The strength of a monopoly can be guessed at by calling customer support

If you were an alien hovering above planet earth on a quick visit and trying to find out quickly which were its most dominant companies, you could probably do worse than try to reach their customer support representatives with some test queries. One who does not need to worry about losing customers does not need to worry about supporting them either. Just a few from my recent personal experience:

Google Ads (formerly Adwords): terrible support from an inexperienced foreign support center – if you’re in the USA. I’ve heard it’s not too bad in some other regions where they’re presumably more concerned about customer acquisition. Strangely enough, these particular support reps are very confident in the quality of their answers.

Facebook Ads: these days they seem particularly fond of inserting greenhorns into the ranks, who generally know way less than the customer asking the questions, but have no hesitation about making up stuff on the fly.

Amazon (the consumer site, not AWS): used to be known for legendary support in the early days. Increasingly difficult to find out how to reach them now. Link gets buried deeper and deeper in their site as time goes on, and they’re more likely to require a return if there’s a problem with even a small order. Also, this is new: http://time.com/money/5288702/amazon-return-policy-ban/

Comcast: the less said about those guys, the better really.

AT&T: see Comcast.

The IRS… threw this one in just for fun. Try calling their customer support line with any question more complex than when is the next estimated tax deadline.

Conversely, companies scrambling to gain market share from incumbents tend to have outstanding customer support. Common examples of this are startups doing things that don’t scale, where routine customer support questions are often thoroughly answered by a founder, even at odd weekend hours. But you’ll find much larger companies behaving similarly, in all kinds of industries, so long, it seems, as there are obvious competitors which prevent them from establishing monopoly positions. Uline is one which readily comes to mind if you’re involved with ecommerce… their customer support is ridiculously responsive. There are plenty of places you can buy corrugated boxes after all…

Once a monopoly position is established, all bets seem to be off. The temptation to tweak with all cost centers to see what exactly affects the bottom line and what doesn’t seems to be too much for those in the C-suite to resist, and customer support seems to get it every time.

11 Comments »

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    September 16, 2018 @ 8:55 pm

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  4. Steve Bennett

    September 16, 2018 @ 11:11 pm

    4

    Interestingly, the ATO (Australia’s equivalent of the IRS) has probably the best customer support of any service I’ve ever used other than my current ISP. Super knowledgeable, patient, and give really good quality answers.

  5. pascal

    September 16, 2018 @ 11:24 pm

    5

    This is so true! I wish more people understood this.

  6. Hashim Warren

    September 17, 2018 @ 1:03 am

    6

    You’re absolutely right about Google Ads.

    The worst part is I can’t convince them to take a deeper look at my account and go beyond “raise your bids” and “give it more time”

  7. Antony Brooke-Wood

    September 17, 2018 @ 3:30 am

    7

    @steve I was just thinking the same thing to be honest. The ATO is surprisingly good. Aside from that the hypothesis seems pretty accurate.

  8. Yoni

    September 17, 2018 @ 4:35 am

    8

    How true never considered this perspective. Yet more and more starting to the see this across multiple sectors.

    Samsung is essentially starting to subside smartphone sales, through enhanced kickbacks for Bogo sales and trade-ins as well promotions. Yet faulty parts and lack of warranty support or honoring warranties on appliances.

    Yet dealing with outsourced CS with long holds for chat or phone calls, paired with canned insincere platitudes of flowcharted faux-polgies repeated soft often in repetition that interactions with CS staff ends ups with a bad taste in ones mouth – but Samsung doesn’t have a de facto monopoly -the only money I”ve contributed to Apple was $19 for a copy of I think Snow Leopard – I had planned on dual booting a desktop PC/Hackintosh. That said -my understanding is that Apple has above average CS.
    I recently pre-ordered the Note 9 and have been left with such a negative experience that I’m on the fence of ever purchasing another Samsung product and I’ve spent over five figures on flagships and appliances/home theater from Samsung over the past 18 months.

    I will say I’m against the Sprint/T-mo M&A and look forward to 5G for the increased options and can finally shed the Comcast shackles on HSI.

    Thank you for this insightful blog post.

  9. Billy

    September 17, 2018 @ 7:05 am

    9

    I used to work for AT&T customer service and totally agree with your post! AT&T cares very little about what customers want or need and a lot about their bottom line. They told us to never give customers credits because customers don’t actually want credits.

  10. Geoff

    September 18, 2018 @ 11:50 am

    10

    Peachtree support takes the cake. Chat only support, with 16 hour wait times. When picking between their monopoly or Quickbooks, Quickbooks wins.

  11. Weekly Links & Thoughts #186 | meshedsociety.com

    September 19, 2018 @ 4:41 pm

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    […] The strength of a monopoly can be guessed at by calling customer support  blogs.harvard.edu, 2 minutes) Intriguing point. […]

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