Reflections on customer service and gig economy

Well the gig or outsource economy is in full swing and since it is impossible not to interact with it, I thought I’d note the last three and make some observations:

Buying with e-certificates at Lowe’s.

This shows why competing with Amazon is so hard. They offer huge discounts vs Amazon. Beside free shipping, if you use a click through site, you get 5% off and then with Discover, you can get an additional 10% off using e-certificates. In trying to checkout, the site failed with an edge case. Lots of e-certificates and then trying to add a new credit card. The result was that all the e-certificates were marked with zero balance?!. Trying to chat resulted in quick service, the guy (“Charlie”) just said, you need to call the issuer and thanked me and then hung up. Obviously, he’s going to get a bonus clearing customers and with no customer satisfaction metric, how is Lowe’s to know.

Then an hour long call with a super nice grandmother (two kids) working hard to figure out what happened. After an hour, she called another hard working person in the gift certificates department to get the number unwedged. And at the end, I got the order, but it took an hour. I was super happy, but when I tried to click on “1” at the end to give good feedback, I got the message, “this center is no longer taking customer feedback”

Net, net I got the order done, but it’s just sad to me, this really wonderful person who did a great job covering for Lowe’s really hard time keeping up with the market leader in e-commerce not only didn’t get credit, but I’m sure the hour long call is not going to reflect well on her stats. And even if it did, she’s just a gig economy worker, so what’s her career path anyway.

It’s sad because so many companies are not “Day One” Amazon companies, but instead, try to lower cost outsource it all and they lose what is their greatest asset, people who care.

Broken drone at B&H

Another catastrophe, buying a drone, it doesn’t work out of the box. Calling on a Sunday and you hear that they don’t handle this directly but outsource it, so call again tomorrow. The next day, I get routed to some back end fulfillment house, they give me an RMA and I send it off.

Now how is B&H ever supposed to know that these guys did an awesome, awesome job, I looked at the address, somewhere in New Jersey and it is actually addressed to a real human. I don’t know if I will actually get my money back, but wow what a great experience.

Again, I wonder, with all this outsourcing, how is the CEO of B&H every supposed to know how things are working.

Summary

Well I don’t know if there are any lessons to be drawn, but it is pretty clear that by cutting off the “low levels” for the “high value”, that big companies do lose something important. That is the direct feel of what happens to the hapless customer. Feeling bad about customers is part and parcel with the job (I know I’ve had those jobs), but doing something about it is super hard. Without that direct contact, what happens to all the great grandmothers who really should get promoted for making customers happy, vs. the chat bot guy moving through calls.

Net, net, the main lesson is that all consumers have to vote with your dollars and your feet.Reward the folks who are doing a great job, but also find a way to recognize the people who do a good job despite all the efficiency metrics.