I'm writing up the beginning of this post while on an airplane, flying from New York to San Francisco. By the time you've read it, I'll have added some stuff to it after I landed. The issue is one of customer service and sounding human. Late last week, I saw this amusing online customer service chat transcript
between a Zappos customer service representative and a guy who wanted to see if their customer service really was as good as advertised. Zappos is famous for its hiring and training practices (including paying people to quit after a month). With the customer service team, there are no scripts and reps aren't measured on how many calls they get through like many other customer service centers, but on how well they help customers. That is really evident in the transcript. Here's an excerpt, though you should read the whole thing:
You are now chatting with Jonathan
Jonathan: Hello Timmy. How can I help you?
Timmy: do you know how wide the G-Shock Atomic Solar - AWG101 SKU #7403774 is?
Timmy: i mean, how big a wrist it would fit?
Timmy: Timmy has a big fat wrist
Timmy: Timmy need watch grande
Jonathan: I'll see what I can find out for Timmy.
Timmy: awesome. and can we please continue to talk about Timmy in the 3rd person? Timmy likes to boost Timmy's ego by talking about Timmy that way
Jonathan: Jonathan would be happy to neglect the use of pronouns for the duration of this conversation.
Timmy: Jonathan and Timmy shall get along just fine
Jonathan: Will Timmy be able to measure Timmy's wrist?
Timmy: Timmy's wrist is big, but not Biggie-Smalls big. Timmy doesn't have the required measurement instruments.
Timmy: Timmy is 6'4" 220lbs if that helps Jonathan
Jonathan: Luckily, that is roughly the size of Jonathan's brother, so that does help.
Now, as I mentioned, I'm writing this from an airplane, where I had hoped to have in-flight internet access. I had it last week on the flight from San Francisco to NY and it was fabulous. And, yes, I've seen the wonderful and enlightening Louis CK bit where he talks about how ridiculous it is that anyone would complain that in-flight WiFi broke
, because just think of how amazing it is (by the way, in later interviews, Louis admitted
that it wasn't the guy sitting next to him who complained -- but he was really discussing his own
reaction to the WiFi breaking). I'm not at all upset that the WiFi broke. It would have been cool (and useful in terms of productivity), but I am amazed that it could work at all, and I know it's new so bound to have some hiccups. That's fine. This post isn't about the fact that the WiFi broke. It's about the way Aircell/GoGo handled it.
It's not at all clear what the problem was exactly. When I first opened up the browser, the proxy server page wouldn't load at all. After a few minutes it did load, and at the top it said: "click buy to get started." Only problem? There was no "buy" to click. Just a big empty white box. However, there was a link to sign in if you already had an account -- which, thanks to my flight last week, I did. So I clicked that, and put in my username/password, and was told that it couldn't authenticate it. I checked my email to confirm the username, and even though I'm sure of the password, tried to go to "recover forgotten password" just in case... and was told it didn't recognize my username or the email address. Fine. It seemed pretty clear that their authentication system had broken down, too. I tried to go back to the main page, but it told me I couldn't until I had purchased my account...
However, I did notice a link to "contact customer service" and discovered that even though I couldn't connect to the full internet, I could have a "live chat" with a customer service rep on the ground named "Georgia." I'm asked my name, and I give it (even though it should have been obvious from the email address I had to give to login to the chat). After Georgia asked for my name and I gave it, it took about 2 minutes for a reply. No problem... I'm sure Georgia is dealing with others as well. But I'm not even sure if she's still there. Then I'm asked the problem, which I describe and am told:
"I apologize for the inconvenience and I'll be glad to help you with that."
Sounds great. So I wait. And wait. And wait. And then start wondering... am I supposed to do anything? I assume it's being looked into, but it's not at all clear. I wasn't told to wait. I was just told that she can help. But is she? So after about 5 minutes of nothing, I say "Hello?" and get a quick apology followed by a statement that they are aware of a problem on my flight and will be monitoring it, and if I'm unable to connect, they'll send me a gift code for future flights. Ok. That's fine again... but what does that mean directly for me. I ask "so should I just try again later?" and am told "I would suggest you reboot and try again."
Wait... what? I was just told the problem was with GoGo's system, so why would it make sense to tell me to reboot? I point this out in a polite manner, and am told: "It may help, yet it may not be resolved until after your flight is over." Beyond the odd use of pronouns (first "it" refers to rebooting, second "it" refers to the problem with their system), this again sounds like someone with a script, rather than anyone trying to sound human or recognize how silly it is for me to reboot after she's already admitted the problem is on her end.
Given that I was clearly communicating with someone on the ground, I figured it was worth asking if there was some way around the authentication issue, since clearly I could connect to a very limited subset of the internet on the ground. I'm then told "all ways to sign in and sign up are not properly working." Aha, so it really is a problem with their system, and not my own, but why couldn't they have just explained that problem initially so that I understood? I tell her that I'll just try to sign on later, and am asked "Is there anything else I can help you with?" Now, I understand this is rather standard closing question... but it seems rather silly in this context. Considering there's no connectivity and that's the only thing this company provides, I'm not sure what else I could possibly be helped with.
Now, this wasn't a bad
customer service experience (even if it didn't resolve the problem, though that wasn't "Georgia's fault"). But it was striking to me the contrast between what I had just read with the Zappos transcript and this one. Is it really that difficult for customer service reps to sound human?