Hi, Jonathan Grubb here. I’m Chief Product Officer for Satisfaction; I spend my time thinking about problems people have and how our products can help solve them. Lately I’ve been thinking about different types and methods of customer service.
Here is my working list of 8 types of customer service. Note that I’m making these up as I go along.
1. High Touch Customer Service
This is a popular style of customer service in high-end stores. There’s a well refined script that involves approaching customers when they enter and saying something they can agree with (e.g. “isn’t it a nice day?”), wandering off and straightening things, then watching them and re-approaching when they express interest in something and proceeding with a soft-sell. When done correctly this leads to great experiences for customers and companies.
Online example: Flickr, where the founders personally welcomed each new member when the service was young.
2. Low Touch Customer Service
Anyone who has been to Costco or Ikea knows this one well. Costco offers no assistance at all unless you want to make a return, then they just take the item back and give you your money. Strangely this strategy can breed more loyalty than high-touch service, probably because it is often combined with super low prices.
Online example: Google, where it is nearly impossible to get in touch with a human employee but nobody seems to mind.
3. Bad Touch Customer Service
This is the bastard cousin of 1 and 2. Employees are in the store but are not helpful. They follow you around and try to make sales but don’t actually have the information or authority to provide good service. This is often the result of commission based pay for medium to low priced goods. Making returns is impossible, and customer loyalty takes a back seat to this week’s sales. I bet the bathroom in this place is disgusting.
Online example: Myspace, where Tom is everyone’s friend but the service is broken half the time.
4. Transparent Customer Service
You can see exactly how things are working and are welcome to manage things at the level you like. San Francisco taquerias (and Subway) work like this: you can see all the food being prepared, and you can talk to the customer service person the whole time and get your burrito exactly how you like it (super veggie, black beans, no onion, tomato, or cilantro, green salsa, extra avocado).
Online example: Craigslist, where Craig answers your email and CC’s you and his staff in an email thread to find a solution.
5. Understanding but Inflexible Customer Service
This is sometimes a hard one to spot. The customer service person listens to you, tries to understand your problem, acknowledges how frustrating it is, then tells you that the company is prepared to do absolutely nothing to remedy the situation. Some of my better Verizon experiences were with senior customer service people who would listen to me and talk with me for as long as I wanted, then do nothing. It actually made me feel better to be heard, even though I knew it was just a trick.
Online example: Verizon, where they will never ever stray from the rules but they will talk with you as long as you like.
6. Clueless Customer Service
This one is frighteningly common, especially in call centers. The Customer Service person is given no training whatsoever, and is generally reading from a set script. They don’t work for the company, don’t understand the product, don’t use the product, and are primarily judged by how fast they can get you off the phone. You can never get the same person twice, so you have to re-describe your problem to each person. If your question is outside the set scripts they can do literally nothing for you.
Online example: ToysRUs.com, who we described in the previous post.
7. Evil Customer Service
I know, it isn’t nice to call people (or even companies) evil, but this strategy is certainly evil. The goal is to trick customers into paying more or agreeing to something by using extremely specific language and refusing to stop talking. It sounds like they’re saying one thing when they’re actually saying another. Rather than doing what you ask they bully you into doing what the company wants.
Online example: AOL, where canceling your “100,000 free hours” is nearly impossible.
8. Perfect Customer Service
First Republic Bank, which we use for our business and personal accounts, pays all my ATM fees. When I call them a human answers every time, and it’s the same person who helps me in the branch office, who always knows exactly how to solve any problem. If I’m in danger of overdrawing my account they call me and let me know. They send a bike messenger to pick up deposits. If I go there in the morning they have fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. Seriously. When you find one of these companies hold onto it with all your might.
Online example: Anyone got one? Let us know in the comments