Customer service is a choice

It’s either part of your strategy or you’re paying for your mistake.

800 numbers changed the way large brands dealt with the public. Instantly, and for free, a consumer could contact a company about a product or service and they would work to make it right.

It was more than fodder for an infinite number of New Yorker cartoons. Some brands made it a part of their marketing strategy (Zappos, for example) while others saw it as a bottomless expense and did as little as they could (Google, for one.) The successful companies in the no-support group spent the money they saved on user experience, working hard to make it so you’d never need to call them.

Both are defensible choices. Great customer service is expensive, but it’s also free. It’s free because delighting a customer who has an issue is the single cheapest way to not only keep that customer, but have them spread the word.

Building a new car company is difficult and expensive. Rivian has adopted the strategy of being the most honest, diligent and responsible car company in history. They answer the phone in one ring, a helpful person actually helps, and they work overtime to make things right. If you meet someone with a Rivian, just ask them.

A much smaller company, Discourse, supports their software with a community approach that’s human, interactive and effective. It’s not as expensive as having a car towed away, but it supports customer loyalty and decent margins.

Delightfully, great companies like PSAudio are following their lead, using Discourse to help customers become connected and find support. It provides a layer of insulation that other companies struggle to keep up with.

On the other hand, Firstbase, a new company aiming to service founders of new companies, has completely lost their way. They take as long as five business days to respond to a query, their UX is terrible and they generally don’t care, or at least act like they don’t. Unlike Google, who decided to build a customer-facing product that didn’t need support, Firstbase is simply in cost-cutting mode. It’s broken and they know it.

You can’t cost cut your way to greatness.

Consumers have been trained to expect that companies will engage. Even if you’re a soloist, the availability of instant communication means that if you choose to do a lousy job on support, you’re going to be judged accordingly.

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