Customer Service is the New Marketing

Official synopsis on Customer Service is the New Marketing

Panelists (from left to right)

Thor Muller   Managing Dir,   Satisfaction Unlimited (moderator)
Tony Hsieh   CEO,
Nick Wilder   Principal,   30 Boxes
Heather Champ   Community Mgr,   Flickr


  • If customers like you, they could be your best advocates.
  • Don’t always try to maximise the bottomline.
  • Hsieh: If someone have the best technical services, but does not fit into a culture of customer service, we don’t hire him.
  • You can admit your mistakes to users.  This point was emphasised by at least 2 of the panellists.
  • Using forums, 50% of problems are resolved by customers.
  • Champ: Flickr’s core values are “helpful, authoritative, human, friendly, inclusive, transparent, honest, funny and clear”. They also have 3 forums.
  • I had no idea why the panellists were speaking so softly – as though they didn’t want to wake us up. Then Champ shows us a message she sticks on her laptop, above the touch pad: ‘Soft, friendly tone of voice.’ That reminds her to provide good customer service.
  • Champ: Once when Flickr went down, we did away with the standard ‘Flick is having a message’ statement and had a colouring contest instead. The submissions were so good that we gave away 14 pro accounts.
  • Hsieh: When we make a mistake, we empower individual customer reps to use their judgment to make things right.
  • Hsieh: Once we sent the wrong pair of shoes to the same customer 3 times! (audience moans) We gave her the shoes for free, sent her flowers and personally called to apologise to her.
  • Wilder: Sometimes our most serious problems create the most serious fans.
  • How do they deal with crazy customers? Champ reminds herself not to get angry. Take some time to cool off.


1. This is more of an anecdote. A member of the audience works for a nonprofit dealing with abolishing slavery. He was speaking to a Zappos customer service rep who realised she donates to this nonprofit. She asked more about his company and donated again to his organisation.

2. How did you develop your cancellation policies amid this culture of great customer service?

Champ: we have a delete button for Flickr accounts but we don’t give refunds. Remember the story of how a customer tried to cancel an AOL account? They shouldn’t be forced to go through so many hoops.

3. How many man hours do you spend on customer service?

Wilder: I let the forums build up for 3-5 days unless it’s something urgent, then I take care of it. It’s only 6 hours a week. I feel people should get engineers involved in this.

4. It’s good to have great customer service but how do you treat your own employees properly?

Hsien: We give full medical, full dental, free lunch every day. It’s not cheap. What you don’t want are people who join our call centre but leave after 3 months. But we invest so much in customer service that we can’t beat the discount sites.

Overall rating: 3/5. Some people seemed to love this panel. However I felt that some of the points were pretty obvious and general. It got more interesting towards the end when they shared more specific policies with us.
Technorati Tags: SXSW, SXSW Interactive


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