Paul Ford's article, The Web as a Customer Service Medium, along with a complimentary MetaFilter thread, has brought about a lot of thoughts I've been jumbling together for a blog post on customer service.
The MetaFilter article is dense with exceptional commentary, some of which I thoroughly agree with, having worked in both crappy and outstanding customer-service oriented positions:
Working in customer service made me hate people and by the end of my tenure my entire day was spent just waiting for the right customer who I could sense was on the verge of a freak out so that I could ** with them in such a way as to drive them insane with rage but where they couldn't describe an actual thing I had done to upset them to my supervisor so that I wouldn't get in trouble.
In the early 2000s I worked for the TicketMaster call center and we'd play this game (while no-one was monitoring our calls) where we would insert the word "chicken" instead of "ticket" and get points for how many times we used it. I think I won, with 27 mentions in a single three-minute call. It's an indicator of how bad things can get when your customer service agents are so bound by KPIs (key performance indicators, or, "have a four minute script and a three minute maximum call time") that they have to come up with abusive games to make their time bearable.
To make this point more specific: almost every IT and call center system I've worked with assigns at most 1 person looking at each call. If they can't solve it, they escalate to a different group of people, generally in rotation. Currently I do one week every 4 weeks as the sole "support" guy. The only reports I ever see are the ones someone else thinks are mine. So each report has one user and at most one helper.
In contrast, web systems can enable many to many. Many people with the same problem, or many people looking at one question. By putting many eyes on the problem, you get both diversity of perspective and a sample of answers large enough to find the eigenanswer or something.
This is exact reason we built Tender for our own customer service needs. An answer for a customer involves two or three of us, whether one is an "expert" or developer or not.
Here the support and communication and whatever we're doing all day is the real work. Talking to each other and everyone else, making sure people are okay and trying to fix it when they're not. Days like today can be a little exhausting in that regard, but it sure does seem worth it.
As ENTP has migrated from a development company (19 headcount, 1 non-developer) to a service company (8 headcount, 4 non-developers) this really resonates with us. Everyone at ENTP — designers, developers, our general manager, CEO (me!) and all those in between — is responsible for customer service. We all pitch in and take charge of issues and discussions on a daily basis. It feels good. Following this philosophy helps drive the direction of development. It allows us devs the chance to really get a feel for the pain point of the users.