Joel On Customer Service

Joel Spolsky has written a brilliant eight-step guide to remarkable customer service. The level of assistance provided by his company, Fog Creek Software, might seem alien to us because it is grounded in a philosophy that puts people above profits, to the benefit of both.

Joel’s paraphrased steps:

    1. Fix the problem and make sure it never happens again.
    2. Treat your customers like respectable humans.
    3. Provide superior service that forces your customers to love you.
    4. Take the blame.
    5. Apologies are uncomfortable, but priceless.
    6. Don’t take complaints personally; stay focused on finding a solution.
    7. Put people above profits.
    8. Give CSRs a meaningful career path.

The end result is remarkable service. “I’m using the word remarkable literally — the goal is to provide customer service so good that people remark.”

Joel illustrates his steps with several wonderful stories. They should serve as a guide to any corporation that wishes we would just go away. — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

Seven Steps to Remarkable Customer Service [Joel on Software]
(Photo: James Duncan Davidson/O’Reilly Media)


Edit Your Comment

  1. vatechtigger says:

    unfortunately the only promotion you can receive is becoming the useless “manager” that we all ask fir but know will only regurgitate the same bull as the first CSR

  2. Amy Alkon says:

    The cheap call centers have no mechanism for getting problems fixed; indeed, they have no incentive to get problems fixed because their income depends on repeat business, and there’s nothing they like better than being able to give the same answer to the same question again and again.

    This is the problem with HP’s customer service.

    This Joel Spolsky is a great guy, and completely smart.

    And, in addition to his wisdom on customer service, if more people treated their employees well, they’d have far better employees. There are those employees who will abuse you for treating them well. You learn not to hire them. I pay my part-time editorial assistant as well as I can, buy her lunch, give her gas money, and give her bonuses when I have more money come in (like from doing a magazine article), and buy her a bag of gourmet coffee whenever I mail-order bags for me. I’m flexible about her time if she needs to come in a little later or on a different day if it’s not my deadline day. And I read her work (she’s transitioning to a career as a paid writer) and give her comments to help her with it. And you know what? She is always, always there for me when the chips are down. It’s really pretty simple: You hire a good person, and show them you care about them, and they’ll care about you back. Also, it feels a lot better than being a jerk.

  3. Karmakin says:

    It was mostly a good article, but there were a couple of little things that gave me a lot of pause.

    First, was specifically linking the perm-fix (which isn’t a bad idea, but not always as easy to do as for a small company with a smaller product), to various types of infrastructure, ISP, Cable and Phone, where it’s virtually impossible to elminate issues, when you have a combination of physical infrastructure degradation and software/systems not under your control?

    It’s a great idea where it can be done, but physical infrastructure is the last place it can be done.

    The other thing, is about taking responsibility…it’s a good thing, but shouldn’t be a blanket rule. The reality is, if a manager has proof..let’s say he overheard, or watched the situation develop..that the customer is not being forthright, yes. The customer should be fired. With an irate customer, in that regard, generally two things happen.

    1). Yes, I will speak to that person. Next week, customer comes back in, person is working. They flip out. Why? Their complaint wasn’t addressed. After all, the person is still working there. “Talk to”, is sometimes a euphamism for fired/demoted/whatever. Person is upset, tells all their friends, blah blah blah.

    2). Person tells all their friends they can get a free meal by complaining. Place becomes known for this (I’ve worked in this type of situation on multiple occasions), and it’s awful for both employee morale and the bottom line.

    Managers should be honest above all else. They shouldn’t tell a customer that a worker who normally is rude isn’t. But they shouldn’t throw a good worker to the wolves either.

  4. Kornkob says:

    It’s easy enough to say ‘we’ll fix it forever’ but it is quite another to do so in a time frame that is going to make people happy.

    Those are all nice goals he talks about but they are far from a real operational guide to home to ‘fix’ customer service.

    I also question whether his methods work in a larger customer base environment. I mean– it’s easy for him to say ‘look– our company is profitable and we do this’ when he’s operating on a scale where he has personal knowledge of and interaction with every individual at the company. Applying those same standards to a company of thousands, with tens of thousands of customer interactions per day is going to come with challenges he’s not facing.

    I also wonder about his customer demographic– all his customers are nice because they aren’t afraid that they won’t be helped? I don’t have that much faith in fellow man, I suppose. People who are stressed say stupid, hurtful things, even to their guardian angels.

  5. hop says:

    @Amy Alkon:

    wow, got any openings??????????

  6. Amy Alkon says:

    Heh heh…thankfully, no! (Don’t take that personally.)

  7. Benny says:

    What about steps for being a good customer? There’s just a lot of bad apples out there who call and its just gets out of hand for no reason.

    Like for example, if you’re calling a call center – minimize distraction. TV, kids, dogs in the background are loud.

    Cell phones also pick up background noise easily and have static. Don’t get mad at me when your cell phone drops the call.

    Be nice. I understand what your going through as a consumer, but I have to follow my companies rules.

    Don’t expect the impossible. If you’re due date was yesterday – no, I cannot change it to a different date.

    I think customer service levels, in some way, also reflect the customer.

  8. I definetely feel that the last point ‘8. Give CSRs a meaningful career path.’ is vital. Most support centers do not offer any sort of career path for their employees.

    bonne has made an excellent point by stating that customer service levels reflect the attitude of the customer.

  9. Fuzzy_duffel_bag says:

    call me cynical, but I feel like #7 will never happen.

  10. Kornkob says:

    @Fuzzy_Duffel_Bag: You know, you’ve got a point. Even if you WANT to put people first (whatever that really means), you hurt all your customers if the company goes belly up. There has to be a balance between giving customers what they want (which is, after all, world class products and services for almost nothing) and maintaining a solvent and healthy organization.