Thursday, August 12, 2010

Do you work for your employer, or your customer?

A thought occurred to me as I continued to mull over Jesse Stay's less-than-optimal experience with @XboxSupport (his post is here; my post is here). My thought can best be illustrated by looking at a Twitter exchange between @Jesse and @XboxSupport. On August 4, Stay asked:

@XboxSupport so how about replacing this one with one of the new Xbox 360s? I'm sick of your replacements just breaking.

This is the response that he received:

@Jesse Sorry, once you return an Xbox, you'll get the same model returned. ^MK

Stay has been criticized for asking this (see two examples), basically because he was asking for something that Microsoft was not obligated to deliver. In this line of thinking, ^MK correctly represented Microsoft's stance on the issue.

But was ^MK supposed to represent Microsoft? Or was ^MK supposed to represent Jesse Stay?

Or let's put it another way. Stay happens to own a business himself, SocialToo. Now SocialToo is not quite as big as Microsoft, but obviously Stay hopes that it will grow. So perhaps the day will arrive when Stay has a staff of 100, including an entire customer support department of his own. Assume for the moment that I'm an angry SocialToo customer, and I call SocialToo customer support and end up speaking to ^MK. (It's a small world, after all.) I then angrily demand:

I have had repeated problems with SocialToo, and I think it's fair that you provide t-shirts for me and my entire family! For free! And send them tonight for arrival at my house tomorrow!

Because ^MK is an experienced customer support rep (he used to work for Microsoft), he calmly responds:

I'm sorry, John, but I can't ship t-shirts for next day delivery. In fact, I'm not able to give t-shirts away.

Now let's ask the question again - is ^MK supposed to be working for Jesse Stay in this instance, or is he supposed to be working for me?

After all, customer support people are supposed to support the customer. And sales representatives are supposed to represent the customer. (Unfortunately I can't tell the story, but I know of one instance in which a sales rep forcefully took the side of a customer in a dispute with one of the sales rep's co-workers. All that I can say is that the co-worker said something EXTREMELY unprofessional to the customer, and the sales rep called the co-worker out on it.)

Yes, the idea is silly and stupid and could render the company bankrupt and destroy employee cohesiveness...but some people advocate this very solution. See this write-up on empowerment:

Empowerment means to give someone power or authority. In a customer support role that could mean allowing front line support providers the ability to make decisions that are exceptions to the rules like offering something to the customer that would not be normal, perhaps a concession if they have had a bad experience. By allowing front line support providers to make some exceptions, it saves valuable time for the customer and the company.

Obviously there is a cost to this, and a danger that empowerment could be abused. How would Microsoft react if Jesse received two Xbox 360s and 100 Windows and Office licenses? How would SocialToo react if my extended family and friends received an entire CafePress wardrobe?

On the other hand, there is a cost to non-empowerment also. When a company wrongs a customer, the customer often talks. Maybe the customer doesn't have a blog that is read by thousands of people, but the customer certainly has a best friend or a few co-workers to whom he or she will vent. Many people buy things because of personal referrals, and many people DON'T buy things because of personal referrals. Have you ever refused to buy something because of a friend's poor experience with the product or the company? How would your purchasing decision have changed if the company had taken care of the friend's problem in the first place?

So let me ask the question of you - and this question applies even if you're NOT in a customer-facing position. (Yeah, Java coders, I'm talking to you.)

Do you work for your employer, or your customer?
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