Customer service

Every so often, perhaps once every few months, I’ll get a call at my desk from a Yahoo! customer who has dialed the company switchboard and then punched in a random extension in the hopes of reaching a human who can help them with a problem.

In a perfect world, this would be a reasonable strategy. In a perfect world, I would know everything about every Yahoo! product, I would be able to help this poor desperate customer, and then maybe they would tell their friends what a great company Yahoo! is because they randomly dialed a developer who was happy to give them the help they needed.

Unfortunately, the world is not perfect and I don’t know everything about every Yahoo! product. I don’t even know everything about the product I work on. The odds that someone with a question about Search Assist would dial a random number and actually reach me rather than one of the other 14,000 Yahoo! employees are infinitesimally small. So, naturally, the people who randomly dial my number invariably ask questions about products that I know nothing about.

By the time someone resorts to dialing random numbers, they’re pretty desperate. Sometimes they’re very upset. They don’t care that I’m a developer working on something completely unrelated to whatever it is they’re having a problem with; to them, I am the human personification of Yahoo! the Big Faceless Corporation, and they expect me to have at my fingertips the entirety of Yahoo’s corporate knowledge.

When I explain that I can’t help them, they expect me to be able to transfer them to someone who can, and they find it incomprehensible that, as a Yahoo! insider, I don’t have a handy list of Top Secret support phone numbers. Sometimes this makes them angrier, and sometimes this makes them ask again really, really nicely in the hopes that I’ll decide to rebel against my cruel superiors and transfer them to one of the Top Secret numbers.

In the end, I’m unable to help these desperate people. I give them the premium support phone number (which is for paying customers), but usually the questions they’re asking are about a free product, for which (as far as I know) there is no phone support.

It’s not that Yahoo! doesn’t care; we do. It’s just that there’s no way we could possibly hire enough human beings to provide personal support for every one of our hundreds of millions of users (most of whom are using free products). It’s a simple problem of scale; no company in the world could afford this. Not even Google. Not even Microsoft.

Even so, whenever this happens, it pretty much ruins my day.

Obligatory disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this post are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer.