Silicon-based versus carbon-based customer service

Recently my iMod* stopped working. And as it was expensive and modified in the US I wasn’t too comfortable giving it to just anybody to fix.  So I asked around and the iPod Surgery  was recommended.

[ *iPod with internal electronics replaced with hifi components by RedWine Audio – yes I am a hifi nerd  – but the sound quality is fantastic. ]

I went to their site which seemed pretty self explanatory.  I found the model of my iPod and selected “Not sure what is wrong with it” and “Please send me pre-paid box”.  I paid my money via credit card on the website and received and email from a chirpy, enthusiast chap called Nano Norm telling me the pack was on its way. A few days later the packaging arrived, complete with instructions and postal bag.

So far, so good.  All achieved without talking to anyone.  I sent off the iPod and waited.

I then got an email another email from Nano Norm telling me my iMod had arrived but was “resting to get its strength up before the surgery tomorrow”.

Over the next couple of days I got updates on my iMod. Apparently he’d “pulled through” but needed a new battery and I authorized this online. The next day I heard that “the little fella is right as rain, but it resting before he travel back to you”.

Now we both know that Nano Norm is a jpeg and silicon-based and so is my iMod, and that I am carbon-based life form. But we all seemed to get along and communicate pretty well.

Great customer service – but how?

My iMod arrived back with me and I am very happy.  Which got me thinking.  Why is Nano Norm so good at customer service? What are his philosophies and how do they differ from those who offer poor customer service?

Ian: What’s your customer service philosophy?

Nano Norm: Well, we are called iPod Surgery, so we thought we’d treat every iPod and iPhone as though they were coming into surgery.  Loved ones (owners) are naturally concerned about the surgery, so we need to keep them informed.

Ian: So how do you achieve this?

Nano Norm: The entire end to end process needs to be understood so that nothing falls through the gaps. We looked at every possible route through the process and anticipated the problems.  And also we identified when I’d need help for exceptions. Sounds daunting, but it is critically important and doesn’t actually take that long. That gave us the customer touch points.

Ian: Sounds easy to do, so why do others fail

Nano Norm: I have dealt with other organizations who have only really understood and optimized only certain parts of the process but the rest is awful. Or maybe they have outsourced critical elements to save money. The secret to success is in getting the entire process to work smoothly. Often it is the handoffs between process steps are the points of failure.

Ian: So you’ve mapped your processes and customer journeys. Then what?

Nano Norm: Then I got to add my level of humor and personality into the emails we send to customers at each of the critical touch points. The emails are to give the customer information, but it gives them confidence and that massively increases repeat business and referrals.

Ian: Does it always work?

Nano Norm: Sometimes the iPod dies on the operating table. But if we’ve kept the customer informed each step of the way, then we normally have a short period of grief but a satisfied customer. We also get people to pay for the most reliable postal service to eliminate problems there.

Ian: Any final thoughts

Nano Norm: Yes. I am silicon based. I don’t get bored. I don’t get sick. I just do the same thing again and again and again, relentlessly. You could say I am boring but dependable. But they’ve given me a sense of humor.  Which means that on every aspect I am better than most carbon-based life forms in customer service.

Ian: Fascinating. Thanks for spending time with me

Nano Norm: You do realize I am not real don’t you?

So what can we learn from this?

Great customer service comes from some simple things done well, but with a strong process foundation.

–       A clear understanding of the end to end processes

–       A view of every possible customer path through those processes

–       A clear view of key customer touch points

–       Reducing the risks from 3rd parties

Finally, business is too serious. Injecting some personality into these faceless call routing systems, automated emails, and self service websites can massively improve customer experience. If you do things well, then humour makes you stand out. If you regularly get things wrong, the humor makes you seem like a clown. You can’t cover up a poor service with a great personality.

So who wins – Carbon or Silicon?

Give me Nano Norm any day over a disenfranchised call center operator battling with poor corporate processes.


Tags: , ,

Categories: Customer Service, Information Technology

Author:Ian Gotts

Founder of, tech advisor, investor, speaker and author. Runs on Duracell. Based in San Francisco and in a 747., is the business analysis app designed to support Salesforce #AwesomeAdmins. 100% cloud, it is tightly integrated into Salesforce. Use the free core capabilities to capture business processes and embed them inside objects, with single sign-on.

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5 Comments on “Silicon-based versus carbon-based customer service”

  1. September 20, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    Ian, this is an issue with lots of passion behind it. Some folks want the live operator, some want the efficiency of the machine. I suspect that cost, accuracy and changing expectations will move us heavily toward automated service.

    At the same time, where the value of personal service is high (loyalty programs and the best customers), the human being will persist.

  2. September 20, 2012 at 9:52 am #

    Chris – Agreed. But Nano felt like a human in terms of the interaction because of the clear process thinking that went behind the service. Admittedly it is a fairly simple process – but then again so is a courier company; pick parcel up and deliver it. And how many ways do courier companies screw that up?

  3. Larry Mann
    September 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    At times like this, I can only offer my thoughts and prayers, and as a fellow carbon based life form, I can only suggest that you focus on the good times you had with your iMod.

  4. Max
    September 20, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    The key is in “The entire end to end process needs to be understood so that nothing falls through the gaps. We looked at every possible route through the process and anticipated the problems. And also we identified when I’d need help for exceptions.” The rest are more about giving the silicon face a touch up with a carbon based feeling.

    Most businesses only focus on the happy path and ignore the other paths.


  1. Process comes before a smile In customer service | Successful Workplace - January 3, 2013

    […] Gotts wrote a very insightful piece here titled “Silicon-based versus carbon-based customer service” citing an excellent example of how a well thought-out customer service process can be executed […]

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