Apply eBay Transaction Model to Customer Service?

One of the principles of the Intelligist Group is the concept of Undiscovered Assets. During the weekly #custserv chat on Twitter hosted this Tuesday by Jeffrey Kingman and Marsha Collier I noticed a heated thread on getting feedback from customers. Here’s an Undiscovered Asset: customer service calls. What’s the value proposition in a customer service call? Feedback? How about continuing the sales process and increasing the level of engagement with your customers?

Before I continue I will note I have no particular knowledge of Dell’s support operations and internal CRM systems. My knowledge is anecdotal based on my calls, and calls by friends and colleagues, but I will use the recent experience of my Intrepid Hero as a launching point to help illustrate how we could possibly access some Undiscovered Assets in the customer service value chain.

Lessons from eBay
A great model for ensuring value in transaction processing is eBay. Both sellers and buyers are rated in the system because eBay recognizes value in both sides of the transaction. For the Buyer, it is important to know that you are dealing with a quality, reputable Seller. Logical. The genius comes on the flip side. Isn’t there value to the Seller to know that he will have a smooth transaction and get paid in a timely fashion? That’s where the Buyer ratings give value back to the Seller.

Every customer service call is a transaction. There is value passed. But does it have to be so one-sided? The typical value proposition for a customer service transaction is:

Customer Service Transaction yields:

(Satisfaction for Customer) + (Goodwill for Company & Potential Future Sales)

This only captures a piece of the yield and the value proposition drops if there is a negative outcome for the customer. So, what if we apply the eBay rating system to the Dell Technical Support ecosystem. Our buyers are the callers and our sellers are the technical support reps.

Ratings System
Suppose part of your Dell purchase process was a self-rating system: Novice, Intermediate, Expert. You can assign them ratings values: Novice = 1, Intermediate=50, Expert=100.  This would become part of your Customer Profile. Now, when you call in, your call can be routed to reps based on your rating.

Example #1 My mother (sorry, Mom)
She is a Novice computer user. She may call once or twice a year. When she calls technical support she needs warm, soft, comfortable guidance through the entire process. You may need to get on her computer, explain rudimentary computer concepts.

Example #2 Fred Fieldtech, MCSE
He is an Expert computer user. He calls in once or twice a week. He’s already done diagnostics and has a fairly good idea of where the problem is. Send him right through to a Level 2 technical support rep. Ship out a part. He’s good to go.

I know I generally ignore the customer satisfaction surveys I receive after many customer service calls. What’s in it for me? Why should I spend my time?

But what if, as in eBay, by responding to the survey I was creating value for myself within the Dell ecosystem?

Now What?
Now, the fun part: ratings. Clearly there’s value to Dell to have customers rate the support reps: better quality control, rep incentives.

Looking back at eBay, we see there’s value for both parties in the transaction to seek positive feedback. The possibilities are interesting. For the customer, in addition to better routing on calls, what else can she get? Higher priority? Customer Loyalty Rewards?

The check on gaming the system is just as you are rating your support rep, so is he rating you! Support reps can upgrade or downgrade your ratings. Result: we’ve created a system where both ends of the customer service transaction have an incentive for a positive outcome AND participation in a quality control loop.

As for Dell, here are some more items they could add to their end of the Customer Service Transaction yield:

  • improve customer satisfaction because they get the right resource solving the customer’s problem faster;
  • save money (same reason);
  • rating system gives incentive to reps to earn positive feedback;
  • create a community of engaged customers with incentive to participate in maintaining the quality in the transaction.
  • get positive feedback. Negative feedback is fairly ubiquitous, but positive feedback…ah…that’s fairly elusive, isn’t it?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. By looking at a customer service call as an asset we can unlock opportunities for cost-savings and higher customer satisfaction which should lead to more sales. There were a lot of really smart people on the #custserv chat. What other Undiscovered Assets are there in the Dell ecosystem? What’s your POV?

  • Vadim Anikanov

    Public rating of customer service agents or tech support reps is crucial. This is a part of my business idea for a social media-based call center.

    Rating the customers is tricky – there is a chance to upset them with a low rating, turning them away from the company/brand before we even have a chance to address their issues. Making customer’s rating score purely internal and confidential is an option, but then it starts to resemble a ‘lifetime value score’ that many of us have in the CRM systems of major companies.

  • I agree it’s tricky. Right now companies are already alienating customers with poor customer service. That’s why I think it’s important to allow customers to “self-rate” when you start. They will eventually find their level.

    Looking forward to see what you come up with.

  • Christopher Mera

    You briefly talked about Gaming the system, but there’s much more to it than a brief mention. Today on eBay the rating system has become a joke of what it was perceived to be in the past. On numerous occassions both ends of the transaction have lied about a fictional transaction that never occurred. The incentive for each party becomes to habitually provide positive feedback to not turn off the customer or seller.

    I’ve seen this happen many times where transactions fell through and a seller will rate you, the auction winner, as a ‘superb a+ buyer’ and in kind the buyer then reports ‘excellent seller.’

    That negates the solution entirely, no?

    Put it this way,
    Dell tech cannot help your Mom, it’s just not working out very well. For whatever reason, as it’s likely to happen as you saw with your Intrepid Hero, your Mom knowing full well there’s ratings at stake and the future of her support rides on it, and the rep knowing full well his incentives are in jeopardy will then partake in an unspoken act of collusion whereby rating each other as valuable, but no solution in sight.

    Is that right?

    • Chris,

      You bring up a valid point about the effectiveness of eBay’s rating system. In my scenario, customer service departments have options that eBay does not. Namely, eBay is an open system. As far as I know eBay does not tamper with ratings or feedback.

      Customer service departments do not need to be as laissez-faire. Their’s is a closed system. The value propositions are dissimilar. The eBay value proposition is creating an open market for goods and services. It’s up to the buyers and sellers to rate each other in an effort to compete for market share.

      The same does NOT exist for a customer service department. The value proposition is about providing quality service and timely resolution of isses. The rating system provides a mechanism to more quickly apply the appropriate resource to solve a problem. And it’s in the interest of the company (Dell, for instance) to “tune” the ratings system — customers AND service reps — to improve the quality of service. For example. there’s no reason Dell can’t downgrade a customer who really isn’t as technically adept as he thinks he is. And the service reps ratings are not used for customers to find the best rep. They would be used by Dell to evaluate the effectiveness of reps.

  • Interesting post, Alan. I keep think of the phrase “each according to his need” – but your point is valid. Having a customer support system that auto-tunes itself is good for both the customer and the vendor.

    Taking it one step further, it could also help identify potential sales reps that aren’t cutting it, or customers that aren’t worth the “value” they bring in sales. I know that is not your intention, but it could be an interesting use of the data that is collected. Just a thought.

    Again you’ve given me something to ponder…


  • Fred,
    I don’t necessarily disagree with the premise of conferring value in the relationship – client or customer service rep. Want to compensate a customer service rep based on his/her rating? Fine. Because the rating is directly related to delivering value to the client.

    The key for me is to align the customer service rep and the client so their goals are congruent.

  • Brianpmulcahy

    Ummmm….Ebay sellers can only leave positive feedback these days; its not a 2 way street. Ebays customer service rating from sellers (the people who actually pay Ebay the fees – it aint the buyers) – comes out at about 6% satisfaction. Yes, 6%. Thats not a typo. Any company whose customer satisfaction is that low is in big, big trouble.

    • Thanks, Brian. It’s tough to create a system that can’t be “gamed” by either party.