Customer Service, Good and Bad

I’ve recently had two notable customer service experiences. One was awesome, the other was autrocious. Both are worth sharing as a lesson for businesses that engage in customer service.

The amazing customer service experience I recently had was delivered by Apple’s MobileMe.

For some time I had been experiencing a problem with syncing failures between my desktop iCal calendar and the calendars on the MobileMe web site and my iPhone. I had spent a considerable amount of time self-troubleshooting the problem using Apple’s online support documentation, and I had failed to resolve it. By the time I chose to engage with the chat-based support of MobileMe, I was borderline irate. In fact, I was actively researching alternatives to MobileMe.

It didn’t take the MobileMe support technician, Nicholas C, long to cool me down, however. After he read my brieft rant about all the time I’d spent on the matter already, he replied: “I really appreciate the insight to the issue and im sure we can get this up and running as it should.” As simple a reply as it was, I found it reassuring. He didn’t dismiss my efforts, was able to see past my somewhat rude mannerisms, and he approached the problem with positivity.

Throughout our hour-long session, in fact, Nicholas punctuated our chat with statements like, “Awesome, you’re doing great Andrew,” and, “you did great.” I consider myself an advanced Mac user, and many of the troubleshooting tasks he had me perform were mundane. However, the simple fact that Nicholas was recognizing the time and effort I was investing into the process was satisfying.

Nicholas worked with me through Apple’s online documentation twice, but he was not able to resolve my issue this way either. At this point, I asked him: “should I just cry now? ;-)” He replied: “please no tears, i dont want to give up. This is pretty different though… lease give me a moment to research this for us… I want to see what im missing or waht else can be done”

I like how he recognized that the situation was now unusual, and also that he referred to “us,” recognizing the fact that we were working together on the matter. I’ve never experienced that before during a tech support session. Typically a support technician has difficulty disassociating him or herself from the role as a representative of their employer.  This can lead to adversarial discussions when the technician becomes defensive of the company’s product or service. Instead, Nicholas adopted a tone of advocacy, and that had a tremendous reassuring effect on me.

In fact, despite the fact that this technical problem with MobileMe was consuming a tremendous amount of my time, Nicholas’ ability to openly recognize my interests and communicate a commitment to collaboratively resolving my problems overcame my anger at the technical failure of the MobileMe service itself. And by creatively problem-solving with me, effectively reaching a resolution, my chagrin was turned to gratitude and I left our session with a renewed faith in the MobileMe service.

Nicholas closed our chat session by saying, “i really appreciate your patience working with me,” and I believe he honestly meant it.

Now compare that to an abysmal customer service experience I recently received from the web business services company, Business Catalyst (aka Good Barry).

In a nutshell, a variety of company representatives including several members of the executive team, stonewalled my efforts at communication for over 7 weeks. I won’t go into great detail on this matter, but suffice to say that I was attempting to rectify a minor billing matter with the account of a not-for-profit client. For some reason, however, the accounts team, the sales team, and the executive team opted to completely ignore my repeated email and Twitter requests for assistance.

When I finally announced my client’s departure from the Good Barry hosting environment as a result of the poor customer service I’d received, one of their team invited me to email him regarding the issue. I did. Not surprisingly, he failed to respond.

I finally received an email with a resolution to my problem the other day — a full two months after I’d first made a request regarding it. There was no apology for the delay, no recognition of the tremendous amount of time that I’d invested in seeking to have a simple matter dealt with; just a simple email with an explanation of the action that had been taken.

Ironically, Business Catalyst provides a suite of web-based tools that promise to enhance customer service for online businesses. My experience suggests that more than software is required for a positive outcome to a customer’s concerns. More valuable are people within an organization who take a genuine interest in them.

With MobileMe, I started my customer service experience ready to move on. Thanks to Nicholas, my commitment to MobileMe is instead renewed (as will be my account later this year).

Back in January when I began my efforts to resolve my issue with Business Catalyst, I had lined up several clients to subscribe to their service and was on the verge of investing in the company as a resale partner. I’ve since placed those clients elsewhere and am now sworn off dealing with this company in any manner at all.

When I deal with clients, I act transparently and place their interests ahead of my own in the relationship. Clients and customers are the reason for any business’ existence, and it’s absolutely important that they remain satisfied with the business’ service, feel recognized, respected, and compelled to maintain the relationship.

Apple recently made me feel valuable and wanted while Business Catalyst silently expressed a preference to have me go away. I hope that me own efforts in customer service fall on the former end of that effect spectrum and never the latter.

9 thoughts on “Customer Service, Good and Bad

  1. Nope, didn’t get your email. BTW, I’m the designer at GoodBarry, not customer support. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t reply your email after I’ve given you my private work email and asked you to email me.

    “For some reason, however, the accounts team, the sales team, and the executive team opted to completely ignore my repeated email and Twitter requests for assistance.”

    I had a look at all of your tweets, I couldn’t find any Twitter requests either, who was it directed to? I am as baffled as you.

    Out of thousands of customers we have you seem to be the only person who hasn’t gotten a reply from our accounts team, sales team, executive team and me. You deserve better Andrew and I’m sorry you had to go through this.

    • Larz,

      for your reference, here’s a quick log of emails I delivered (dropping the domain name, of course, for spam’s sake):

      Jan 23 > accounts
      Feb 18 > cfrost
      Feb 27 > accounts
      Mar 5 > accounts
      Mar 6 > accounts
      Mar 16 > bhousman, abroadway, cfrost, bwelch, echan, brettw,
      Mar 17 > accounts
      Mar 18 > accounts
      Mar 23 > accounts
      Mar 24 > accounts
      Mar 25 > larz
      Mar 24 > support

      On March 24 I finally received a response from accounts. Up until that date I didn’t receive any response to any message I sent out.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    First of all, let me apologize! It must be incredibly frustrating to feel that we’ve been stonewalling you. This isn’t the case, but after investigating this issue with our various teams (we take this sort of thing very seriously) I think I understand what has happened.
    First up Larz sending me a note basically saying “what the hell happened here”, and pointing me to your blog post. This set alarm bells ringing for me, because our support team always replies, and 99.99% of the time within our 8 business hour SLA. There has been a few hiccups over the past couple of months but we’ve addressed this by adding new support staff.
    Our accounts team also abides by the same SLA, and again, there’s just no way we could miss a large number of emails.
    Finally, Bardia, Colin, Adam and myself are all very receptive to our customers and we would never ever-ever-ever-ever enmasse ignore an email from anyone.
    So I asked our support and account managers to trawl through their inboxes. At the same time, Bardia and I both searched our email archives for anything from you, and we all, unanimously, found nothing.
    The only thing we did find is cases you submitted through web forms on our system, and forum posts etc – which had all be answered according to our records.
    From the look of it, your emails were bouncing due to the fact that our mail server implements grey listing.
    Grey listing essentially forces each mail server that is sending email to us to wait, then resend in a few minutes. This results in a significant reduction in Spam, and all correctly configured mail servers should be able to deal with greylisting and successfully deliver email.
    Greylisting does, however, affect those who’s mail servers have a special or incorrect configuration not to retry sending an email. It also prevents mass-mailing bots from flooding you with email.
    Here is an article on the subject:

    A recent support form (24-March) sent to us has shown that you may have realised there was some issue with spam filters preventing you from sending us emails. This was almost the case at hand, but it isn’t spam filters per se, but a protocol level protection. We replied to that and it looks like you received that email successfully, since you responded.
    To summarize, it seems that our implementation of greylisting and your mail server don’t like each other. I’m not an expert so I can’t comment as to whether your mailserver is correctly configured, but I have passed on this case to our systems team so that they can investigate to ensure there are no errors with our implementation of grey-listing.
    I hope this explains why you’ve had such a poor experience with us. I’m quite saddened that we’ve been unable to help you and that you’ve left us with such a sour taste in your mouth.
    As a result of this, I’m going to talk to our accounts team and support team about the possibility of turning grey listing off, at least for those two integral accounts. We do not want this sort of experience repeated for another customer, even if it may mean some marginal increase in spam to those accounts.

    Thanks for bringing this potential issue to our attention Andrew, and apologies again.


    • Hi Brett,

      I use’s Zimbra hosting service for email ( I’ll enquire with them regarding their support for greylisting.

      An interesting methodology, this greylisting. I’ve never heard of it before. Seems to carry a degree of risk, however, that seems to have no opportunity for mitigation. How can you be sure I’m this only one affected?

      I’ll reply via email regarding’s response to the matter.

      Thanks for taking the time to respond to the matter here.

  3. Pingback: It’s Not Bad Customer Service, It’s Bad Technology « bad robot

  4. Hi Andrew,
    You mentioned above that you have placed your clients with other companies besides GoodBarry – do you mind me asking who? I’m aware of Shopify, but would be interested if you know of others that offer similar services.


  5. Pingback: Not-So-Good At Customer Service, Barry

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