Customer Service

Customer (and Partner) Service is something that for me gets regularly pressure tested and often speaks to the underlying philosophy and values of an organisation.

Although there is a full spectrum of experiences we receive as customers, it’s really the edge cases that resonates and lingers. The 10% awesome or 10% terrible customer service, most other falls into some type of BAU and realistically attracts no further cognitive load.

Unfortunately we tend to use our platforms (digital and pre-digital) to swiftly call out the 10% terrible, meanwhile neglecting to do the same with the 10% awesome. It seems difficult or inconvenient in some way to do so, which is a bit of a shame, so here goes…

A couple of months ago I bought a secondhand Milwaukee Finishing Nailer on TradeMe (New Zealand’s answer to eBay etc.) and had been merrily finishing away in my ‘shop, until I realised I had a jam, a really bad jam. In fact such a bad jam that after following all the unjamming instructions simply wouldn’t budge.

Fortunately for me the Milwaukee Service Centre was just down the road, and so although slightly embarrassingly (as if I’d somehow ‘misused’ the tool), I rocked up and explained the situation to the customer service rep.

I’ve been here before BTW… When did you buy the tool, do you have the receipt, is it still in its warranty period… I was ready for that kinda conversation, but it’s a conversation that never came. What came was the rare 10% of awesomeness, the conversation of no drama, let’s get you up and running again, let me fix it for you right now, and he did.

Our products aren’t always as reliable or performant as we’d like them to be and things don’t always go well. That’s just an unfortunate fact of life, however how we deal with that is up to us.

What matters is being open and honest about the situation, demonstrating empathy to our customers / partners and focusing on getting them up and running and back into shape as soon as we possibly can.


SLA: Counter-productiveness

I was in Sydney a couple of weeks back at the (excellent) AWS Summit and was lucky enough to get the heavy Amazon customer obsession treatment via the exec track. Now each to their own, but I double down on the If we do the right thing for our customers, we will succeed as an outcome of that, and that’s a barrow well peddled by JB et al. 

Clearly the opposite is true too, which leads to what really resonates with me: the ? email speaks of no SLA context, it speaks of perception and expectation which is customer first. You with me? 

I thought I’d share.

If you’re not familiar, the ? email has been getting some great air recently, it’s the email you really don’t want to receive at Amazon. In my own words: What have we done to let our customer down? And from what I gauge, I blatantly over indulge by 34 letters. Sometimes less really is more.

Now I know that there probably isn’t actually an SLA around everything that Amazon does, but I also don’t think that really matters. For me, intent is where it’s at. What I think really matters was whether the (our) customer was let down or not, based on their perceptions and expectations.

Where am I going with this? In my mind the SLA is pretty much counter-productive, as in internet definition counter-productive: 




having the opposite of the desired effect.

“child experts fear the Executive’s plans may prove counterproductive”

To me, the SLA actually defines the worst possible service a company can provide to their customer whilst getting off the hook. Sound good? Not so much for me.

I’m thinking that the SLA is actually the yes we had an outage, yes we impacted on your brand and reputation, your customers brand and reputation, and in turn their customers experience and expectations, but look sorry about that, we met the SLA. 

I’m thinking the SLA is the: we’re all good right?  Nope, actually we aren’t all good. 

I’m thinking the SLA is the warranty of the used car, the warranty that the salesman tells you you’re never Going to need…Surely it is the caveat for the worse case scenario. Problem it’s there because it probably needs to be, because that worst case scenario is often a when not if, well known by the ’service’ provider. The SLA could very well be where we fall back to when some nasty red, yellow & blue concoction has hit something consisting of a rotating arrangement of vanes which act on the air. 

I’m a customer and I have customers and I’m personally really against drawing upon the wisdom of the SLA (like really really against, so please don’t do it to me either), instead we (and you) should probably be asking a single question, did we let our customer down? That question is productive, lets aim to avoid the counter. It might be subjective, but then again, maybe it should be, because it’s our customer calling.

I’m looking to making sure I don’t let my customer down, regardless of whether that falls within the SLA. You with me?

Note: I originally posted this as the counter-productiveness of the SLA on LinkedIn in May 2018 and slightly tweaked for this post.