Saturday, January 07, 2006

Customer Service, Dell, Yahoo, Flames and Blogs

On December 30, Jeremy Zawodny (who works for Yahoo) complained about Dell's customer service on his blog. The post was titled What the F--- is with Dell Technical Support?!. Well, Mr. Zawodny, from personal experience I can tell you that Yahoo customer service is just as f---ed as Dell's.

Jeremy recently purchased a Dell LCD monitor that arrived broken. In dealing with Dell's customer service he suffered through an hour-and-26-minute call to "a call center in India." He concludes by writing, "What fun. Why couldn't I have accomplished this all in 5 minutes on their web site? Wouldn't that be cheaper for them and easier for me?" Jeremy's awful experience is detailed on his blog for the world to see (Dell must be so proud).

I was amused to read Jeremy's flame of Dell because I was having my own problems with Yahoo web-hosting customer support. Mr. Zawodny's employer could give Dell lessons in annoying customers.

I've been a customer of Yahoo web hosting for about a year. My experience has been fine until recently when I tried to upgrade a domain-name I'd reserved with them to full web-hosting service. I'd created the content for the site and was ready to post it online.

For 10-days I tried (and failed) to upgrade the service.

The online upgrading process always ended with this message: "Order cancelled. There was a problem with your order due to network issues. Please try to place your order again." So my adventure with Yahoo customer service began:

* I emailed customer service, and a day later I was told that I had to call (not toll-free).
* I called. The rep (who sounded like she was in India) couldn't solve the problem and said a manager would call me back.
* Nobody called back.
* I emailed again and a day later I got a response that the problem was on my computer and I should clear my cache. (This is the standard response from all tech companies whose products don't work: the problem is the customer.)
* Clearing the cache didn't work. To verify that the problem wasn't on my computer, I tried the upgrade from a friend's computer and got the same result -- the problem was at Yahoo.
* I heard nothing from Yahoo for 2 more days, despite my daily emails.
* I emailed Mr. Zawodny (his contact information is on his blog) and asked him to use his insider influence to get someone knowledgeable to fix my problem.
* To his great credit, Jeremy emailed back within an hour or so and said he'd see what he could do.
* In another hour or so a Yahoo customer service rep called me. Not a minimal-wage-slave from India either -- an actual rep who knew what she was talking about. Jeremy's input obviously carries a lot more weight than a customer's.

Now, after 10 days, I knew why I couldn't upgrade my Yahoo web-hosting service. Was I happy? Not exactly.

The knowledgeable customer service rep told me that I'd reached the maximum number of websites that I was allowed to host at Yahoo. (!?!) That's right -- I was too good a customer. She told me I'd have to find another host for the new site. There was no question about payment (they happily bill my credit card every month) or anything else. Silliest self-imposed restriction on business I've ever heard of.

Yes, it took Yahoo ten days to tell me to f--- off. And if I hadn't asked for Jeremy's help, I would never have received an answer at all.

What lessons can businesses take from these customer service nightmares?

1. Train customer service reps to diagnose problems. Don't outsource to India if it's going to ruin customer service.
2. Respond quickly to email. 24-hours isn't fast enough.
3. Don't make online customers call. As Jeremy wrote, "Why couldn't I have accomplished this all in 5 minutes on their web site?"
4. An executive of your business (or several executives) should have blogs with contact information to serve as last-ditch alternatives to the official customer service channel.
5. Search blogs for flames from unhappy customers -- and act to correct the problems! You really can't afford to have a constant stream of bad publicity out there for the world to read.
6. Most importantly -- don't use Yahoo web-hosting.