Take Customer Support Seriously

On Thursday night the world experienced the tense, joyful, hope beyond hope, speculation that Donald Trump's Twitter account had actually been deleted. Alas, it was temporary. The act of a disgruntled employee, making their final mark before walking out the door on their last day. This employee, destined to be a legend inside Twitter until the end of time, was able to do what we've all dreamt of doing. What every overlooked and underpaid employee has always wanted to: some real, noticeable damage. To finally do something, anything that makes the rest of your company notice you, acknowledge your existence.

Who hasn't been a low level employee, grinding away at the same tasks every day. Helping the same customers, solving the same problems. Nobody notices your work, and all you want to do is something that feels significant. Well, for the rest of their life, this unknown Twitter employee will know that they've done something significant in their work. They deleted the president.

The icing on the cake is that they weren't even an actual Twitter employee. They were a contractor.

Mike Isaac and Daisuke Wakabayashi for the New York Times:

The discovery that it was a contractor who deleted Mr. Trump’s account is difficult for Twitter, as well as other technology companies. Nearly every major technology company including Google, Facebook and Apple relies on contract employees to fill positions. In general, the jobs tend to be nontechnical roles such as customer support or administrative and operational positions.

Many of these workers are brought on by staffing companies like Accenture, Adecco and Cognizant and work on renewable one-year contracts. Facebook, Twitter and other companies also outsource content review to third-party services like ProUnlimited and Cognizant, which are essentially internet call centers staffed with hundreds of workers who deal with customer service issues.

Many of these people work side by side with full-time employees, but they are often paid significantly less, are identified with different color employee badges, and are not afforded the same perks and amenities that full-time workers have. Many complain of being treated like second-class citizens.

Contractors doing entry level support at tech companies work in a terrible combinations of circumstances. They are tasked with under-appreciated work, work that is both more menial and more skilled than anyone gives them credit for, while also being paid less than their full-time counterparts, not given any benefits, and being treated as second class citizens in their workplace. By definition a contractor, and their work, is viewed as dispensable. They are a module that can be added, removed, or swapped out on the whims of the company.

And on top of this, they are often given incredible amounts of power. Customer support roles often have full permissions to user accounts. Meaghan O'Connell calls this "God Mode". This combination of power over the service they support, and a lack of recognition for the work they perform encourages the desire to do things like delete a president's Twitter account. I can guarantee you there are hundreds maybe thousands of low level, contracted, customer support employees at tech companies thinking about clicking that button every day. Whether it's deleting the president's account, or something more minor, the desire is there. To do something, anything, that gets noticed as significant, because all the rest of your work is never taken seriously.

This reveals another problem, with Twitter especially. This work is not taken seriously. Customer service, content review, abuse and spam reporting, these roles are all punted off to contractors. Contractors aren't treated like full class citizens within the company, they're not incentivized to care about the health and wellbeing of the service, to meaningfully and substantially improve it because their success it not attached to the success of the product they support.

Twitter especially suffers from huge harassment, abuse, and hate problems. CEO Jack Dorsey is constantly talking about how seriously they take the problem, how much they are ramping up efforts to stop the issue. But as long as they continue to use contractors they treat like drones instead of valuable employees, the problem isn't being taken seriously.

Real investment in solving these problems involves bringing on more full time employees. Employees whose success is tied to the success of the company. When a full time employee is onboard, they get indoctrinated into the values of the company. If those values are a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment for the users, and if they are rewarded and recognized by their company for doing good work to produce that environment, these problems can start to be solved.

If Twitter actually put their energy where their mouth is, they'd elevate the care and maintenance of their product above the menial and degrading work of temporary contractors. They'd give that work to valuable and cared for full time employees. And then those employees should delete the president.