Honesty, transparency can offset customer service disasters

Honesty, transparency can offset customer service disasters

Summary: In response to my caught-on-tape customer service nightmares involving T-Mobile, Ticketmaster, and Bank of America, several ZDNet readers asked that I not focus just on the negative and to look for some positive stories as well.  It's a good point given the overwhelming flood of negativity found in today's headlines -- be they in a newspaper, on a Web site, or on the Six O'Clock News.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Software
10

In response to my caught-on-tape customer service nightmares involving T-Mobile, Ticketmaster, and Bank of America, several ZDNet readers asked that I not focus just on the negative and to look for some positive stories as well.  It's a good point given the overwhelming flood of negativity found in today's headlines -- be they in a newspaper, on a Web site, or on the Six O'Clock News. So, while I don't have a caught-on-tape episode of a great customer service experience, I found Josh Jones' account of what has been going wrong at the immensly popular hosting outfit Dreamhosters to be refreshingly blunt, apologetic, and accepting of accountability. 

I found the Josh Jones' blog post by way of a pointer from Robert Scoble.  Apparently, Dreamhost (an outfit I'm actually considering to host some Web sites) has had what can best be described as the perfect storm, a part of which had to do with the power shortages that came as a result of the current heat wave that's melting the country.  There a bit of "wrong place at the wrong time" in this saga; a case of really bad luck.  The blog post goes into hair-splitting detail about what went wrong, how Dreamhosters attempted to rectify the problems, and where thngs stand.

While I disagree with the way Dreamhost shows nothing but a fax number in the most obvious places on it's Web site (even after making email contact with the company's public relations officer, I was refused a phone call), Jones' attitude and use of a social technology like blogs to reach out not just to customers, but to anybody willing to listen, is the sort of attitude that I look for as a customer. As a side note, Dreamhost provides numerous electronic means for gaining access to technical support -- one of which is a wiki that's open to contributions form employees and customers alike (and another thing I discovered throught the wiki is that some of Dreamhost's support staff are available via IRC as well -- further covering for its lack a telephone-based path to a human). 

Sure, when it comes to Jones blog post, you could look at it both ways. On the one hand, blogging about a disaster (Jones' title for the post is "Anatomy of an ongoing disaster") at your company the way Jones did can be viewed as risky, perhaps drawing unwarranted attention to problems that the company wouldn't want prospective customers (like me) to notice.  On the other, you could argue it's just smart business since the blogosphere will crucify you for your disasters anyway.  Might as well get ahead of the problem (often referred to as spin control), right?

But even if Jones was getting ahead of the problem, the repeated occurance of conclusions like "this was our fault" is a level of candor I'm just not use to seeing from someone who was clearly in a position to enumerate the other reasons why things went wrong to the exclusion of his company's own failings. Wrote Jones in one part of his post:

It turned out the filer problem seemed to stem from the fact that we had one shelf of 300GB disks and one shelf of 150GB disks on it. Apparently they’re not supposed to be able to support this, or at least it’s a bad idea. So, this was entirely our fault. However, we did have a number of other filers we did this on, and we’d never had problems before. Nonetheless, we will never mix disk shelf types on a file server again.

Judging by the comments on Scoble's blog about Jones' openness, Dreamhost has some customers that are quite satisfied with the company's level of service and who apparently appreciate this sort of transparency.  A few aren't.  But as best as I can tell, this is one support story with a happy ending.

Topic: Software

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

10 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Transparency Smansparency

    Lets talk about the 90% of other cases where saying too much to users creates public relations nightmares, divulges intellectual data, or tips your hand to your competitors.

    What the user doesn't know has it merits.
    writeb9
  • Whose problem is it, anyway?

    While I agree that transparency (not to mention honesty) is a virtue, I am not sure I would call it a key virtue in trying to remedy the unpleasant experiences I have had with Customer Support. What offends me most of all is that the call center operator is working from a script that rests on the immutable assumption that the problem is on the customer side. In other words I (the customer) am guilt until proven innocent and then not allowed the opportunity to make my case! As the DreamHost example shows, sometimes the problem really [i]does[/i] reside on the provider's side. If a call center operator is willing to begin a conversation with this as at least a [i]remote[/i] possibility, then it is likely that the two of us will have a productive engagement.
    kitchen-cynic
  • honesty in customer service

    I lunched with a well known CSM notable, Walter Janowski, and was reminded, " Don't say it if you can't support it", in other words "don't tell the customer a lie or it may come back and bite you".
    the masses
  • Good Customer service does not have to be reported on.

    The people who are complaing about posting the bad customer service and not the good customer service must be people who work in Customer service. As A person who has gotten in to aruguments with Computer comapnies, and consumer applicance companies the point is the bad Customer service needs to be outted and you need to shame these comapnies.

    I guess the people who want to post good customer service must kowtow to the big boys and they must just shoo off problems and waste money. When I spend money on products these products are held to a quality of standards which they are made. When I speak to lousy customer service people then the it means that company must not really care about the comsumers of their products but their bottom line. (AKA screw the customer) Companies have gotten away from good customer service because they care more about Stock holders and not the products. This is why QA depts have been removed by allot of companies. For example if someone want to quit AOL then their customer service reps should do what the customer says and not give them a hard time. WHen your product is dead and you tell a customer service rep they should not make you try to make that product come back to life when it won't. If you want to purchase something it should take less than 10 mins to order a product not all day because companies put stupid questions about the order on their web site.

    If I get Good CUstomer service then that company will be rewarded with my Business once again. But when I ask to speak to a manager and Customer service reps give you the same old line that they are in a meeting then its time to send this product back and expose the fraud that the company is. So the do gooders should shut their mouths about good Customer service and let hte real people expose the garbage of what lousy companies with lousy customer service that you receive.
    rupaa62
  • NetSuites Customer Service

    Whomever was incharge of structoring this Department has done a terrible job. As an IT Consultant I put them to the test. I even tried to get a hold of their Department Manager. She never returned my call. My client has Gold support and is one of their top customers in regards to how much they have spent on thier product. After trying to reach their Manager after their support reps were unhelpful. I might as well tried working with other reps the Manager did not even know how to conversate and answer most of my questions she was stumbling in her voice I became so frustrated I ended up hiring a Netsuite consultant who fixed my problem. Ofcourse on top of me having bought gold support already I had to pay and outsider to get the job done. FIX UP your act NetSuite.
    Dhatchman
  • NetSuites Customer Service

    Whomever was incharge of structoring this Department has done a terrible job. As an IT Consultant I put them to the test. I even tried to get a hold of their Department Manager. She never returned my call or did return my call 2 weeks later. My client has Gold support and is one of their top customers in regards to how much they have spent on thier product. After trying to reach their Manager after their support reps were unhelpful. I might as well tried working with other reps the Manager did not even know how to conversate and answer most of my questions she was stumbling in her voice I became so frustrated I ended up hiring a Netsuite consultant who fixed my problem. Ofcourse on top of me having bought gold support already I had to pay and outsider to get the job done. FIX UP your act NetSuite.
    Dhatchman
  • NetSuite's Customer Support Department

    I have to agree with the gentleman who remarked on NetSuite's Customer Support department's senior director, Michelle. I have had to talk to her a few times in the past because her reps were unhelpful on the phone. I thought she was very discourteous on the phone, but even more so had less knowledge about the product and issues I was having. I think you mentioned you were a gold member, I am a platinum member and they did not help me. I think I was more upset at how their Senior Support Director treated me then the reps not knowing how to resolve my ticket issue. Someone that is a Director should know how exactly to treat customers on any level i.e. gold, platinum ect. and hopefully resolve the issue at hand, after all that is how they got their title correct? I am embarrassed for NetSuite after all they did IPO. This is by no means not the first time I have heard about how terrible their customer support is nor the head for that department treats customers over the phone.
    StevyH
  • honesty, transparency can offset customer service disasters

    and dreamhost allows users to post libel and slander as the
    abuse dept does nothing but send out form letter replies...

    libel posted containing my name has been reported as far back as
    october of 2008...

    http://books.dreambook.com/eznfan/ezn.html

    the link above shows what the folks at dreamhost allow you to do
    on the server access. this abuse has been reported since that time
    at least 2 times a week since it was located via search engine.

    all the abuse staff seem to want to do is send the same old tired
    form letter and no call backs. the company does not answer the
    phone and does not return calls...

    since medical information is private and hiv/aids accusations are
    not to be tolerated via online abuse issues i find it odd my monthly
    pcr/dna comes up clear as usual.

    this sets a precident for me as i can prove in court the status of my
    blood and health condition, not that it's any business of dreamhost or
    the abusive user who posted the disgusting libel.

    the company has also refused to disclose the i.p. address of the user
    in question. this will be delt with legally through my attorney.

    dreamhost you are in for a problem.

    the company lists it's business address as 417 associated road...
    a mail drop. as i did visit there with brea police in tow.

    next time i'll be stopping by 10 point dr. ste 235 brea ca 92821

    sage weil is listed as box 5479 huntington park 90255.
    the whois information is listed with false contact phone numbers.
    networksolutions will be notified as well.

    do not host or deal with this company. they do not respect the privacy
    of one's medical information and allow users to abuse the service and
    the internet.

    in short dreamhost (new dream network llc) sucks.

    # 199904910092
    editors_desk
  • RE: Honesty, transparency can offset customer service disasters

    Not just honesty and transparency, but give the customer service people the tools and information to make decisions.
    We just had the ultimate 'customer dis-service disaster with US Bank Health Savings Account where the the customer service people could not speak directly with bank operations & we spent days going back and forth.
    Service reps had no real escalation, no power to recognize unusual circumstances (an IRA transfer with tax implications) and no power to solve problems.
    Never mind transparency, how about some real power and systems to enable honesty and allow meaningful service and problem solving!
    paredown
    paredown3
  • RE: Honesty, transparency can offset customer service disasters

    I strongly recommend reading the first Post-CRM book, The Customer-Transparent Enterprise. This book is the first to take the concept of transparency in service, sales & marketing to a new level.

    Best,
    The Author
    <br>customertransparententerprise.com
    degregor