Social media’s going mainstream, allowing people to communicate more cheaply. Everyone’s offshoring and outsourcing and driving down call center costs. And customer service is suffering hugely as a result.

The impenetrable corporate monolith has become the defacto standard. Those doing it differently are so rare you can count them on a few fingers… and they’re always the same names. Zappos, JetBlue, Rackspace and others come up again and again. What’s their secret? Putting the customer at the heart of the organisation – absolutely. But look closely and you’ll see these companies wholeheartedly and proactively embrace the good old telephone:

Take Zappos. In a recent speech Zappos CEO Tony Hseh said that he encourages customers to call them about nearly everything. He said their call center handles around 5,000 calls per day, and the call center team have no scripts, quotas or call time limits. He says,

“The longest call to date has been four hours. Zappos views the phone experience as a branding device, and speaks to virtually every customer at least once.”

A well known Businessweek article extolled the virtues of being called by JetBlue after a lengthy flight cancellation. “Not only did the airline move quickly to apologize, accept full responsibility, and proactively introduce a passenger’s bill of rights (all effectively communicated by e-mail from CEO David Neeleman) but they actually had someone call me to apologize. When I wasn’t available, they even e-mailed me to find out when would be the best time to speak with me. When they reached me, the caller was not some outsourced telemarketer working from a script. Instead, she actually asked me for my opinion of what went wrong and how they could fix it. She engaged me in a dialogue about the steps the airline was considering and sought my opinion on whether the measures would be enough. She thanked me for my help and patience and asked me to give the airline a second chance. They got it.”

A final case in point is Rackspace. The company’s known worldwide for its ‘fanatical support’. NYSE magazine says of the company “To underscore Rackspace’s culture of support, it assigns teams of 15 to 20 Rackers to a set of customers…. customers who call with a question or a problem don’t reach a call centre but instead talk to a person who knows their business and with whom they’ve likely had interactions in the past. Napier says he wants clients to see these small support teams as extensions of their own staffs.”

If you’re using, or considering using Customer Thermometer to constantly monitor your customer satisfaction I would urge you to consider how you use the ongoing opportunity it gives you for real customer dialogue. The fact that they have responded means they are willing to talk. And you now have permission to call. You will learn an unestimable amount about your business. And your customers will just love you for it.