Customer service on an internet scale
Solving customer problems and delivering the highest levels of service is seen as central to successful businesses. But a recent musing from DeWitt Clinton of Google raised the question – does service scale when you have billions of users across the globe?
Clinton posted this thought:
“If you have a billion users, and a mere 0.1% of them have an issue that requires support on a given day (an average of one support issue per person every three years), and each issue takes 10 minutes on average for a human to personally resolve, then you'd spend 19 person-years handling support issues every day.
If each support person works an eight-hour shift each day then you'd need 20,833 support people on permanent staff just to keep up.”
And he concluded: “That, folks, is internet scale.”
Essentially Google has a two pronged approach to customer service. Big customers (such as major retailers or agencies spending millions on AdWords) get access to a real account representative. However for normal users (Clinton’s billion), many of whom aren’t paying anything for their Google products, the company delivers customer service through automated self-service systems, content (such as videos) posted online and by creating forums where customers can help each other.
As Google has evolved, there are two problems with this. Firstly, there’s now a dizzying array of Google products (from browsers to Google Docs and the Android operating system) that are more complex than a simple search engine and require much more hands on service. People rely on them to run their lives/businesses so any problems have potentially calamitous effects. Secondly, by essentially outsourcing a lot of customer service to your community you do get internet scale, but risk losing control of the relationship with your customers. This makes it more difficult to sell more services and positions the company as faceless rather than friendly.
So what can Google do? Clearly creating a customer contact centre with space for over 20,000 people is a non-starter. But given the negative comments that greeted Clinton’s post (and wider complaints, often raised on social media) customers expect better from the company. In our experience the answer comes back to providing knowledge to customers across all the channels and places they might be looking for it. A centralised knowledgebase that is available via web self-service, social media and customer forums will deliver consistent help to customers in the format they are looking for. And by linking self-service to customer forums and social media Google can bring in answers from the community but through a consistent, easy to use interface. Incoming questions can be analysed to find gaps in the knowledgebase or to spot customer trends and new answers can be easily disseminated across the globe. Obviously this is a major undertaking, but as Forrester analyst Harley Manning points out delivered professionally low cost self-service doesn’t have to mean low quality. Essentially a focus on multichannel knowledge provides a chance for Google to create a human face for service on an internet scale, benefiting users without significantly increasing costs.