This post was originally conceived as a rant but now I am writing it as a bit of constructive criticism and advice directed towards Tivo, as well as other companies that do any kind of Customer Service/Support or Public Relations (so that would be most companies out there, right?). We have always been taught that 1 story of something bad that a company did has the same weight as multi-fold good things. It’s always the negative that rises up and is heard by many. When was the last time you heard something good about a company or something that an employee did that went above and beyond your expectations? Hardly ever, right? So to supposedly combat this, companies build up Customer Service departments and spend countless hours developing policies and procedures for dealing with pissed off customers.
I have run a couple of Customer Service teams. These organizations are double edged swords. On one side, talking to pissed off customers can ruin your day and can make you question your position at a company, the company’s product or the company itself. You have to sit and “take it” as someone yells at you or challenges your knowledge of the product or tries to even profess their superiority or intelligence over your own. On the other side is the fact that Customer Service Departments can be huge sources of learning where you get large amounts of detailed information from customers, their likes and dislikes of your product, suggestions, work-arounds, and enhancements for your products. You can even develop some pretty solid relationships through these conversations, and it doesn’t have to be if they are yelling at you or helping you.
It is no wonder that there are new companies coming out to help companies become more visible and more efficiently help, engage and communicate with their customers. Take GetSatisfaction, for example. The have created a platform to facilitate this communication and engagement with the customer or end user, encouraging companies to “get real with their customers.”
So back to my issue at hand and the reason for this post. Small companies are great, they want to make everyone happy. They try hard to excel, to “bend over backwards” and to “go the extra mile.” Tivo was like this many years ago. I remember it well because I signed up with them fairly early. They had (and still have) and incredible product and an equally incredible group of people running the show. But I think what has happened to them is what happens to many companies that grow, they lose sight of how to talk to their customer and become less personal and more machine-like. Procedures are developed, forms created, scripts written, all with the good intention of creating efficiencies and streamlining the support process. But if it is not done well, these Support and CS departments simply become gears in wheel of a machine, churning out stats and meeting quotas. Lost is the focus on the customer and why they requested support.
Believe it or not, my issue with Tivo was only over a $65 charge that I did not feel I needed to pay. But that was not the reason why I was upset. I won’t bore you with the details of my problem (well, maybe I will), but I need to provide a few facts for a frame of reference. 1) I had Tivo service for many many years, 2) I am a huge advocate of their product 3) I participated in numerous beta tests with new iterations of the the Tivo software (I tested Tivo Desktop, Rhapsody and, of course the Tivo software itself, among other things) and, 4) I even tried to publicly help them with some product ideas.
I called Tivo to reluctantly inform them that I needed cancel my service because I recently got Dish Networks. Despite my best efforts to connect the Tivo with the Dish DVR, I was unable to do so. The idea I had was to do dual recording and use the Tivo network transfer ability to have shows in non-Dish enabled rooms. Unfortunately, it failed due to a lack of compatibility between the devices. Also, I was just trying to cut back on some spending. The other bit of detail was that one of my older Tivos had taken a nose dive and needed to be replaced (which it was, during the 2007 holidays as I tried to take advantage of a rebate). Anyway, when I called in to cancel my account (you can ONLY call in to cancel, probably so that they can try to retain you), I was informed that my new replacement Tivo still had about 1/2 year to complete the contract. Contract? I have been a Tivo customer for a long time and was well out of contract, or so I thought.
Again, I don’t want to bore you with the details but I’m getting close to my point about PR and Customer Service. I pleaded my case with the rep that I talked to, the fact that I was not informed that a new Tivo with rebate required a new activation (meaning restarting the 1 year commitment). She read me a script about terminations, rebates, agreements and my “log” of activity. In turn, I mentioned the 4 points above (long customer, advocate, beta tester and product ideas). All to deaf ears. This rep wouldn’t budge and simply repeated herself like a broken record. I started to get a bit angry and asked to speak to a supervisor. Now, in most cases, supervisors have a bit more authority and leeway to make decisions. And this is where the one from Tivo that I talked to lost me. She didn’t budge either and had the same lack of sympathy, as well as initiative to do anything. Is this a commonality among Tivo support personnel? Makes me think of the Borg working as a collective with no individual thoughts.
This is where I circle it all back. Because Tivo has grown from a customer-concerned company to a cash-concerned company, they have lost sight of how critical good Customer Service is for their own Public Relations. There were two paths that the rep and her manager could have taken with me: 1) piss me off by giving me the feeling that they just didn’t care and only wanted my money or 2) make me happy by waiving my early termination fee and thanking me for being a beta tester, advocate, etc. They chose door #1 and now I’m bringing them the bad PR, despite my wishes. I like Tivo, just not their current Customer Support policies and procedures. If Tivo management is reading this, give your managers leeway to make decisions, don’t worry about getting every last cent, get some advocates out there, encourage your team to go the extra yard and listen to you customers. A happy one is quiet, an unhappy one is loud and that voice can actually hurt your business.
HTD says: Your Customer Service team is a multi-faceted tool; don’t turn it into just a sweat shop. Give them the power to make a difference! Oh, and I still have that $65 charge I don’t think I should pay.