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Article : Companies, Customers, Products & Problems - Part 2

In Part 1, Brian Doe discussed the relationship that consumers have with their products and product vendors.

The Company:
I feel your pain. Support can be a costly proposition. While the cost of supporting your customers poorly can be a difficult statistic to obtain, do not fool yourself into believing the cost is not there. Good support will stop customer erosion and add long-term repeat customers.

Companies have developed this “one stop shop” approach to customer care to enable the clientele to get the help they need with one phone call or email. It has been an exciting challenge with seemingly endless twists and turns. I thrive on quoting product packaging and pricing one moment, then ending the call by upgrading their router firmware to resolve a packet fragmentation bug.

Outsiders may argue that some companies can only supply this level of customer service because of its relative small size. “That level of customer touch doesn’t scale.” I hate that excuse. Supporting your customers well is a company commitment. If the corporate culture believes in strong customer relations, quality customer service can scale to the largest of companies.

Suggestions:

  • Not sure if your customers are being well supported? Call them. Duh!
     

  • Not certain what good support should look like? Bull. This is another excuse, and a poor one at that. Look at any customer service interaction you have experienced. Separate the good experiences from the bad. Now mimic the good. You know what your customers want. Just do it.
     

  • Don’t use the lack of local talent as an excuse for less than stellar support staff. Think creatively. Hire a small, talented core group. Use the mentor system. Divide the staff into units of expertise. Create a tiered system of talent. A well thought out escalation path can resolve problems quickly while efficiently using the existing resources of a staff. Scaling the support staff to remain equal with business growth will form naturally with this support model.
     

  • Don’t buy into the idea of scripting product resolutions. It just doesn’t work. Computers and the Internet are complicated animals with endless possible problems. One symptom can have dozens of different causes. The problem doesn’t get solved, and you are making your support rep look pathetic. Scripts are designed to cover weakness in your hiring practices.
     

  • I don’t want to get into a whole political thing here, but why are you considering off- shoring your support arm? How will this possibly help your customers receive better support? You know better.
     

  • If you believe the call volume is too high for the relative number of customers, try eating your own dog food. Something must have spoiled.
     

  • Don’t place all training resources on building technical skills. Teach your support team to have patience and compassion. Let them know what your company moral center consists of and teach them how to portray that image. When working with a customer, a positive attitude should be considered as important, if not more so than technical accuracy.
     

  • Empower your customer service department. Allow them to “do the right thing.” If they occasionally over step the desired bounds, who cares? A little bit of damage today will result in a long-term happy customer.
     

  • Support reps rant. A lot. It is just what we do. My CEO wears headphones. You might want to consider the same. But make sure you occasionally listen and learn. Your support staff is your company’s eyes and ears into the customer psyche. From these rants, you can validate product direction, determine missing features and find existing product weaknesses.
     

  • Treat your customers with respect after the sale has been made. You will sleep better.
     

  • Treat your support staff with respect. Your customers will sleep better.

Support Staffers:
I feel your pain. Our lives can be polar. We are required to maintain the satisfaction of the customer base, yet we also need to maintain the values of our respective companies. There are times where this may seem impossible. We are techies. We are sales people. We are also psychiatrists. This career path is not for everyone.

So how do you know if you are right for the gig? My personality lends well to this diverse workday, but I do not possess a particularly special skill set. You need to understand technology, ideally the technology your company is attempting to sell. But you do not need to be an engineer. In fact, I believe coming from an engineering background hinders your ability to connect with the customer. Engineers tend to look for the most difficult root cause of a problem rather than the obvious.

You should be an extravert by nature. You will be communicating with people all day, every day. If you are an introvert, you will go mad. You must be driven by the desire to help others. If solving technical problems is the only way you know how to get your beanie propeller to spin, you should be in IT or QA. This must be the secondary focus of a technical support rep.

You need to be of the personality type that does not require scheduling control. The ring of the phone drives your schedule. It is simply impossible to create and maintain your own schedule. If you attempt this, your stress levels will rise to astronomical proportions.

You need to accept negativity in stride. No shocker here. Most of the people that call are fairly irritable, and no matter how good your product may be, they clearly have found a flaw on this day.

Suggestions:

  • Understand your company’s values. If they do not match your own, you are in the wrong place. You have to feel good about the battles you wage.
     

  • Treat your customers well. If you say that you will call them back, then call them back.
     

  • If you do not know the answer, do not pull one from an orifice that was not designed for such intellectual matters.
     

  • Understand that you cannot fix every glitch. For myself, this has always been my largest challenge. You will continually run into technical snafu’s that only peripherally relate to your product. For myself, consumer grade routers, consumer grade Internet connections and SpyWare infestation are my “white whales.” Help the customer understand whom they should be speaking to.
     

  • Fight for your customer. That is your job. Softly help your management staff understand your advocacy approach to the position and that will reduce their future heartburn when you enter their office. But do not be afraid to irritate your management staff on occasion. If you believe in the cause, make them listen. Besides, it keeps them on their toes.
     

  • Here is a tricky one. Know when to end the fight. There are subtle business story lines that flow out of the reach of individual contributors. Your management staff may not always be able to explain why they have ruled in a particular way. At least you can feel confident that you made every effort.
     

  • Do not become a victim of the negativity. If you have 100 customer issues in one day but you have 10,000 customers, remember the other 9,900 have not had any problems. The ratio is in your products’ favor.

Conclusion:
As long as humans and technology remain flawed entities, these concepts will likely never go away. Remember that when technology works, we are all able to perform amazing tasks without the bounds of distance or time.


About Glance Networks:
Company LogoAt Glance Networks, we believe people need a simple way to work together at a distance. Traditional web and video conferencing solutions are too complex, too over-featured and too expensive for most professionals. Most people just need a solution they can master in under a minute. It must connect instantly and reliably to anyone from anywhere on the Internet.
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Published: Monday, December 26, 2005

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