Tag Archives: customer service

Zappos and Amazon Sitting in a Tree…

Amazon is acquiring the unique company – Zappos: we have written about Zappos previously: Paying New Employees to Quit. Jeff Bezos uses the webcast above to talk to the employees of Zappos. Excellent job. The letter from Tony Hsieh, the Zappo’s CEO, to employees is fantastic. This is a CEO that respects employees. These are leaders I would follow and invest in (and in fact I am glad I do own Amazon stock).

First, I want to apologize for the suddenness of this announcement. As you know, one of our core values is to Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication, and if I could have it my way, I would have shared much earlier that we were in discussions with Amazon so that all employees could be involved in the decision process that we went through along the way. Unfortunately, because Amazon is a public company, there are securities laws that prevented us from talking about this to most of our employees until today.

Several months ago, they reached out to us and said they wanted to join forces with us so that we could accelerate the growth of our business, our brand, and our culture. When they said they wanted us to continue to build the Zappos brand (as opposed to folding us into Amazon), we decided it was worth exploring what a partnership would look like.

We learned that they truly wanted us to continue to build the Zappos brand and continue to build the Zappos culture in our own unique way. I think “unique” was their way of saying “fun and a little weird.” 🙂

Over the past several months, as we got to know each other better, both sides became more and more excited about the possibilities for leveraging each other’s strengths. We realized that we are both very customer-focused companies — we just focus on different ways of making our customers happy.

Amazon focuses on low prices, vast selection and convenience to make their customers happy, while Zappos does it through developing relationships, creating personal emotional connections, and delivering high touch (“WOW”) customer service.

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Management By IT Crowd Bosses

John Hunter's IT Crowd badge (Reynholm Industries)

The IT Crowd is a great BBC show on an IT support office in a large organization. The IT staff are knowledgeable and tired of dealing with foolish users of IT. And you wouldn’t want to watch for any customer support tips (though companies like United Airlines might do just that). Anyone involved in IT know Internet Explorer 6 is not an acceptable tool in this day and age. But some IT departments don’t let that stop them from forcing it on their users. Orange UK exiles Firefox from call centres

Yes, the corporate world is taking its sweet time upgrading from Microsoft’s eight-year-old Internet Explorer 6, a patently insecure web browser that lacks even a tabbed interface. Take, for example, the mobile and broadband giant Orange UK.

According to a support technician working in the company’s Bristol call centre – who requested anonymity for fear of losing his job – Orange UK still requires the use of IE6 in all its call centres, forbidding technicians from adopting Mozilla’s Firefox or any other browser of a newer vintage.

This technician tells us that about a quarter of the Bristol staff had moved to Firefox after growing increasingly frustrated with IE6’s inability to open multiple pages in the same window and overall sluggish performance. But a recent email from management informed call-centre reps that downloading Firefox was verboten and that they would be fined £250 if their PCs experienced problems and had to be rebuilt after running Firefox or any other application downloaded from the net.

Great management. Provide only an outdated and poor tool. Then threaten to fine employees that try to get a tool to allow themselves to do their job. Yes, it makes sense to setup rules for managing IT resources in a company but it is not acceptable to provide extremely outdated tools and then instead of fixing the problem when employees can’t stand your lousy service any longer you threaten to fine them. Wonderful. I guess you could call it the punishment-by-threat-demotivation-drive-in-fear management (for those that think Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards model is too light on the punishment part of management).

Related: Stop Demotivating Me!Software Supporting Processes Not the Other Way AroundLean IT Systems – Not ERPThe Defect Black Market (another theory X IT management example)Change Your Name
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United Breaks Guitars

Unfortunately companies like United have created cultures where people take pride in doing their job poorly. And the continued long term customer hostility companies take shows no sign of letting up. My suggestion is to take Southwest or Jet Blue (or Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific).

Unfortunately sometimes you need to travel somewhere that no airline that cares about customer service flies. Then just hope somehow the broken system you must trust to get you someplace somehow doesn’t fail you too badly. Or you can follow the increasingly common trend and publicize the horrible service you were subjected to, in your blog or perhaps your own webcast.

Related: Airline QualityCEO Flight AttendantJapan Airlines CEO on CEO PayRespect for Employees at Southwest AirlinesIncredibly Bad Customer Service from Discover Card

Computer Network Operations Center Failures

Obviously many businesses are now dependent on computer Network Operations Centers (NOC). Some of these data centers can cause millions of dollars in lost sales each minute if they fail. So sound engineering, including off-site redundancy is critical. Authorize.net is a recent example of such a failure, Authorize.net Goes Down, E-Commerce Vendors Left Hanging

Payment gateway service provider Authorize.net has been down and out for several hours… That has big implications: since the service is used by tens of thousands of e-commerce vendors to accept credit card and electronic checks payments on their websites, it likely means millions are being lost during its downtime. PayPal and Google Checkout are still up and running.

A fire in Fisher Plaza, Seattle has cause a massive power outage causing leading IP-based payment gateway solution Authorize.Net to go down around approximately 11:15pm PST (last night). A traffic reporter for KOMO News that operates out of Fisher Plaza tweeted that a fire set off the sprinkler system which fried the generators.

From what I can piece together it seems within about 5 hours services were back up, at least partially. NOC failures are not uncommon (either due to fire, power failure [including backup systems], government raids, software glitches [not exactly the same as a NOC failure but some can have the affect of essentially knocking off a NOC from providing the specific service desired]). Evaluating these risks must be part of management systems with significant NOC dependencies.

Authorize.net set up a Twitter account and within hours has 2,500 followers. I am not a huge fan of Twitter, it is nice but seems pretty limited to me. But this is an example of using it effectively. You can follow me on Twitter @curiouscat_com.

Related: Information Technology and Business Process SupportAmazon S3 Failure AnalysisInformation Technology and ManagementIT Operations as a Competitive AdvantageUndersea Cables Cut Again, Reducing India’s Capacity by 65%

Creating Customers For Life

How These Businesses Made Me A Customer For Life

So I walked out of Ray’s that day with a great deal and everything that I needed to get started. Since then, I have made every single sewing related purchase possible from their store. In some cases, I have gone way out of my way to drive there (it takes 20 minutes) just to pick up some spools of thread. I have also referred them to all of my friends. As far as I’m concerned, there are no other sewing dealers that I’m willing to deal with other than Ray’s.

I can speak so highly about these businesses because I’m extremely passionate about what they have to offer. Can you extract this kind of loyalty with your small business? You bet you can. Just think about the places and businesses that you are loyal to and replicate what they do. What sets your business apart from the competition? What can you do to provide lasting value? Keep a tally of these attributes, focus on the long run and you’ll be on the right path.

I love how easy it is to deal with Amazon. I’ll use them unless they don’t have an item. Shopping at Trader Joe’s is odd. The workers actually seem like they like that they have customers. And seem as though they want to do what they can to please customers. You wouldn’t think this would be an odd trait if you read about management in a book and never actually went to stores. But I find almost few retail employees see happy provide customer service.

Related: Ritz Carlton and Home Depot contrast in customer serviceGood Customer Service ExampleSeven Steps to Remarkable Customer ServicePaying New Employees to QuitCustomer Service is Important

Paying New Employees to Quit

Training new employees and then paying them to quit, sounds pretty bizarre; Zappos is not afraid of doing things differently. Why Zappos Pays New Employees to Quit – And You Should Too:

Zappos sells shoes—lots of them—over the Internet. The company expects to generate sales of more than $1 billion this year, up from just $70 million five years ago…

Zappos has also mastered the art of telephone service – a black hole for most Internet retailers. Zappos publishes its 1-800 number on every single page of the site – and its smart and entertaining call-center employees are free to do whatever it takes to make you happy. There are no scripts, no time limits on calls, no robotic behavior, and plenty of legendary stories about Zappos and its customers.

This is a company that’s bursting with personality, to the point where a huge number of its 1,600 employees are power users of Twitter so that their friends, colleagues, and customers know what they’re up to at any moment in time. But here’s what’s really interesting. It’s a hard job, answering phones and talking to customers for hours at a time. So when Zappos hires new employees, it provides a four-week training period that immerses them in the company’s strategy, culture, and obsession with customers. People get paid their full salary during this period.

About 10% of employees take them up on the offer.

Do any of you readers want to persuade Zappo’s to buy a couple airlines (Jet Blue and Southwest don’t seem to go where I need to go, too often) a cell phone company, an internet service provider and a credit card company? I could appreciate the good service in those areas 🙂 If I were them I would start with the credit card company – I really don’t understand why someone doesn’t provide good service in that area – with the huge profits it provides and competitors that treat customers like rubes to be fleeced. Airlines you have to be crazy to buy (so don’t try to convince them of that one first).

My friend, Sean Stickle [the broken link was removed], went to work for custom ink a few months ago. I don’t think they offer to pay new employees to leave but they are devoted to customer service and to not just saying customer service is important but focusing attention on delivering it. They publish “Uncensored Customer Reviews” on their home page. There are some companies that really do value customer service even while most companies do everything they can to provide horrible service.

Related: Respect for People – Understanding PsychologyStarbucks: Respect for Workers and Health CareCompany CultureEnhancing Passion in EmployeesRespect for WorkersMistreated Customers Let the World Wide Web Know

Confusing Customer Focus

Misuse of the “Customer” Concept

“We are told that the airlines are our customers,” FAA inspector Charlambe “Bobby” Boutris said. “But we have a more important customer, the taxpayers” who want government to ensure a safe aviation system.

That’s crazy. The FAA is supposed to be serving and protecting the passengers, not the airlines. This is like a supervisor in a workplace treating their employee as a customer… even in a “servant leadership” environment, that’s not right.

“Customer focus” is good, but only if you properly define customer relationships. I’d prefer the FAA think of me and my fellow travelers as the “customer,” not the airlines.

I agree there are several different customers. This is actually not uncommon outside of government but for government agencies multiple “customers” that might have divergent desires are more frequent. But the “customer” frame of reference I still think has value.

I actually think the problem is the way people choose to interpret the idea. If I buy a car from a dealer they don’t sell it to me for $100. They don’t agree to not tell the government so I can avoid sales tax. They don’t agree to sell me a car that is not legal in the state. Customer service does not mean do what is in the interest of the customer irregardless of laws, regulations, good business practices, etc..

I would say doctors don’t give patients anti-biotics for viral infections (but actually they do). They shouldn’t. When doctors behave irresponsibly and give antibiotics in ways that harm the heath of society, some might try to claim it is because they are giving the patient/customer what they want. That is not a reasonable excuse.
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Good Customer Service Example

IRA Toyota – Milford; Great Service [the broken link was removed]

I was pleasantly surprised to find a “Service wizard” available. You create an account, specify the standard details about the car (make, model, year, mileage). If you add the VIN, they will be able to provide and maintain additional details.

The slickest part of the wizard was the capability to pick a service and schedule a date. Depending upon what service you picked, the calendar changed. This wasn’t any old calendar. This was dynamic. Clearly, they had predefined the capability of handling some number of services per day. It was likely also interactive depending upon what was already scheduled for that day. This all makes wonderful sense but I had not seen this before.

I went ahead and scheduled the service for Monday AM planning to drop the car off Sunday night. Saturday, we received an email reminding us of the service scheduled for the car. Sunday, Allison and I drive over to their location, pull into the lot following the “Service” sign and find lanes specially marked for night drop off. There were already some cars in the lanes so we found a spot. The box on the wall had a pen and several forms. We filled out one and put the keys in the envelop through the clearly marked “key drop” slot. This group has figured out service and seems to have thought of everything. The drive home continued the conversation on how well they have planned for service; web site wizard, email reminders, lanes for drop off, etc. Well done!

I think the lean folks will like the level loading the dynamic calendar facilitates (and all the other ways the process provided value to the customer). This strategy levels the load by pushing around demand a bit (rather than just accommodating whatever demand exists – real world conditions can make this the correct strategy). For example, if special machines are needed for certain jobs and the long term demand supports one of each such machine and if you can adjust the flow to level out the demand doing so is a good strategy. As this example shows, customers have flexibility in scheduling preventative maintenance; therefore take advantage of that in your system design.
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Innovation Thinking with Christensen

In my opinion Clayton Christensen offers truly insightful ideas on innovation and management. He presents the rare management advice that is not only good but also new – an incredibly rare combination. The current issue of Business Week includes an interview with him: Clayton Christensen’s Innovation Brain:

Yes. The problem is when you say “listen to your customers,” your customers are only going to lead you in a direction that they want to go in. Generally, that will never lead you to disruptive growth. You’ve got to find that new set of customers, and listen to them and follow them. That’s the trick. Once you have customers, they hold you captive to their needs.

It’s hard for me to see what will disrupt Google. I think they’ve got a pretty good run ahead of them.

While some of Christensen’s ideas are new he also builds on existing ideas. The idea on customer focus being a potential trap was discussed by Deming a great deal. Interesting point on Google, I must agree, though it makes me nervous to think that way: it is easier to mess up success than to fix a mess. I will be interested to read his ideas on the health care system.

Related: Six Keys to Building New Markets by Unleashing Disruptive InnovationManagement Improvement Leadersarticles by ChristensenThe Innovators SolutionWhat Job Does Your Product Do?
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Seven Steps to Remarkable Customer Service

Once again Joel Spolsky spins a great post with, Seven steps to remarkable customer service. Read it.

It’s crucial that tech support have access to the development team. This means that you can’t outsource tech support: they have to be right there at the same street address as the developers, with a way to get things fixed.

This idea is powerful yet ignored by most companies. Management must look at the best way to improve the entire system not to lower the cost per support call.

Many qualified people get bored with front line customer service, and I’m OK with that. To compensate for this, I don’t hire people into those positions without an explicit career path. Here at Fog Creek, customer support is just the first year of a three-year management training program that includes a master’s degree in technology management at Columbia University.

Related: Customer Service is ImportantRitz Carlton and Home DepotQuality Customer FocusManagement Training Programposts on Spolsky