How to Lose a Customer in Six Easy Steps

frowny face How to Lose a Customer in Six Easy Steps

Customers matter. Customer development doesn’t end with product/market fit. Your customer support process is an ongoing dialog with the customer that provides valuable information to just just fix problems, but discover new product opportunities.

Companies that forget the customer are denying themselves the right to innovate.

The Saga

It started simply enough, there was a fairly obvious $8,364,175.00 error in my financial statement from Mint.com (now owned by Intuit) that prompted me to contact customer support with this email:

Mint is showing “Your $8,364,175.00 purchase from Peated has cleared your PayPal – PayPal Account account.”

It should go without saying that I have not spent over eight million dollars on anything. The charge was 175 EUROs.

Thank you,

Tristan

Step 0 – The automated response

Thank you so much for your email. We love hearing from you, whether you’re sharing a great testimonial or something we’d better fix. All of us are working really hard to make Mint better for you.

….

Our response times are currently about 16 hours. Thanks for your patience and thanks for using Mint.com!

Admittedly, this is not a problem. I expect auto-responses, and it’s better to send one than send nothing. So far, so good. Everything is fine until…

Step 1 – Send a template email to follow up on an auto-response

Response (Joyce J.) 08/05/2011 03:11 AM
Hello,

In order to investigate and troubleshoot the issue, we need to know the following:

1. Browser and Operating system you’re working with.

2. The specific steps (if any) that caused you to encounter the error.

3. A screen shot and short description of the error. The attached file should be .jpg or .png format….

Important Note: All requested information are crucial for fixing the bug.

Just awesome. Not only did they not bother to use my name in the template, but they’ve managed to include questions which any idiot should realize have nothing to do with the error:

  1. Neither my operating system nor my browser is going to cause 175 EUR to appear as $8 million USD.
  2. Clearly they have made no attempt to replicate the problem by looking at my transactions.
  3. A screen shot is unnecessary with such a specific obvious error and neither is any more detailed description than  “Your $8,364,175.00 purchase from Peated has cleared your PayPal – PayPal Account account.”

At this point I’m slightly annoyed, but only enough to write a highly sarcastic response to their auto-reply.

Correct response:

Actually read the customers email and make a basic attempt to confirm the problem if it’s obvious.

Step 2 – Don’t allow the customer to respond

Your recent incident update was from an email address not associated with the incident. In an effort to maintain the security of information, we cannot update the incident using this email address. If you are the incident owner and your email address has changed, or you want to be able to update the incident using this email account, please update your contact information using the following link, then resubmit your update.

https://quickenonline.custhelp.com/app/account/profile

Surprise! When I responded (somewhat rudely) I received the above email. I signed up with one email address and my email client is configured to send with another. So now I have to either re-configure my email client every time that I want to talk to customer service or I need to update my profile at the URL. I chose the URL.

Correct response:

Sure, there are security issues and you shouldn’t send customer information to a new email address that’s not registered. However, there is absolutely no reason not to receive information from a different email address and have a real human being decide how to handle the response. That’s not a security threat, it’s basic courtesy.

Step 3 – Make sure the URL goes nowhere useful

https://quickenonline.custhelp.com/app/account/profile

This is a useless place to send me. Firstly, what exactly am I supposed to click? Secondly, I don’t have a quickenonline account so updating it will be impossible. Can I update the ticket and respond from this URL? No.

Correct response:

I contacted Mint.com, so send me to a Mint.com page which allows me to respond either update my email address, or directly respond via a ticket system. Let’s not assume I’m familiar enough with the company that I know who bought out Mint.

At this point, I’ve given up. I’m sick of this. I’m either going to close my account or just resubmit the ticket tomorrow. Any wagers as to what happens next?

Step 4 – Make Sure the Customer Can’t Fix the Problem themselves

Screen Shot 2011 08 07 at 12.42.42 AM 300x167 How to Lose a Customer in Six Easy Steps

I space out…I took a couple days to get back to the issue and when I next logged in, I found that when I tried to resync my account I was unable to. I went to the bank info page I found that I only need to click on Learn More to get more information on the problem.

So where’s the Learn More button?

Correct Response:

If there is an issue with a 3rd party service (in this case either the licensed tech Mint uses to connect to PayPal or PayPal, it’s best to head trouble off at the pass and send customers an email notifying them that there is a problem, you’re aware of it, and you’re trying to fix it.

Step 5 – Really Piss the Customer Off by Asking them to do you a Favor

Dear Valued Customer,

Thank you for contacting us for Quicken Service and Support.  Intuit takes customer feedback seriously and we make every attempt to meet or exceed customer expectations where possible.  If you could take a moment to answer the following questions we would appreciate hearing from you.

Click here to take this survey.

I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to send a customer satisfaction survey before the ticket is closed, but that genius should be fired.

Correct Response:

Fix the problem, then send the survey.

Step 6 – Send a Pie Chart

The pièce de résistance!

Screen Shot 2011 08 07 at 12.51.47 AM 300x203 How to Lose a Customer in Six Easy Steps

That’s the point when I deleted my account.

Correct Response:

Anything but this. I would have preferred an email asking if I had a gambling problem or I’d just bought a bridge. This just makes me painfully aware that Mint doesn’t even attempt to look for unusual activity in my account.

The Moral of the Story

Even when you’re acquired for a ridiculously large sum of money, customers matter. Customer development doesn’t end with product/market fit. Your customer support process is an ongoing dialog with the customer that provides valuable information to just just fix problems, but discover new product opportunities.

Companies that forget the customer are denying themselves the right to innovate.

Cheers,
Tristan

So…what should I post next? Tweet to tell me what to write:

Show me how to test product market fit!

or

How can I do lean startup in my friggin' huge company?

3 comments

  1. To anyone who has worked on a high volume, low-level tech support help desk, somewhere around Step 1 there is a heavy sigh and the sure knowledge that things will *not* go well from that point.

    Without knowing a thing about Mint’s internal system from the inside, here’s what I can tell you:

    1) Their help desk is set up with a general inbox that is accessible by multiple entry level tech support people making about the same hourly rate as your average fast-food worker.
    2) They are using a problem ticket system that records the number of responses, but not necessarily the number of resolutions by number of contacts.
    3) They have a number of hot-key automated response scripts for “common issues” – the most frequently used is the “needs more info” script.
    4) The metrics for help desk performance revolve around a) number of emails replied to, b) amount of time spent on phone per call, c) the number of tickets “closed” not necessarily “resolved.”
    5) The off-phone-queue on-email-queue-only assignments go to the most senior help desk person.
    6) Escalating the issue to the level-2 support personnel has repercussions and is not allowed *unless* certain protocols have been followed (like going through the standard “what browser” questionnaire.)

    Now, it’s a truism that the majority of inbound customer support requests revolve around simple solutions that are easily repeatable and all the support tech needs to know is which situation you have in order to suggest the fix. Those situations are also the easiest to resolve because once identified, there’s a copy/paste fix that will walk the user through the steps to resolve.

    However, the situations like the one you experienced are anomalies – and are also the most time & knowledge intensive to resolve. But there’s no rewards for the level-1 support tech who takes the time to trouble-shoot it or to escalate outside of protocol, no matter how obvious it is to even the least technical of people that the issue falls outside the “have you tried clearing your cache and rebooting?” b.s.

    In every helpdesk group like the ones I’ve outlined, there’s one or two a-holes who are known for rapid-replying to the “low lying fruit” by replying with the “needs more information” script. Their stats say “Bob answered 103 emails and 10 calls per hour during that shift” and not “of those, 95 emails were hot-key scripts for ‘please reply with more info’ that was irrelevant and he ‘accidentally disconnected’ 7 out of 10 of those calls resulting in the person calling back in angry after having to wait in queue again and yelling at the next tech – and 2 were told ‘you need to reboot or reinstall the software and that will take time so you’ll need to call back in afterwards.’

    The problem is that those guys (and yes, guys there = gender neutral) are somehow “in” with the help-desk manager, either because they are old friends and that’s why s/he has the job, or there’s some mysterious reason that it’s better to have massive turnover with competent techs than to get rid of that guy.

    Why does this situation occur so frequently? Well, the circumstances foster this sort of culture. Until companies stop seeing customer service or tech support as cost-centers instead of profit-centers, they will continue to pay low wages for those jobs… those who are talented or even competent do what they can to get out of those positions as quickly as possible. Those who are incompetent, lazy, or both end up staying there for long periods of time and entrenching.

    Our image of a company is only as good as the last person we dealt with from that company. The most frequent point-of-contact for most customers is seldom the person the company sees as irreplaceable. Which is bizarre when you really think about it.

    The somewhat over-cited example of what happens when you empower your first line of customer contact to resolve problems, hire for fit & skill, and realize that great customer service will result in profitability is Zappos. There’s a reason for that; put simply, that Tony & Alfred proved it under real-world circumstances.

    Needless to say, it’s clear that the opposite is what happened in this case. A good cautionary tale.

    • Tristan says:

      I think that’s a very good analysis as a general case.

      In this instance I think the truth is that they just switched Mint’s customer support over to Intuit’s helpdesk without really thinking it through very well. A lot of people seem to think customer support is a cost center without any profit.

      I prefer to think of it as an extension of the product and a valuable method for customer/product development.

      Thanks for bringing up Zappos. I have to read up on them. Pretty amazing system.

      Cheers,
      Tristan

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