Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Zappos and Flickr -- excellent and terrible customer service on the Web

Here is a short excerpt from a talk by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh, in which he discusses their customer service.

Customer service excellence is a core value at Zappos. They publish their 24/7 toll-free phone number on every Web page. Customer service representatives are expected to give friendly, helpful “above and beyond” service, and Zappos does not time calls or set sales-based performance goals. They view a call as a branding opportunity rather than a necessary expense. Reps even direct customers to other Web sites when appropriate.

Zappos also gives free shipping and return shipping, accepts returns for a year, stocks every item in their own 24/7 warehouse, and often surprises customers with an upgrade to overnight shipping.

(Hsieh's full talk, in which he stresses culture building more than customer service, is here).

Contrast that with my experience with the absurd customer service on the Flickr photo sharing site. On March 13, I submitted a question asking why people could not see photos I had placed in a "public" Flickr group. The next day, I received this response:

Just a quick email from Team Flickr to let you know that we've successfully received your recent Help by Email query and we hope to respond shortly.

We'd also like to take an opportunity to remind you that one query is sufficient and multiple queries regarding the same issue make the Magic Donkey cry.

Lastly, you may not be aware that our FAQs and forums are full of help goodness.

The Flickreenos
They tried to blow me off to their FAQs, warned me not to resend my query, and irritated me with their cutesy language, but, that would be OK if they helped me with the problem. The next day, I received an email saying they had escalated the question to a "senior representative."

But, evidently the senior representative had a five week backlog. On April 24 he got back to me with a non sequitur, boilerplate-laden answer.

Customer service clearly costs Zappos more than it does Flickr, and they are targeting a high-end retail customer, but, no matter what the purpose of your Web site is, you should study Zappos' example and do a lot better than Flickr.

Have you seen other examples of very good or very poor customer service on the Web?