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Millennials have turned online Customer Service into a grad student

March 8, 2013

Ever hear of the App mimicking a grad student?  It works only after 2 PM when it feels like it, and the User Experience is based on the principles of ironic detachment.

Many of us have had to swallow hard and beg Facebook or LinkedIn for help via their worm-hole to the recycle bin link, referred to as ‘We want to help you in any way we can’ and ‘contact us’ on LinkedIn and http://www.facebook.com/facebook on Facebook.  Recently, my  run-around with LinkedIn showed me how these massively scaled super-platforms have missed this last link to humanity, and therefore, potentially to future revenue.  Several years ago, a now former employee, well-intentioned, built a company page for our firm, Return on Efficiency, LLC. Trying to update our page for all the good new work we’re doing and have delivered these past years, I went to the page and found he listed only himself as the Administrator.  From LinkedIn’s FAQ’s, I discovered I had to find this person and ask them to add me as an Administrator, even though I’m the senior most Managing Principal of our firm. Obviously, I then searched LinkedIn  only to find he does not have a profile and the phone number on record with us is no longer working.  By this time I figured he’s either retired and living in a hut somewhere nice and warm, or he decided to drop off the grid for some reason I probably don’t want to know.  My remaining option was to contact LinkedIn.

As anyone who has ever tried to contact one of these super-platforms knows, there is no Customer Service/Support phone number or chat capability, only a dead-letter email drop.  After 3 attempts, all with the auto-reply of ‘thank you…’ but no follow through, I went online to see if my experience is unique.  Nope.

If you google ‘LinkedIn Customer Service’, be prepared for pages after pages of screed.  From average scores of 1.4 out of 5 on one site, and similarly low scores from users on others, it’s pretty evident they don’t care.  By digging around the web, you can find their actual phone number, and the name of their SVP Ops, but that listed number goes to a robot without any link to Customer Service or to any particular department, or extension look-up  for that matter.  From what I’ve been seeing on those screed sites, Facebook seems about right there with LinkedIn, scoring 1.8 out of 5 on one site and about the same on several others.  What they do have in common is a paucity of favorable Customer Service reviews.  Just for comparison purposes, I also googled Amazon’s ratings. Not too surprising, Amazon nailed it, 3.7 out of 5, and favorables mostly everywhere all over the web.  They have a real call center, and if you send them an email, you get a response within 12 hours, along the lines of:

Hello, 

If you send an e-mail to our customer service, you will receive a response from one of our representatives within 12 hours.I hope this helps. We look forward to seeing you again soon.Thank you for your inquiry. Did I solve your problem?

If yes, please click here:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/survey?p=A3HMEDA037ZW7H&k=hy

If no, please click here:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/survey?p=A3HMEDA037ZW7H&k=hn

The key is the survey – they want to improve.  Amazon wants you to trust it. Per the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), retailers used to dealing eyeball to eyeball with their customers remain the best at internet customer satisfaction, but Amazon leads all other online only sites with a score of 82.  Facebook and LinkedIn?  61 and 63 respectively, at the back of the pack, and just above MySpace, which is pretty sad.  While they seem to have current monopoly power, higher rated Google+ (78 and #1) is coming on strong in terms of members and integration into other Google products, as well as a less intrusive approach to advertising.  Point is, they better start looking in both their rear view mirrors and Customer Service mailbox as they do sell something – advertising and LinkedIn goes after HR departments for recruiting.  Microsoft taught us people at work remember your name when they go home and buy related products, and these two companies had better improve their service levels fast.

OK, so we have all these indexes, but if I had their membership, would I care?  The answer lays in SaaS metrics. SaaS is all about Monthly Reoccurring Revenues (MRR) or its extrapolation, Annual Contract Value (ACV), Net Churn rates and the Lifetime Value of a Customer (LTV).  In LinkedIn and Facebook’s case, as with a lot of super-platforms, the Lifetime Value of a Customer depends on the customer remaining active over time, driving advertising rates.  If, as Facebook is finding, over 60% of their members take a periodic multi-month hiatus, and LinkedIn is mostly actively used by members when searching for a job and has some pretty dicey information affecting its credibility (which is their ultimate product), then ad rates will suffer.  As we saw with Groupon, when revenue, EBITDA and share price go way down, even CEOs and founders have to answer tough Board level questions.

Bottom line – even for today’s blockbuster sites, the Customer Service function matters.  I’m sure their 50-year-old C-levels get it, but feel insulated from their customers, looking only at Customer Acquisition Costs (near zero) and LTV, as well as revenues.  Their Millennial staffs had better follow Amazon and the online service offered by traditional retailers, and not rely on ironic detachment driving Customer Service functions or those metrics will definitely go upside down as soon as they become just another utility service people use but don’t trust. After all, even today, Facebook only has a 0.05% has a Click Through Rate (CTR) – maybe LinkedIn and Facebook should realize people only have (fungible) long-term relationships with those they trust.

Richard Eichen is the Founder and Managing Principal of Return on Efficiency, LLC, http://www.growroe.com and is one of their senior turnaround leaders/CROs, Program Rescue and Interim Executives with over 25 years’ experience reshaping companies, Operations, IT/Systems Integration and key initiatives. Return on Efficiency, LLC specializes in those companies and initiatives where technology is the primary means of service delivery and revenue creation.  Email his at richard.eichen@growroe.com

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