Seth Godin writes a great post about Verizon and their lack of customer care. What I find fascinating is companies that have lots and lots of money to spend on marketing — and then totally blow it on the customer service side of things. What exactly is so difficult about putting a proper system in place to take care of customers. As Seth points out, it would probably save these large corporations money. When you call to deal with a phone company, or an airline or your cable provider, and you have to spend more than the 15 minutes it would actually take to solve your problem on the phone, these companies are losing money. When I wait on hold for 40 minutes, and then it takes 3 United agents to deal with my travel request, how much money has that just cost United? Wouldn’t it be better to allocate marketing dollars to “close the marketing loop?”

I just don’t understand it. It seems obvious to me that a company should track ROI on all customer facing interactions, and continue to see how they can improve that ROI. But its obvious that ROI does not get down to this detail. It may be cheaper in the short term to outsource everything to another company, perhaps in another country where labor is cheaper. But if every customer takes 30 minutes and 3 people to solve their issues, is it really cheaper?

At Palo Alto Software we have made the decision NOT to outsource our customer service. We are a small company and choose to spend the overhead on real live people who work in our headquarters. We train them, and train them and train them. We hire people who are smart, and can make good judgment decisions so that our customers always feel well taken care of. We invest in the right tools. All of our customer service team has wireless headsets. They can talk to a customer while waking to the fax machine to see if their fax came in. We built an entire email management system to help our customer team respond quickly and correctly to any customer inquiry. (We feel this solution is so good, and so necessary for small businesses we made it available to anyone for FREE!!! — Email Center Pro )

Regardless of your size, or the money you can spend on providing the right tools, all companies should build customer service into their marketing ROI. Why bother spending money to acquire a customer if you are then going to treat them badly once they are customers?

A true story to prove my point:

Yesterday I was at the Eugene, Oregon track and field Olympic trials. I was there with my kids and it was blazing hot. You are not allowed to bring water bottles into the area for security reasons. I saw a Bank Of America booth was giving out water bottles. I am a customer. I asked if I could have 2 for my 2 very hot, very young, very thirsty kids. The answer – NO. This is only for people who are not customers who want to talk to us about becoming customers. “But I am a customer!” Sorry these are not for you I am told. I am very annoyed and looking to switch banks. This is how I am treated once I am a customer??? I would be treated better if I didn’t already bank with BofA.

Sabrina Parsons
Palo Alto Software

AvatarSabrina Parsons

Sabrina has served as CEO of Palo Alto Software since 2007.