Customer Service Rules

Yesterday, as I was riding our exercise bike at 4:30 AM, I noticed an offer to download the new Twitter iPhone app. I’ve been a little disappointed with TweetDeck lately so I thought I’d give this a try. At first, I was impressed that Twitter’s link took me right to the App store and initiated the transaction to download the app. A few seconds later, my free transaction was derailed by a demand from Apple that I accept the “new Terms and Conditions”. I said “OK”, since that was the only way I could continue. Then, I arrived at Page 1 of a 35 page agreement. My first thought shouldn’t be published here, but my second thought was “what if I treated my users like this?” No, this isn’t fantasy day, I realize my little two farm SharePoint installation is several orders of magnitude smaller than the iPhone App Store. Still, they have users, I have users. Each of our groups of users represent past, present and hopefully future business, so I think some level of comparison is valid.

Ironically, later in the day, one of our policyholders called me with a question about the SharePoint site that we established for her company. She described what she considered to be a problem with a document library on her site. I promised to research the issue and get back to her. What I discovered was a situation that was not actually a problem, but I could see how it could appear to be a problem. I explained this to our user, and then began thinking about how we could add some information to all of these sites, so other users would not be similarly confused. Had I began our conversation with “before we start, I’m going to have to ask you to agree to our new Terms & Conditions”, I might be looking for a new job today.

Obviously, I would never consider throwing a 35-page collection of self-serving terms in front of this, or any other user. That Apple, Facebook and other companies do take this approach illustrates their arrogance, and it hints of an attitude that says we must want their product or service bad enough to let ourselves be treated shabbily. That they get away with this treatment is both sad and temporary; I have already stopped trying to expand my presence on Facebook. The App Store is the only option for iPhone apps but the iPhone, once a game changer, is no longer the only game in town. My customer service experience with these businesses do not make me feel good. That makes me think about why I choose to do business with these companies and it makes me consider what I am asking my own customers to accept.
We all know the movie line “if you build it, they will come” but I am reminded of what my boss said during my annual review “now that you have built it, you have to maintain it” – he was referring to our customer portal on SharePoint. We need to consider customer service when we create SharePoint sites. It doesn’t matter if the “customers” are our coworkers, our business partners or actual paying customers. As SharePoint becomes our lobby, our information desk, our project war room, and our archive; people have to feel comfortable using it. Part of the task of making people comfortable deals with layout and delivering the features that support business requirements. That’s the most important part, and I can honestly say, that’s the part I’m good at. The other part, the part I struggle with, is what to do when there is a problem.
Normally, I rely on one of my staff members to provide excellent customer service. In fact, when I gave a training presentation last year in Florida, two people in the audience seemed like members of his fan club. He is good, but SharePoint is up 24/7/365 and he isn’t. For those other hours, we are working to build a first class self-help site. We are in the early stages of design for this site, but I am encouraged by the energy surrounding this project. My staff and the consultant we are working are committed to creating an excellent user experience. We don’t want this to be the last resort in a frustrating search for answers; we want our Help Desk to be a welcoming environment that leads to a rich array of self-help resources. I think SharePoint is up to the task, I know we are. As we move through this project, I’ll share our results here.