX or visit our online support center at www.XXXXXX .com.
Your reference number for this case: XXXXXX .We look forward to helping you with any servicing needs in the future.
XXXXXX Technical Support

In other words, "we understand what you want and are not going to help you without inconveniencing the hell out of you." It's always amazing to me how easy companies like this make it to obtain their equipment and service entirely via the web, compared to how difficult it is to obtain even the slightest hint of real customer support via the exact same mechanisms they use to sell you the stuff. VOIP providers know that when their customers' VOIP service goes down there is a very good chance that the only phone they have access to is a cellular phone that will cost their customers money to use. This is often the sole reason their customers even have VOIP service to begin with. I keep a VOIP phone as my primary phone and use a pay-as-you-go cell phone from Virgin Wireless for my minimal cellular needs. Knowing this about their customers, a VOIP provider's web-based support should be capable of handling any kind of support request without telephone contact. But if that were the only problem with my experience, I wouldn't be bothering to write this, so let's continue with my experience.

As per their email response, I called their support number on my cell phone, knowing that my spotty cellular coverage in my area would probably result in a dropped call. After a while on hold (don't remeber if it was longer than 10 minutes or not, but it was a while) I spoke to someone that was obviously in an Indian call center. He was difficult to understand and he basically asked me to repeat the series of steps that I had already completed on my own, being somewhat of a networking expert, at least when it comes to home networks. I advised the support person of this while wasting 30 minutes performing various power-cycling and rewiring requests, none of which resulted in restoring my service. After about 30 minutes of this he put me on hold, after which my call was dropped. Forutunately, or so I thought, the support person had asked for my cellular number just in case my call was dropped. So I expected to hear from him within a few minutes. The next afternoon I finally heard back from him sometime around 4 or 5pm. He seemed suprised to hear that the problem had not magically resoved itself. He then asked me  to unplug and replug various cables again which I did and which again had no effect. He then said he had to go do something and would call me back in a couple of hours. I have not heard from him since. During our calls I repeatedly told him I knew the thing had been damaged by ligtning and that I had other equipment which was similarly damaged in the same lightning strike and that all I needed was a new VOIP box. None of this information seemed to interest him. Meanwhile I sent additional replies to their support department describing the problem again and explaining that the support person I was talking to was wasting my time and that they just needed to send me a replacement VOIP box. These messages have been ignored with further requests that I call them. I have since begun requesting a complete cancellation of the account along with instructions for returning their equipment. They have replied that I must call them and speak to a "customer service" rep to cancel the service. I'd like to point out that we are talking about a company that specializes in delivery of internet services yet offers absolutely no customer service via the internet and has absolutely horrible phone support. They make it as difficult to cancel as possible and I have since discovered that they want me to call them so they can charge me a $40 cancellation fee, or they will simply continue to bill me for service. I have cancelled the credit card they had on file. I have sent a final message to them instructing them to send a shipping label if they don't want their equipment to go in the garbage next week and warning them that I will make this story public and expose their unscrupulous business practices via any and all legal means. So, we will see if they heed my warning or continue to dig themselves deeper.

Company #2: An Awesome Registrar called

Now on to my equally and oppositely impressive experience with another company who I WILL name, As you probably already know, GoDaddy is the fastest growing registrar in the business and was founded by a somewhat colorful entrepreneur by the name of Bob Parsons who had zero experience in online business prior to founding GoDaddy. Bob Parsons is living proof that experience in online business has nothing to do with success as long as you listen to and serve your customers. Just a few years ago, GoDaddy was an "also-ran" in the discount domain name and web hosting business, but with persistence and a focus on what their customers were asking for, they have quickly become one of, if not the largest domain name reseller. Last year, when I heard that (my previous registrar of choice) was being bought by same people who owned Interland (runner up for the Worst Web Host Ever award), I immediately transferred all but one of my domains to GoDaddy, which I had been using for the new domain names I was buying for my day job. I assumed GoDaddy would end up disappointing me like most other web hosting and registrar services had I used in the past, and I went with them entirely based on the price they were offering for bulk transfers at the time. Anyway, I recently received an expiration notice form about my last domain there expiring, so I decided to initiate the transfer to GoDaddy. All seemed to be going smooth until I had to confirm the authorization by entering an authorization code that apparently sent to GoDaddy. It was an invalid code and I was advised to contact to obtain a new one. I emailed support and received a reply the same day saying I would be emailed the authorization code via an automated system. I did not recieve the code, so another email to them finally resulted in getting the proper authorization code. I went back to GoDaddy, entered the code and it was accepted. Now when I check the status of the transfer via the GoDaddy site it says "Pending approval by current registrar". In the meantime the domain expired yesterday and I'm freaked out about losing it because it's a somewhat valueable name that I don't want to lose. So today, I decided to give GoDaddy a call now that I've replace the VOIP service described earlier with Vonage. So I called GoDaddy, entered my account number when asked by the automated system and then a recording comes on apologizing for the delay and telling me that someone will assist me shortly. About 30 seconds later I heard the voice of a human female who spoke native English. I was so shocked I dropped the phone and had to yell, "hold on a second, I just dropped the phone because I can't believe I just heard an intelligible human voice after only 30 seconds on hold."

After regaining control of my phone, the young woman on the other end asked me to repeat my account number and verify various "secrets" and then asked what the problem was. I described the situation and told her I basically didn't know why the transfer hadn't gone through because I'd submitted the proper auth code and after speaking to support earlier, had verified that they had approved the transfer. I'm not totally confident the person at knew what she was talking about because again, she had an Indian accent which generally means you're talking to someone who knows absolutely nothing about the company they happen to be working for at that moment. At this point I think it's importatnt that I point out that I mean no offense to the fine people of India. I actually really like the Indian people and think they have a fine culture and one of the longest traditions of non-aggression in the history of civilization, not to mention being the co-cradle of modern scientific thought. It's not their fault that US businesses are hiring them to provide support for compaines they know nothing about, but I digress. The woman at GoDaddy assured me that the message "pending approval by current registrar" most likely meant that had not sent the approval to them yet and that it would take anywhere from 3-5 days for them to send it. She also assured me that since I had initiated the transfer prior to the domain expiration date, that I would not lose the domain even though it had technically expired. In short, she listened to my problem and knew the systems at GoDaddy well enough to provide me with an authoritative response that I can actually believe. It took less than 5 minutes. My only complaint with the GoDaddy support person was the soft sell she gave me to consolidate my domain renewal dates, but since this is something I had been thinking of doing anyway, I was happy to hear and then decline her offer to consolidate my expiration dates for a prorated fee. This is customer service above and beyond what I have come to expect from most companies, especially those whose main business is conducted online. They are a rare breed. Score yet another victory for Bob Parsons. That man knows how to build a business and the people who work at GoDaddy should be proud to be a part of that organization, at least from the standpoint of this happy customer.

And Mr. Parsons, if you're reading this, I'm available.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 18 August 2007 )
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