Wednesday, July 8, 2009

This is how you give great #CustomerService

I received an email the other day from the founder of Pandora, an internet radio service that plays only the music you like, based on a simple premise: start off your radio station with an artist or song as a "seed" and watch it grow as Pandora presents you with music it thinks you might like, based on your seed. All you have to do to improve the service is vote a Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down to the song that's playing. It learns what you like and don't like, and then adapts to give you quite possibly the best "radio station" out there.

Needless to say, it's indispensable at work, the gym, parties, the list goes on. Apparently, I like it so much that the email from the founder said I was in its top 10% of users, and that my service might be changing slightly. It outlined the details, which seemed reasonable enough such that I was inspired to write back and thank him, cheer him on even.

What happened next was rare: I got an email from Steve, Pandora's Music Operations Manager, who actually sat down and took time out of his busy day to write me personally and make sure I knew it was personal by including a very unique word that I used in my email: "wallop". That's definietely not a word used in a canned response.

That's what inspired this post. It's a free advertisement/endorsement for Pandora and they paid absolutely zero dollars for it; well, let me take that back--all they paid was probably about two minutes worth of someone's time to sit down and write four sentences thanking me for writing, as well as reassuring me that they were fighting the good fight to keep internet radio alive. These guys are the real deal. I knew there was a great reason I loved them so much, aside from the must-have service that everyone (yes, even you!) should use.

Companies whose customer service sucks, please take note: you can change your ways and respond in a way similar to how Steve at Pandora did. This creates customer delight, such that they are inspired to be walking advertisements for you, wherever they go. I've signed up family and friends to Pandora and they report that they love it, too. So...



(Email chain reprinted with permission.)


Here is Tim's original email:


On Jul 7, 2009, at 3:03 PM, "Tim Westergren - Founder, Pandora " <> wrote:  

Hi, it’s Tim - 

I hope this email finds you enjoying a great summer Pandora soundtrack. 

I’m writing with some important news. Please forgive the lengthy email; it requires some explaining. 

First, I want to let you know that we’ve reached a resolution to the calamitous Internet radio royalty ruling of 2007. After more than two precarious years, we are finally on safe ground with a long-term agreement for survivable royalty rates – thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our listeners who voiced an absolute avalanche of support for us on Capitol Hill. We are deeply thankful.

While we did the best we could to lower the rates, we are going to have to make an adjustment that will affect about 10% of our users who are our heaviest listeners. Specifically, we are going to begin limiting listening to 40 hours per month on the web. Because we have to pay royalty fees per song and per listener, it makes very heavy listeners hard to support on advertising alone. Most listeners will never hit this cap, but it seems that you might. 

We hate the idea of capping anyone's usage, so we've been working to devise an alternative for listeners like you. We've come up with two solutions and we hope that one of them will work for you:

Your first option is to continue listening just as you have been and, if and when you reach the 40 hour limit in a given month, to pay just $0.99 for unlimited listening for the rest of that month. This isn't a subscription. You can pay by credit card and your card will be charged for just that one month. You'll be able to keep listening as much as you'd like for the remainder of the month. We hope this is relatively painless and affordable - the same price as a single song download.

Your second option is to upgrade to our premium version called Pandora One. Pandora One costs $36 per year. In addition to unlimited monthly listening and no advertising, Pandora One offers very high quality 192 Kbps streams, an elegant desktop application that eliminates the need for a browser, personalized skins for the Pandora player, and a number of other features:>

If neither of these options works for you, I hope you'll keep listening to the free version - 40 hours each month will go a long way, especially if you're really careful about hitting pause when you’re not listening. We’ll be sure to let you know if you start getting close to the limit, and we’ve created a counter you can access to see how many hours you’ve already used each month.

We’ll be implementing this change starting this month (July), I’d welcome your feedback and suggestions. The combination of our usage patterns and the "per song per listener" royalty cost creates a financial reality that we can't ignore...but we very much want you to continue listening for years to come. 

Please don't hesitate to email me back with your thoughts. 




This is a one-time account message. 

© copyright 2009, Pandora Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

360 22nd Street - Suite 440 - Oakland CA - 94612 

If you have any trouble, please email Privacy Policy




My response:


Well, I think this is a great compromise. $1 is quite reasonable, considering how much it probably costs you to play just one song. Thanks for the heads up! I listen every day at work, tell all my friends about it (and invite them, too), and it's especially useful at parties. 

Keep up the good work and I hope you're able to knock some sense into the music industry because they sure deserve a wallop.





Final response from Steve:


On Jul 8, 2009, at 12:37 PM, Steve Hogan <> wrote:


Hi, I'm helping Tim out with these emails due to the large volume.  We're thrilled to have your continued support, and I'm glad to hear that you think one of our new options will suit your needs.  We'll do our best to keep Pandora as free as possible, and I hope we can be the soundtrack for your workday for many years to come!

We will continue to wallop as best we can!


Steve Hogan


Steve Hogan

Music Operations Manager



internet radio from the music genome project


360 22nd Street Suite 440        

Oakland CA 94612                    

tel: (510) 451-4100 ext. 447 fax: (510) 451-4286


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