Saturday, July 18, 2009

Can we trust customer service?

I recently did some business with a British publisher who offered me a choice of £50 ($80) or a book up to £150 in value as compensation. I don’t often buy books that cost more than $80, so I figured I should take the cash. But just in case, I contacted my bank (Wachovia) to see what the service fee would be to deposit a check in pounds. They told me that as long as the currency of the bank matched its nationality (both are British), then there is no extra fee. I knew they would hit me on the conversion rate, but cash still gave me the best deal. So I took the cash.

This morning, I went to the bank to deposit the check (first time I used a human teller in years!!). The teller told me that because it was a foreign check, it had to go to collections. This has a $75 fee and a week or two delay. And given the conversion rate hit of 7 cents/pound, I would only get $3. Needless to say, I was a bit angry. For $3, I would taken the book. Or I would not have done the work in the first place.

Given enough complaining, any major company will waive a fee like this, so I got to keep the $78. But I have now lost faith that contacting customer service to check on fees in advance works. If people want to sign up for a credit card, get a loan, or whatever, how can you make good decisions if you can’t trust the information they give you? Do I need to get official letters on company letterhead signed by the “VP of whatever” every time I want to engage in some kind of transaction? Just the frictional costs of this requirement could add up to a real pain.

Has anyone else experienced something like this, or is it rare?

Can we trust reviews and ratings??

I am reading a book on applying brain science to management. I am only on chapter 3, but so far the book really stinks. I will write a review to warn you about it somewhere else. The topic of my post today is on social networking and reputation management systems (ratings and reviews).

The book got some fantastic reviews from brain scientists who seem to have good credentials. Maybe they liked the book, but so far it’s such a trivialization and oversimplification of brain science I just can’t imagine they did. Could they have done it for the social networking benefits – getting their reviews out there and read? Is this so valuable that it would be worth exaggerating the value of the content you are reviewing – especially since most readers probably don’t know enough about brain science to realize how bad the book really is? Here’s a paradox – if writing reviews is valuable in and of itself, we may not be able to trust them because people will be writing them just to get the reviews listed. And when reading reviews isn’t valuable anymore, writing them will not be either. So the more we value reviews now, the less we will be able to use them in the future.

Here is another reputation management question. The book references some of the world’s leading brain science researchers. But these are not the people whose reviews are shown. If they were, I think I would be second guessing my own opinion instead of the reviewer’s honesty. How do we judge the quality of a reviewer? Are rate the rater systems (e.g. 90% of customers rate this reviewer’s reviews as 4 or 5 stars) helpful? Or do you want to see a bio (maybe not for reviewing music, but for technology?)?

I am starting a research project to look into these questions, so any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.