Before getting to Facebook, let’s start off with Google. The NY Times today reported on Google’s troubles with their customer service for their new phone, the Nexus One (see NY Times 1/12/10). Apparently, if you have a problem with the phone, there is no one to call – no customer service representative to help you figure out why you can’t use your phone … nobody! This should not come as a surprise to those of us (all of us?) who use Google’s search page – nobody to call if you have problems with that either. But the big difference is that who needs to call about the search page? – it just works and is simple. A phone is entirely a different product. A wonderful example of how a company can get into trouble when it becomes dogmatic about business practices – “we don’t do X for service A, so why should we do it for product B?”.
Of course, Google doesn’t offer live help for their phone because (a) they think everyone has at least 1/2 the IQ of their engineers (we don’t) and (b) it costs too much. They do offer email support – with a lightning fast 3 day turnaround (they hope to get it to 3 hours at some point soon)…. “we are thrilled that you chose to purchase a Nexus One, and in about three days we will respond to your e-mail so that you can be thrilled to use it”.
Before I start to rant and rave too much, let me get to a company that infuriates me more than any other – Facebook. I know, everyone loves Facebook. But I don’t. And here is why – there exists a Gerard P. Cachon on facebook and it isn’t me. The problem is not that there is another person out there with my name. The problem is that that account is using my old Wharton picture. So if somebody wants to “friend” me, they search for me, see my picture so they think they have “found me”, offer to be my friend and then never hear from me… because it isn’t me!
No problem you say… report the account as fraudulent. I can’t. Although it is found in Facebook, the hacker is using an id that Facebook doesn’t recognize, so Facebook’s self-service “report a fraudulent account” service doesn’t work. OK, just contact somebody at Facebook to resolve the issue … you can’t! Not a phone number, not even an email – they won’t even let you send them an email… I’d even wait 3 weeks for a response. They provide plenty of help files that keep pointing to the webpage that doesn’t work precisely because the account is fraudulent. (BTW, my anger boiled to a froth when the account started listing my relationship as “complicated” and I am “seeking a relationship with a woman”… neither of which are true.)
I understand that a growing company needs to avoid burning cash and customer service can look like a frivolous expense. But a complete lack of even basic customer support can burn good will. Still, maybe it actually is the optimal solution – sacrificing 1% of your customers so that you don’t have to incur costs to support 99% of them may actually make sense. Plus, it provides a self-inflicted motivation to design the product/service so that it doesn’t need customer support – no engineer can say in a meeting “if they don’t get it they can call customer service”.
My main advice – if you want to take the “Customer service is for wimps” approach, make sure your product is actually simple enough to not need any support.