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Morgan, You make a good point. Customer service really doesn't scale and it must be such a cultural shock when web companies realize just how many people they need to hire to provide their customer base with 'good customer service'. A few programmers can program and maintain a service for millions of people, yet you may need hundreds or thousands of people to handle customer support. My friends at google basically told me that this lack of scalability and the sheer cost (and probably the impact on their earnings and therefore their stock price) was what dissuades their management from actually addressing the problem. But it's really just the cost of doing business. You can't offer consumers products without providing support. And I don't agree that it is impossible to provide good customer service at scale. Companies like Apple and Microsoft both seem to have figured out how to provide decent customer service. (At tremendous expense I'm sure.) But I also think that google/paypal/facebook should at least staff a hotline, even a $25 per incident hotline like Microsoft used to have, so that there is SOMEONE available. It would also be easy and cheap for these companies to do things like have someone available on Twitter monitoring a support account. (like comcast does with @comcastcares) or to man a chat room like what Slicehost used to do. These things are so simple. The fact that they don't do even these simple things indicates to me that these companies really don't care about their customers. They're actually contemptuous of them as an unfortunate consequence of their elitist programmer cultures. This attitude may not hurt the companies as long as they have what amounts to monopoly positions in the marketplace, but once there is another option, people will jump ship.
Interesting analysis. It will be interesting to see the role that good customer service will play in the upcoming payment wars that you're describing. The top web companies like Google, Facebook, eBay and PayPal all seem to struggle to even provide decent customer service. Yet older companies like Apple and Microsoft focus more on customer support. It's VERY expensive to have a skilled and friendly support staff, and I think that web companies think that there's some algorithm that will eliminate the need for human support. However, the lack of investment by Google, Paypal and Facebook in customer support has already given them all a HORRIBLE reputation in that department, so it's already unlikely that consumers would want to fully trust them with any significant monetary transactions. The only way that I would trust any of them is if the transaction is backed by my credit card company. (And out of credit card companies I only trust American Express because of their amazing customer service.) Companies should have learned from the mistakes that Paypal made in their automation. Paypal combined their innovative but aggressive fraud management algorithms with poor customer service, zero accountability and transparency to even important customers and a buggy payment service. It's one thing to mess up a $5 transaction, and it's quite another to have a $5,000 transaction 'locked' up by Google or Paypal. It seems that rather than learn from Paypal's mistakes, Google took it to the next level with their idiotic Google Checkout system. Their algorithms simply reject payments completely with zero transparency and there isn't ANYONE (even an moron) to call. Can't wait to see how Facebook's amazing payment system takes shape. I bet that their algorithms will be better than Google and Paypal's, but they will still refuse to hire a decent customer support staff. I guess when web companies offer customers what seems to be a 'free' service, customers should expect to be treated like dirt. I would advise web companies who want to get into payments to learn customer service from American Express and learn what not to do by observing from Paypal and Google.
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Feb 1, 2010