Customer service has been something I’ve been repeatedly coming back to on this blog, partly because it tallies greatly with my interest in the social experience of technology, and partly because an interaction with manufacturers and service suppliers is an unavoidable feature of (first world) product complexity and role specialisation. I suppose it is interesting to ponder what the optimal organisation size is from a service perspective, and whether such a question depends on the nature of the business in question; suppliers that are too small may be unable to cope with customer support, and suppliers that are too large sometimes would rather ignore or lose a customer than provide the necessary service. Of course, neither pole is ideal, if customers’ needs are to be considered paramount.
I should think this contemplation derives from my recent experience with my bike supplier, Juicy Bike, whose service I found cause to negatively review. As I promised in that article, I sent it to Juicy with the best of intentions: an identification of a problem that had been missed, together with some suggested solutions. I’d previously liked their emphasis on affordability, environmental sustainability and factory working conditions, and I still want their business to do well.
I am glad to report that Juicy Bike got in touch a few days later to arrange a telephone feedback session, so that my criticisms could be usefully learnt from. I made a number of proposals, which were broadly:
- swapping out non-standard components in the design, to make local support an easier task;
- having a UK network of trained local bike shops to smooth over the communication cracks introduced by requiring third-party support;
- implementing a customer relationship management system to reduce the gaps between promise and delivery;
- adding quality checks to every bike that leaves the workshop;
- remembering that customers need to be treated with courtesy, and that email feedback should be responded to in full where practicable.
Briefly, the responses were:
- The next iteration of the Juicy bike will switch from a loose-bearing bottom bracket to a cartridge type. I could tell this was a difficult decision, since it is more immediately resource-efficient to replace a few ball bearings rather than a whole component. However, I would tend to suggest that the cartridge-type may be more sustainable in the long run, if it puts a bike back on the road a few weeks earlier, and negates extra weeks of petrol-based transport.
- Juicy made mention of their BEBA membership, who in turn are in the process of setting up a shared support network, with minimum quality and certification standards. This all sounds wonderfully collaborative to my mind, given that many of these small firms are ostensibly competitors.
- A web-based CRM system has already been installed, and each customer interaction is to be noted, so that a customer is much less likely to find themselves dangling for support.
- Juicy appear to have been overtaken by a burst of demand for their products, and are hoping to take on extra engineers soon. It is hoped (on both sides!) that this will increase the consistency of the quality control process in their workshop.
- My criticisms about service delivery have been taken on board.
I’ll be honest – I offer feedback to organisations on a regular basis, and I don’t think I’ve ever been heard this well before, nor so extensively. In general, the response I get from customer service staff is either bland and lazy (“we’ll pass that to the relevant department”) or defensive and legalistic (“that’s not in the T&Cs”). So, to have my feedback actually change a product for the better is not just gratifying; it’s exciting. It suggests that for every dehumanising corporation that exploits its customers, there’s a smaller business that is well-intentioned and wants to listen, even if it doesn’t always get it right. For me, it’s not about mistakes, but how they are corrected, and on that basis Juicy score very well indeed.