Elsewhere: Acting Like Rank Amateurs

On Monday, over on the uk-netmarketing mailing list, Stefan asked, “Why do people seem to think it’s acceptable to act like rank amateurs just because it’s online?” It’s a question that increasingly comes up as we’re looking to develop service models for a digital businesses. I’ve been recently asking similar questions both of our ability to serve our customers and of those that service my little piece of business. Technology on its own can not create great customer service; those of us involved in designing and managing that technology have to start with a customer centric view. Nonetheless, technology should be able to help us deliver better service. I posted a response yesterday:

I’m not sure I’d use the phrase “rank amateurs” but poor service still common in many parts of our industry despite the fact most pitches tell the client how an online presence can help with customer service.

And it’s not just customer service. It’s the service levels we give each other.

You buy a service – be that hosting, mailing list management, stats crunching, ad delivery, product fulfillment, whatever – and in a high number of cases you get plenty of promises and in reality a 9-5 service. Something goes wrong outside those hours and there’s an excuse. And I suspect many of us are guilty.

I used to work in another media environment where 24 hour operation was also the norm. And if something went wrong at 2 in the morning somebody was available – or at least on call – to fix it. In the 3 years I was there we never had a 100% service failure for more than about 2 minutes. Sure, sometimes small elements failed but tried and tested monitoring procedures provided backup so that the customer got 70% of the service.

I find this is not the case with online media. Servers go down at 2 on a Sunday afternoon and it isn’t easy to get somebody in to fix them. Pipe to ISP fails. Sorry they’re in a meeting? Somebody messed up the DNS records last night? Can it wait until Monday? (All 3 responses happened to me in the last 2 weeks) Where’s the backup & redundancy that’s in the initial sales pitch? I find the concept of a Service Level Agreement pretty hard to swallow – I accept things go wrong and I’m not in the game of trying to get compensation for every second over the agreed levels that the service isn’t delivered. However I’m slowly turning that way as it appears to me the only solution to some basic failures where I believe there should be redundant systems etc.

Now it isn’t everybody and as there are more and more online only or online centric businesses then it will get better but there seems to me a great reluctance to accept we need the professional service levels other media already have.

Am I alone with this view/experience?


I genuinely believe we are in a place to change customer service using the web technologies for our customers but we must not forget the service we provide each other. The novelty, if I can use that word, of web-based service delivery should not be excuse for forgetting the lessons learnt elsewhere. If you service sucks your customers will, eventually, go to somebody else.

Update August 2009: Almost ten years since I wrote this and I’ve found it archived online by the good folks at Chinwag.