When False Expections Lead to “I Don’t Think There’s Anybody Back There”

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If you’re old enough to remember Wendy’s Where’s the Beef? commercial, you’ll recall Clara Peller, the woman on the right of the skeptical customer trio, slipping in one final barb, “I don’t think there’s anybody back there,” as she struggles to peer across an oversized sales counter. I doubt if anyone reading this hasn’t wondered the same thing at least once after clicking “submit” on a customer support web page.

The commercial parodies the frustrations of customers trying to squeeze a plaintive request through a monolithic corporate bureaucracy, and it would be even funnier if it weren’t so true. The ladies’ voices echo off stark, confining walls, ominously distorted by the camera. It’s unclear who they are talking to. There’s no response to their now-iconic question “Where’s the beef?” Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, the ad agency that created the commercial in the early ’80’s, was unintentionally prescient of Voice of Customer challenges (a not-yet-popularized term) in the age of the Internet.

Technology hasn’t made us any better at hearing customers. But the issue is greater than companies using simple email services and Web 2.0 to craft a “we’re listening to you” image for their customers and prospects. That over worn approach has now become a cliché. It’s about companies taking action when they’re creating the expectation that they are going to take action.

In the last two weeks, I’ve requested support from two companies, CraigsList, and a communications service called DimDim. Both companies offer an online feature that enables a person to send questions and other information from a web page. In both instances, I carefully composed a written explanation of my support question and clicked “Submit.” Then—nothing. It’s more than a coincidence. It’s happened with other companies enough times that when I see Clara trying to peer over that counter, I know exactly how she feels.

What should customers expect? Well, at the very least, to receive a response. In the case of CraigsList and DimDim, an auto response such as “Thank you for your question. Because our support manager decided to take two months off to go mountain biking in the Andes, it might take a week or so to answer your question.” would be better than to hear nothing at all. A few websites offer a great service that requests my phone number online. Within one second after clicking “submit,” my phone rings! Then, an agent gets on the call. At least I know there’s someone on the payroll!

Failure to support breaks trust, and breaking trust is fatal for successfully selling anything. In an era when so many past truths are called into question, the certitude of “no trust, no sale” might even be half comforting.

I don’t care how cool a company’s technology is. When they belly flop on customer support, what message does that send about how they care about their customers? What information do consumers receive about the capabilities of their operations? What do they convey about their ability to provide value in the future? I don’t think there’s anybody back there!

1 COMMENT

  1. Andrew-

    I’m sorry to hear about your support experience. As with any rapidly growing company, we are constantly trying to improve how we work with our customers. We recently brought on a new support manager and we are improving our support request process to give customers the ability to track issues online — from when they are first reported through resolution.

    I’ll work with the team to see what happened to your request. It would help me speed things up if you dropped me an email with your Dimdim ID and a quick summary of your original report. I’m at [email protected].

    Thanks!

    -k
    Kevin Micalizzi, Community Manager
    Dimdim Web Conferencing
    e: [email protected]
    twitter: @dimdim
    facebook: dimdim.com/facebook

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