When you are shopping online, what is it that you look for in a web site that makes you think, “Yes, I am going to give this site my business?" Is it the website design? Maybe the super low prices? What about the customer service?
If you are like me, you probably do not think about customer service when making your purchase. Usually the only time I think about customer service is when I receive an annoying pop up asking me if I need help. Besides that, I never even think about what I would do if there was a problem with my order. That was until a few months ago when I had a few interesting experiences with some large online companies.
The first bad experience I had was with a company called Google. I am sure you have heard of them, they do email and a few other services. The service that I had an issue with was Google Voice. I have been a Google Voice user for many years, ever since they launched. Being a foreigner, I am always trying to find affordable ways to call home, and for two cents a minute, Google Voice was a great service. What was even better was that they offered an app for my Android phone that would let me call England directly from the phone, and the app would intercept it and route it through Google Voice. It was amazing! Even from the road I could call home and make sure that the beer was still warm and the food was still boiled.
Everything was great..until a software update in January. I rarely do software updates when they come out. I don't know why, but I rarely do them. In January I got sick of the notifications on my phone and decided to update all my apps, including Google Voice. Everything went fine, and I went on about my day. Jump forward to the end of March. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was doing what everyone should do on a Sunday afternoon, I was snoozing on the couch. Suddenly, I got a text message from AT&T. Initially I thought nothing of it as I am constantly getting text messages from them that I can't seem to stop, but then after a while I decided to read it. They were letting me know that they noticed that my bill was larger than normal and that I should let them know if there's anything they can do to help me. My first thought was, how high can the bill be if they are sending me a text message? I ran to my laptop and checked my bill....$859.23. My jaw dropped! Well actually, my jaw didn't drop, in reality I spent 5 minutes cursing at the computer. At first I thought it must have been a mistake, or maybe my phone had been hacked or something.
I reviewed every entry in the bill and worked out if I had placed that call and where I had been at the time. Then suddenly, like a freight train, it hit me. Nearly every one of the high end line items had been international calls I had placed through Google Voice. The app must not have worked! I had been calling England directly! I really had paid $24 to hear about my grandmother's case of the flu! I couldn't believe that I hadn't noticed anything. But then I realized, how was I calling England directly and still paying Google? Just the past week I had had to top up my Google Voice account with another $20. After some research I found the problem, that specific version of the Google Voice app was faulty and didn't correctly place calls. Instead of intercepting the call it put it through as a regular call but still charged you like you were going through them.
After further research, delving into some deep threads on forums, I eventually found a link to a google page hidden away that I could go to and submit a trouble ticket. The page was created specifically for this problem with the Android app and asked me for information regarding the problem. Among the basic information they requested was also the full amount that I was charged as well as a detailed, itemized list of all calls including the numbers I called, the dates and times of the calls, the duration of the calls, and how much I was charged for the calls. If you think that sounds like a lot of information, then you are right! But with over $800 on the line the two hours I spent filling out the form was worth it. Other people on the forums I was reading had received most, if not all of their bill back, so it was definitely worth the time. After two hours, the form was filled out and double checked, and I hit submit. On the next page I received a message from Google informing me that they have received my form, they will review it and will get back to me if they decide to compensate me. They went on to say that I will not receive any email from them unless they decide to compensate me. There was no confirmation email. There was no case number or reference number. Just a message that says they will contact me. Even though the fault was on Google's end, I never heard anything from them.
The second bad experience occurred a few weeks later. This really was not a good month for me. In preparation for my Amazon AWS presentation at cf.Objective() I had been playing around with Amazon AWS. Being the good presenter that I am I had decided to create ColdFusion wrapper files for all the Amazon Services (https://github.com/simonfree/cfAWSWrapper), which meant that I had to interact with all the Amazon services. During the creation process of the wrappers I would test the services by spinning up instances of services and then turning them off. Somehow during my testing process I managed to turn on four large clustered cacheing instances and didn't turn them off. Now I know what you are thinking, Amazon instances are cheap, it can't be that bad! Wrong, instances over micro can be pretty expensive. Especially when you run them for over a week, which is what I ended up doing. For over nine days these four instances were up and running, and doing nothing. They just sat there. The only way I found out that they were up and running was when I received my Amazon AWS bill for over $800. Why all my out of the blue bills come to $800 I have no idea. To throw some context into this, my Amazon AWS bill for the previous month was 82 cents. The highest bill I had ever gotten from Amazon was for $2.53.
My initial reaction was similar to the reaction I had when I got my phone bill, only amplified because I had no one to blame but myself. There was no way I could blame this on anyone but myself. Trust me, I tried, but the truth was that I had started the instances and I was the one that failed to stop them.
While reviewing the bill, trying to work out where I could get another $800, I noticed a link that said, “Something wrong with your bill? Click Here.” I clicked it and was sent to a form allowing me to explain my problem. On the page there were four simple questions. Now I know that the issue was my own fault, but at that point I thought I was willing to give anything a shot. I filled out the form and explained everything that happened. I was honest and said it was my fault and explained that I was creating an Open Source library and that I promised not to screw up again. After submitting the form I was given a reference number as well as a nice confirmation email summarizing the information. A few days later I received an email from someone on the support staff who had a couple of questions. I responded to them and they told me it would take a few days to process everything. A few days went by and I received another email saying that there was a hold up in the decision process and it would be a few more days and they were very sorry for the delay. A few more days passed and I received an email from them saying that they were going to make a one time exception and they were going to refund my bill. So even though I was the one who made the mistake, they were able to look at their logs and see that no data had gone in or out of those instances, and that I had obviously not used those instances and had given me my money back!
Now lets look at those two customer service scenarios for a minute. We have one company that does not make their complaints form easily accessible. They do not give any kind of reference number and tell you that they will probably not contact you. Then we have another company that makes their complaints form easily accessible, provides you with all the case numbers and reference numbers you need, and corresponds with you until the problem is resolved. Which one of these two companies would you rather do business with?
So what have we learnt from this? When it comes to customer service, it is important that you keep an open channel of communication with your customers. Make it easy for them to contact you with any issues and concerns, and always provide reference numbers so that you can keep track of the communication chain. Let your customers know that their concerns are important to you and that you do value their business. Don't forget that there are a lot of other eCommerce web sites out there. Also remember that good customer service can be a great selling point for your website. Just look at Zappos for an example. One of their best marketing tools was word of mouth about how great their customer service is.
To put this in perspective, I no longer use Google Voice, but I still use Amazon. In fact, I go out of my way to tell people how great the Amazon AWS services are. That is the effect customer service can have.
If you are interested in learning more about Amazon AWS, check out my presentation at RIACON 2012 (https://www.riacon.com/sessions/using-amazon-services)