The strength of a monopoly can be guessed at by calling customer support


Published by Alex Bugeja on January 9th, 2019 3:38pm.




If you were an alien hovering above planet earth on a quick visit and trying to find out quickly which were its most dominant companies, you could probably do worse than try to reach their customer support representatives with some test queries. One who does not need to worry about losing customers does not need to worry about supporting them either. Just a few from my recent personal experience:

Google Ads (formerly Adwords): terrible support from an inexperienced foreign support center — if you’re in the USA. I’ve heard it’s not too bad in some other regions where they’re presumably more concerned about customer acquisition. Strangely enough, these particular support reps are very confident in the quality of their answers.

Facebook Ads: these days they seem particularly fond of inserting greenhorns into the ranks, who generally know way less than the customer asking the questions, but have no hesitation about making up stuff on the fly.

Amazon (the consumer site, not AWS): used to be known for legendary support in the early days. Increasingly difficult to find out how to reach them now. Link gets buried deeper and deeper in their site as time goes on, and they’re more likely to require a return if there’s a problem with even a small order. Also, this is new: http://time.com/money/5288702/amazon-return-policy-ban/

Comcast: the less said about those guys, the better really.

AT&T: see Comcast.

The IRS… threw this one in just for fun. Try calling their customer support line with any question more complex than when is the next estimated tax deadline.

Conversely, companies scrambling to gain market share from incumbents tend to have outstanding customer support. Common examples of this are startups doing things that don’t scale, where routine customer support questions are often thoroughly answered by a founder, even at odd weekend hours. But you’ll find much larger companies behaving similarly, in all kinds of industries, so long, it seems, as there are obvious competitors which prevent them from establishing monopoly positions. Uline is one which readily comes to mind if you’re involved with ecommerce… their customer support is ridiculously responsive. There are plenty of places you can buy corrugated boxes after all…

Once a monopoly position is established, all bets seem to be off. The temptation to tweak with all cost centers to see what exactly affects the bottom line and what doesn’t seems to be too much for those in the C-suite to resist, and customer support seems to get it every time.


Originally published at blogs.harvard.edu on September 16, 2018.