Transparent is the New Cool Tool in Customer Service
Transparent is the New Cool Tool in Customer Service

Transparent is the New Cool Tool in Customer Service

04/04/2011 by Jason M. Atwood (he/him)
In the last few months I have had more than a few customer service experiences and wanted to share some of the best and worst of what companies are doing today as well as point out how transparency can make it better for everyone.

Netflix is Out (of Sight)

Netflix has been growing in both users and usage in the last couple of months with more and more people using their streaming video services. A downside to all of the demand has been a few big outages in March lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to almost 3 hours. When it happened in the middle of my Scrubs marathon on a Saturday night, it was time to take action.

My first call was to their customer support which immediately hung up on me as it was overloaded with callers. Strike one. My second reaction was to head online and fill out some sort of online case to let them know about the problem but after 20 minutes of searching I couldn't find an online form to fill out. Strike two. In frustration I tweeted about the outage and immediately got replies from other Netflix users on Twitter experiencing the same issue. No real support, but at least I knew it wasn't just my network or device. Twitter 1. Netflix 0.

AT&T Chat vs Tweet

I found another case of customer support gone wrong a few days later trying to add a mobile number onto our AT&T wireless business account. Being the good self-service type of guy I started by logging into their website to do it myself. After 20 minutes of searching for any reasonable way of completing the task I clicked on the "Chat with Customer Support" button figuring they would be able to help. Not only was the support representative very slow to respond to each request (2-3 minutes each) but after 15 minutes ended by saying I should click on the support tab to find the answer myself. Helpful? No. I did head over to Twitter and threw out a message about @ATT support stinking and was immediately followed by an AT&T representative who spent 30 minutes with me back and forth trying to find the right answer. Twitter 1. AT&T .5.

Cloud Transparency Works

Both of these examples show how companies are doing it wrong. Netflix needs to learn from the likes of Google, and Apple who all provide online status sites where customers can go to see if there are any issues with the service. This cuts down on customer frustration, support calls and provides transparency to the service. In the case above Netflix didn't even admit to having an outage until I got an email four days later. Netflix also should provide customers a place online to send in tickets or cases. Don't make the customer jump through hoops to tell you that your service is down.

The failure with AT&T is a little more tricky in that they while it is good they have people monitoring and responding by Twitter, why not take that type of effort and put it into your online support and chat service first? Customers wouldn't go to Twitter to complain if they could get a real answer online. If Twitter is a real AT&T support channel, send customers there to start and bypass chatting online with the unhelpful masses.

Rackspace Rocks

I wanted to end this post with an example of a company doing it right. Rackspace provides hosting and cloud services and backs it all up with their own "Fanatical Support". I have been a customer of theirs for over 10 years and the reason is simple, they put customer support first and foremost in their product mix, not as an afterthought. When you call their customer support line, the first thing you get is a human who answers the phone and asks for your customer number. That representative than forwards you to team member who picks up and gets down to business. That is not only rare, it is almost unheard of.

Even better is their online support. For example, I put an online ticket for Rackspace the other day asking them to install the libssl package on my server (don't ask). I filled out the form, clicked the submit button and ticket was created at 3:59 PM in the afternoon. The next response I got was at 4:10 PM just 11 minutes later and the amazing part was this wasn't the auto response message, this the tech team posting that they had completed the install. Yes, you read correctly, Rackspace had completed an install of the library I requested on my server 11 minutes after I had asked them to. That is Fanatical Support.

If you have a great (or terrible) customer support story, tweet it back to me @JasonMAtwood.