Kayak.com's customer service

 

My day job is CTO and Co-founder of Kayak.com travel search.

Even though we get millions of consumers per month, we send personal replies to any customer who sends us feedback.

I like to pretend that for every customer who takes the time to send us feedback, there are one thousand other customers who have the same issue, but who might not have the time to tell us about it. Thus I take customer support very seriously.

At Kayak, I require that every employee talk or email with one or more customers every day. When I've mentioned this to friends-- that we give personal replies to all feedback and require even high-paid engineers spend time talking with customers every day-- they think I'm crazy. They think I should push customer support off to a separate lower-paid team rather than bothering my expensive engineers. But I will tell you a secret:

Having every Kayak employee talking with customers every day has been the best thing we have ever done. It is one thing to (a) have a computer or IVR trying to answer customer emails and phone calls and then (b) having a customer support department trying to address unanswered questions and then (c) raising the ones they can't handle to a quality assurance department who helps out, and who then (d) raises only a tiny subset of those issues to the product engineers.

It is quite another thing to make engineers talk directly to customers, removing layers of communication. Many brilliant engineers are empathetic problem solvers but they are also sometimes lazy and don't like to do anything more than once, including answering the same question over and over. When their software does something stupid, and they are thus required to answer the same customer question about it many times, and they have to look those customers in the eye and see their problem, those engineers then actually take the time to fix the problem.

This keeps us honest. It keeps us focused. Rather than adding a zillion features to Kayak, we refine it every week, trying to make the product simpler and simpler to use.

We currently have only 24 employees, and yet our software is used by millions of travelers per month. How can we possibly support that many customers without having a customer support department? Because we focus, and continually make our product easier and easier to use. We view ourselves as master craftsmen. Our goal is not just to make Kayak the easiest and most useful travel website, but we also strive to be the best website period. We're not done yet, but you can help us out by trying the product and giving us feedback. We'll listen and respond, I promise.

-Paul English, CTO and Co-founder of Kayak.com, circa 2006