Large Scale Customer Support is Broken

Recently, during the sadistic ritual known as “taxes,” I was forced to contact American Express’ customer support. First, I must commend them on using Twitter as a medium. They’re responsive and personable, and I did in fact get an answer quickly. However, the fact that Twitter has become a “decent” medium for customer support is an indication of a systemic problem in large-scale customer support.



In a nutshell: not all support requests are equal. Some (most?) customers are dumb. In most cases, I’m one of those dumb customers. But, occasionally, there is a smart request.


Case in point: American Express’ site has a glaring bug. There’s a redirect loop on the login system:


Oh noes!

Oh noes!


This is not a client-side problem, yet the AmEx support wanted me to try a different browser. Of course, I had the same issue. Ultimately, I found a way around the problem myself.

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So, the problem is this: “smart” requests should get routed to the right people to handle them. If the customer support industry were done right in general, the above screenshot would have been in front of the eyes of a network admin in 5 minutes flat. As it stands, I have no idea if AmEx even knows that there’s a problem with their servers.


In this case, it’s not a big deal, since I found a way around the problem. Yet, at large, there is essentially only “one tier” of support. A big company has its support staff, who deal with customers, and then they have the tech staff, who are shielded from the customers. The fact is, there are many types of problems, and in an ideal world, problems could be sorted by validity and routed to people actually equipped to solve them (or, at least, acknowledge that there is a problem).


How many times have you used a web service where it seems like the customer support’s role is to say “oh, try this” instead of fixing what is really a problem on their end? On the other hand, I acknowledge that many times it IS the user making a mistake.


Clearly, it is not an easy problem to solve, otherwise it would have been addressed already. There are plenty of companies (ZenDesk, GetSatisfaction, etc.) trying to solve the problem of support transparency, yet none have cracked this nut, as far as I’m concerned.

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