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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Great Customer Service Doesn’t Scale Up


I was tempted to title this post Why Apple Sucks, but I guess that wouldn’t be original at all. What more my point isn’t really about Apple itself but about specific behaviors which I recently experienced.

OK, you’ve heard stories about Genius Bars and how they’re great idea not only in terms of customer satisfaction but also in terms of building revenue from cross-selling. I did too. So what’s the point?

Apple support isn’t just Genius Bars. They also have support team. You know, folks who answer your emails whenever you’re forced to use contact form. And they suck. So far every answer we got from them could be classified as F You message.

“No, you can’t pay us the safe way. F You. No, we can’t change the data on the invoice to whatever you’ve submitted in the form. F You. No, we don’t care if email is accepted as credible invoice in your country. F You.”

Don’t take that as Apple rant. I really can’t think of any big company which has great customer service. By the way, please point one in comment if you know any. This isn’t without a reason. It is so because great customer service just doesn’t scale up.

If you’re Google or Amazon or eBay you can’t have some real person being an account manager or customer support specialist for every single user which happen to use the site/product. You don’t want people to skip official support channel bothering directly your customer support forces. You want to isolate customers from knowledgeable guys or they won’t have time to do the real work.

What can you do if you really care then?

Keep your promises

If you promise something more than typical F-You-level service, work hard to fulfill your promise. If you promise me best customer service in the whole internet I expect you will go an extra mile for me. It’s not enough that you sign your F You email with the real name instead of “Best regards, Support Team.”

Make it quick

You want it or not you will be forced to send out a lot of F You answers. The least you can do is you can send out those messages as soon as possible. Don’t make them waiting. If your team can’t deal with load of inquiries hire more people or buy/build a piece of software to automate the process. After all, F You message received from bot works exactly as well as one sent by human.

Say you’re sorry

All these problems are because of procedures you have to follow, I know. The world is about procedures. But show you share my pain. Even if you don’t. Actually I know you don’t but I don’t care. Some compassion still helps a little bit.

Answer, for god’s sake

If I wrote to you it means a couple of things. One, I’m your user. Two, I care enough to take some effort to find your contact form and submit an issue. This puts me ahead of majority of your users who would just silently walk away facing similar situation. The absolute minimum is F You email as a response. Of course I expect more, but if you do less I’m out. You’ve just lost a customer. One from the top half. By the way that’s exactly how Technorati lost me as their user.

Get passionate people to work in support

One of the best experiences I got in terms of customer support was when people from product team commented under my rants about their products. They had Google Alerts set to check what people write about the product. And they took effort to answer even though it wasn’t really official support issue.

Have any other ideas how to build decent customer support team? Please share in comments.

in: communication, user experience

4 comments… add one

  • Anthony July 13, 2010, 2:46 pm

    Hi Pawel,
    This is Anthony from TargetProcess team.
    I can share my experience with customer care department. (Eh, we call it customer _care_ department).
    First of all, I would like to say that all services after purchase is more important that pre-sales activities.
    The second thing that we should organize right flow without waiting. We should be so closer to our customers as it possible. In my opinion, “speaking” by emails are sucks. Why they should be nervous about describe something or reading FAQ? It will be better call to us, setup Go To Meeting and show on Line what’s going on.
    The last thing we need is make our customers rally enjoyed our product and services. And there is really big difference between “solve problem” service and “make me happiness” service.

  • Pawel Brodzinski July 14, 2010, 6:57 am


    That’s exactly the service I, and most of other users, expect. But the difference between you at TargetProcess and folks in Apple is in scale.

    How many people work in customer support in your organization? How many customers do you have? Now think about the same numbers in Apple, Google, Amazon or eBay case. They are hardly comparable.

    When quantity is low it’s easier to keep high quality. When you have tons of issues submitted by customers and many of them are, let’s face it, trivial you won’t have only top-notch folks talking with your customers. You will likely outsource most, if not whole, of customer support. And you will end up with F You answers, you want it or not.

    Actually I got two more F You messages from Apple since I published the article. Then someone finally called me. Even though they’ve promised to solve the issue I will believe when I see it. For now far from that.

    But I don’t blame these folks. They can hardly do anything because whole organization over their heads is crap. Some VP is to be blamed, but Apple either doesn’t care or they do it on purpose. Cost of good service (like in your case) scaled up to Apple size is monstrous. In this area quality scales up very poorly.

  • Dominic Cronin July 25, 2010, 11:06 pm

    Surely it’s not that it “doesn’t scale up” but rather that large organisations choose not to scale it up. I think it’s widely accepted within large companies that one of the economies of scale you can get is to turn customer service into a production line. If large companies spent as much on each support ticket as small companies do, the result would probably be very impressive.

  • Pawel Brodzinski July 26, 2010, 2:00 am


    That was my first thought, but after writing the first version of this post (which was mostly a rant) I’ve rethought the thing.

    One of themes in great support teams is very short distance between support folks and engineers. They seat close to each and/or have informal relationships build over time so support isn’t isolated from engineering.

    Now fast forward to Apple – they have millions of customers and probably thousands of different support folks and hundreds of engineers located in their crystal tower. Hiring more support specialists won’t help much since the new resources will be isolated from headquarters even more and, as such, they will be able to deal only with basic issues. At the same time the people with more complex problems will randomly hit inexperienced people which results in frustration and rants over the blogosphere.

    This is of course only one aspect of the issue. Costs are important, that’s for sure, but it’s hard to believe that none of big companies decided to invest that money and deliver great support. Or is there a company which did it only I don’t know about it yet? If so, please leave a comment.

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