Above All, Be Honest with Your Customer

Paul Saffo is a forecaster and essayist with over two decades experience exploring long-term technological change and its practical impact on business and society. He teaches at Stanford University and is a Visiting Scholar in the Stanford Media X research network.

He was the founding chairman of the Samsung Science Board and serves on a variety of other boards including the Long Now Foundation, the Singapore National Research Foundation Science Advisory Board, and the Pax Group. He has served as an advisor and Forum Fellow to the World Economic Forum since 1997.

He is a columnist for ABCNews.com, and his essays have appeared in numerous publications including The Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Wired, The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. He is a Fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, and holds degrees from Harvard College, Cambridge University and Stanford University.

  • Transcript


Topic: Creating Value for the Customer


Paul Saffo: The important thing about customer service in an age of the web and the internet is above all, be honest and make expectations realistic. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Don’t let your enthusiasm for your company claim that service is better than it is.

Take a company like Amazon. You cannot reach a human being at Amazon. Well you can but it’s very, very hard. And yet everybody is very happy with Amazon’s customer service because Amazon makes it really clear. If you have a problem, send us an email. They don’t promise that you’ll be able to reach a human operator. They do exactly what they say, and that is talk to us by email.

I think the most important thing that a company can do, not just in the customer space but the employee space, is to be completely open and completely honest. Don’t pretend that you’re doing something that you can not do.

There’s an old saying in Silicon Valley, “It’s not a bug. It’s a feature.” And so a lot of companies say, “Gosh, you know, we can’t talk to our customers. We can’t interact with them properly.” That’s really a problem. Well, that may be a feature. Your customers may in fact not want to interact with you, and if you’re just upfront with customers that you can’t interact with them, they will handle their own customer service.


Conducted on: June 18, 2009.