Customer service is marketing

Before buying anything these days, customers are able to find out all kinds of things about your products and your company- with a simple Google search. For many, the first place they may look is a review site- Amazon for general merchandise, B & H Photo and Video for photography gear, or user forums- either run by your company or by your fans.

There are also review sites that are independent, offering testing and evaluation of your product that will tell you more about your product than you probably ever want to know. In photography- you can go to:

I own and ride a BMW motorcycle. Invariably, I find lots of good information about outfitting, repairing, or general knowledge about my bike on the BMW forums- which aren’t run by BMW-

Where you can find information from people “just like you” who have the same questions.

All those searches, all those clicks, all those links- which could help the BMW brand grow its brand reach, are on sites where BMW doesn’t have any control.

You know the old adage, a happy customer tells a few people, an unhappy customer tells everyone? Well, it’s your job as the Chief Marketing Officer of your company to make a decision- do I spend more money on ads talking about how great we are, or do I spend that money making sure our existing customers are super happy and only telling a few?

Even though we’re in the business of making ads- we’re going to tell you that great customer service stories out perform any ad. Making ads about customer service stories only resonate if every customer gets that kind of level of satisfaction when they have a complaint/problem/issue with your product.

Cover image of Tom Peters The Pursuit of Wow!

Tom Peters was into Wow! A long time before the Internet made it so easy to share experiences

Some businesses have distinguished themselves with outstanding customer service. Zappo’s is one example. They focus on creating “Wow” experiences. Don’t believe me- google it: zappos customer service stories. But don’t think they were the first to come up with this, Tom Peters wrote “The Pursuit of Wow!” back in 1994.

We’ve run into clients who don’t want to run a forum on their site to respond to customer issues. “We don’t have time for that” is what they say, yet, when they get call after call about the same issue- they may put up a lame-o FAQ or write a blog post, but only after the 10th call.

Forums are easier to manage than ever, as well as running great help desk type software. The difference between the two is who is answering the questions- on a forum, your fans and customers can work with other customers, while a help desk means you will be running it. We strongly believe that the investment in a well moderated forum is as critical as any large ad campaign. Customers will find out about your arcane policy on battery replacement, or that your manual has a problem on page 37 a lot faster than your staff will.

Smart companies don’t implement “social listening” without having a well supported customer service department to work through the problems. We often find the people involved in social monitoring to be more responsive than those in traditional “customer service” positions. The social media amplification factor of dissatisfaction is and can be deadly. Dell Computer learned this early on in the age of the web when Jeff Jarvis blogged about his customer service nightmare- which he called “Dell Hell” and it blew up online.

Here’s some advertising advice- go Google your products, and problems, and see where you end up? If it’s not on your own site that you manage, get to work. If you need help, you can call us.


If you are wondering how to build brand loyalty, increase market share, improve customer satisfaction, don’t do it the HP way.

Besides having an utterly useless, overly complex website, an arcane product naming system, and a penchant for dividing up products into categories that make no sense (what is the real difference between a desktop computer for home or business?)- they absolutely don’t get customer service and support.

I’m writing this while listening to an endless loop that is about 6 minutes long- this is after I paid $39 for “support.”

Frankly, no amount of advertising can make up for a horrible support experience. Instead of paying your CEO big bucks, shareholders should demand that HP hire enough support people to handle a call in less than 2 hours (yep, that’s how long I’ve been waiting).

If you’re wondering how much HP is paying current wunderCEOkind - here is an article about his original salary package:

Incoming Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd will get a $2 million signing bonus and a $1.4 million salary for taking the helm at HP, but he stands to make far more if he can successfully boost the company’s flagging share price.

According to documents filed late Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, HP’s new CEO will receive 700,000 HP stock options and stand to earn tens of millions of dollars more as part of short-term and long-term bonus programs. The options will vest over a four-year period.

The 48-year-old executive will be given an additional 400,000 stock options and 450,000 shares of restricted stock to make up for the equity compensation he gave up when leaving NCR. The stock will vest over three years. The restricted shares alone have a value of more than $8 million.

Hurd, who became NCR’s top executive in March 2003, took home roughly $2 million in salary and bonuses last year at NCR, up from about $1.5 million the prior year, according to NCR’s most recent proxy statement.

Hurd will also be given a $2.75 million “relocation allowance” in moving from NCR’s Dayton, Ohio, headquarters.

Hefty pay package for HP’s new CEO - CNET News.

Note, when calling Apple for enterprise support for an XServe, the longest hold time was 5 minutes. They offered a call back service, and the hold music- it was contemporary, great music- further showing that the brand is hip, cool and someone I’d prefer to do business with.

What’s even worse is I’ve already identified my problem as a bad HP jetdirect card, model 615n, that has an extended warranty. It would have been cheaper for HP to immediately look up the issue on their own site, admit, they’ve failed, and send the card than put me through this hell. The $10,000 printer that I bought is just over three years old. HP has been sending me marketing materials to try to get me to trade in and up to their new model. After this experience, I’d be hard pressed to buy HP ever again, even though I’d been generally happy with this product previously.

If Mark Hurd wants to boost the share price, he needs to make sure people have good reason to buy HP products. No sales, mean no profits. Investments in technical and customer support help stop people from writing their horror stories online for all to see. Mark, consider taking a pay cut- or try answering your phones for an hour a day.

[UPDATE] 9:35 am next day- STILL ON HOLD- but, they are still sorry I’ve been waiting and will be with me as soon as possible.

[UPDATE] 19.5 hours - same loop- have used the contact form for Mark Hurd, CEO at HP. Of course, after filling out my details- they still call me a “valued customer” instead of simply personalizing using my name. Still on hold. Their products must really suck if the call volumes are that large.
[UPDATE] 10:40 called on another line- have been assured I’ll be connected to a support technician. Hung up the other call- losing my place in the queue, but, we need to actually take calls in the office. At least this is music only on the hold loop.

[UPDATE] 11:38- after another hour on the phone, they determined what I already knew- the Jetdirect 615n was at fault. However, the “extension” of 5 years for the warranty ended on Oct. 31, 2008 (even though I’d only had the printer 3 years)- and that they would be happy to sell me a new card at the discounted price of $209 if I return the defective 615n. A quick google search found it at for less than $139 with overnight shipping. Of course, I could have taken this route yesterday if HP had answered their phones.

If buying an HP product, consider the horrible customer service and really worthless website that comes with their products. Apple shines in comparison.

Maybe my next large format printer will be an Epson.