Being data-driven is great. Customer Service Theatre is not.

Being data-driven is great. Customer Service Theatre is not.

Is it just me, or has every interaction with every customer service entity devolved into a funnel for customer service surveys?

In fact, on at least two customer service calls I’ve made in the last two weeks, I’ve been proffered a survey, before I even get to contact a rep.

Something’s wrong here.

In fact, I suggest that the overuse of customer service surveys is akin to the misuse of antibiotics in fighting infections – after awhile, a certain immunity builds up, and before you know, surveys are totally ineffective.

Don’t believe me?

Go to a dealership, and buy a car. Before you leave the lot, you are asked to rank the interaction for J.D Power and Associates. Anything less than a perfect ranking is a black eye for the dealership. So, you are instructed that by your salesperson, and asked to vote them a 10. Teaching to the test, as it were. I therefore hold the Power awards to be pretty useless, because they describe nothing about the excellence of the actual customer interaction, only in how well dealers – and anyone using the ranking – game the ranking process.

For an example in the sharing economy, look no further than Uber. I love Uber – and use it regularly. After each ride, you are asked to rank the experience. If drivers average experience rankings fall below a 4.0 out 5.0, they are sanctioned. Regulars know this, and so will rank even average rides as 4.0 so as not to screw the drivers. In other words, the ranking holds no substantive meaning in terms of describing – and improving – actual customer experience; it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

My local cable provider, Optimum, does an exceptional job at customer experience. In fact, their video explaining customer’s first bill is one of the best customer-facing tools I’ve seen in a long time. However, even their techs will push you to rank them highly, when the inevitable survey is sent.

I don’t blame those being ranked for gaming the system. It’s what I would do.

Rather, I would ask companies – are your customer data collection instruments actually improving customer experience, or are you simply providing a mechanism for collecting information for punitive action against those being measured?

If the answer is the latter, you’re doing it wrong.

I “get” that surveys and self-reporting are often the only way to get at some of this information.

But companies should not advertise how they are teasing these metrics internally, to prevent gaming of the system, and to obtain data that is actionable and unbiased, rather than having the customer pre-fed insincere answers that they should supply, regarding their interaction.

Otherwise, it’s only an exercise in self-delusion: customer service theatre.

Customer Service Theatre


No Time Like the Present

When presented with a customer service opportunity, there’s no time like the present to act.


Being Present

Make those you’re with feel like they’re the only ones that matter.



More than simply saying “I’m sorry.”


Closing the Loop

Great customer service experiences start – and end – with great communications.


3 Questions With Higher Ed CIO David J. Hinson

3 Questions With Higher Ed CIO David J. Hinson

David J. Hinson is executive vice president and chief information officer for Hendrix College, an undergraduate liberal arts college in Conway, Ark. He also has his own blog, David J. Hinson’s Logorrhea, where he talks about IT administration, particularly in a higher ed context. In addition, he is an active mobile developer who has developed commercial apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone 7.

Process – You’re Doing It Wrong

Process – You’re Doing It Wrong

If you have created a process intended to demonstrate how busy you are, you’re doing it wrong.

If you have created a process in order to justify why you’re going to say “no” to a request, you’re doing it wrong.

If you have created a process that benefits you, but no one else on your team, you’re doing it wrong.

If you can’t measure how much more effective your process has made your team, compared to not using your process, you’re doing it wrong.

A good process helps everyone do their job more effectively, in a shorter period of time than otherwise not using the steps required by its methodology. A great process does this, and is invisible to the constituencies that it serves.

So, if you design a work methodology that coerces people to adhere to a process that you know is meant to separate them from you, is meant to show how busy you are, or that is crafted solely for you to point at a chart on the wall and say “it’s not in this sprint”, you’re absolutely doing it wrong.

End of serving-the-methodology-rather-than-the-customer rant.

Don’t Make Me Work Hard to Give You Money

Don’t Make Me Work Hard to Give You Money

I’m always confused by how hard companies make it on consumers to buy their products, online, and in “meat space.”

Have you been to a Walmart or a Best Buy, lately? Good luck finding someone to help you with your purchase (or even finding what you want to buy, for that matter).

For enterprises, purchases are often as much an exercise in persistence and diplomacy, than they are a straightforward transaction, as you haggle with vendors, channel partners, and sales people.

But there are a few companies that absolutely understand the KISS principle.

Southwest Airlines makes it ridiculously easy to book and purchase online tickets. Dropcam sells their cool HD WiFi cameras in a very easy online process (plus, free 2 day shipping!). BlueJeans network sells their awesome Software-as-a-Service teleconferencing bridging service via a drop-dead simple “try if for 14 days free” online form. And it goes without saying how easy it is to purchase goods from Amazon.

In short, these companies “get” the brilliant concept that it should be drop-dead simple to acquire customers, and sell them goods and services that they want to buy – now.

When I hear of companies that are struggling with their sales, more often than not it has to do with their sales cycle, as much as it does their products.

In my first year as CIO at Hendrix, I had one national vendor that I kept trying to give business to (in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range), that I couldn’t seem to even get interested in taking a purchase order. They are now firing thousands of people – and I am in no way surprised; not because they didn’t take my money, but because they didn’t seem to understand how to take anyone’s money.

It’s not only large companies that have this difficulty. Startups usually suffer from this malady (with a few rare exceptions), altogether forgetting that the reason they exist is to (one day, at least) make money.

The solution for companies struggling with their sales cycle is really quite simple.

Make something great – and then make it ridiculously easy for customers to buy and begin loving your product or service, immediately, if not sooner.

Why Do Companies Wait Till You Get Pissed Off and Leave Before “Making Nice?”

Why Do Companies Wait Till You Get Pissed Off and Leave Before “Making Nice?”

As I am wont to do, this morning a tweeted a complaint about a customer service issue I had with a company that I had spent several thousand dollars with over the past eight years.  Essentially over a matter of $75.

And as so happens many times on Twitter, a very helpful friend offered to hook me up with someone at the company in question who could make things better for me.

I politely –  and hopefully, very gratefully – declined to take this person up on the offer.


Because I believe when customers expend capital and energy in developing loyalty and relationships – especially over months and years – that they deserve to be treated commensurate with their dedication to the company / brand / relationship.

And that they deserve this treatment BEFORE you piss them off to the point of leaving.

This latest incident represents the second time in the past year I have essentially “fired” a company over customer service, and each time the relationships went back almost to the beginning of the origins of my company.

Which really goes to show several things:

  1. I usually will stick with a company on the premise that my relationship and loyalty matter, even putting up with mild inconvenience in return for a modicum of consideration of my loyalty,
  2. That it takes a lot to piss me off,
  3. And when you DO piss me off, it’s usually for good.

Coincidentally enough, in both cases I was approached AFTER the ill will and bad feelings were entrenched with offers to “make things right.”

Which leads me to ask the obvious: why, when I was trying to make things right and your representatives were holding to the index card scripts and not budging an inch, was THAT not the time to recognize my loyalty?  Why is it only after your brand is irreparably damaged with me, and someone up the chain looks and says “holy shit, this customer has spent a few grand with us over the years!” (if indeed that EVER happens) that you THEN make the attempt to address the bad customer service experience?

Why not use common sense and EMPOWER your customer service departments to do the right thing from the start PROACTIVELY, not REACTIVELY?

The answer is obvious – money.  It must be cheaper to go out and simply get new customers than retain old ones in some industries.

That, or the accountability of customer retention is so far up the food chain that no one ever really feels the brunt of losing high value (i.e., customers who pay their bill on time for extended periods of time) customers.

I can tell you this – I personally feel the sting of every one of my customers who was unhappy with us, even years later.  Call it a personal failing.

Over time, the marketplace becomes the great equalizer of these customer service wrongs.

Sprint / Nextel, Comcast, Dell… all of these have paid a price in the marketplace because of poor customer service practices.  They certainly aren’t unique in this regard – just look at what is happening in the airline industry (aside from the ravages of high energy costs).

Customers eventually DO vote with their feet, given the opportunity.  Don’t give them the opportunity.  Treat them like the valued assets that they are – you know – the people that pay your salaries, enable your kids to be fed and clothed, and who make your day to day existence possible.