I have just experienced an example of customer support that highlights a few important lessons. This is not in the category of ‘support stories from hell’, there are plenty of those around. This story had a good ending but the lessons to be learned were obvious.
For some time I have lived with a VPN problem on my modem/router and regularly visited the manufacturer’s website looking for a firmware upgrade which specifically addressed the issue. While navigating the site I found the firmware page which indicated an update was available with links to both the firmware and the installation instructions. The instructions were there but no link to the firmware!
So begins the fun! I rang the manufacturer’s support line and waited about 30 minutes on hold before being answered by a real person. I explained the problem with the website. The support person was very helpful and offered to send a copy of the firmware via email. The email promptly arrived. At this stage I was reasonable happy with the service.
After inspecting the firmware in more detail I realised that it was not correct. In fact it was more than 18 months old with at least two revisions since. I responded to the email and the email bounced back as having no recipient. So back to calling customer support again.
Another 30 minutes on hold later I fortunately got the same support person who was genuinely concerned about what had happened. I was put on hold again while they would look into what had happened. The call then dropped and I was left disconnected.
Calling now for the third time and another 30 minutes on hold later I got someone different. I explained to this new person what had happened and he proceeded to tell me that the firmware I had received was indeed the current and correct one. Only after I challenged him on this did he put me on hold again while he checked with his manager. While on hold for about 10 minutes this time I heard my incoming email and sure enough, there was the correct firmware. I waited for him to return, thanked him and ended the call.
New firmware now installed and tested I pondered on how a 5 minute task had turned itself into an 80 minute ordeal, involved maybe 5 individuals and diminished productivity all round. All from a single little mistake on a web support page.
Lessons Learned 1. – Get Someone to ‘Play Customer’
Companies usually have a formal release process which checks that all steps in the release of some content to the customer have been followed. In this case either no such process existed or someone simply forgot a step. This is an example of a fragile process. One in which the consequence of a mistake is not initially obvious. The simple addition of a ‘Play Customer’ step would have turned a fragile process into a robust one. That final test of someone going through the experience of being a customer. Better yet, get a real customer to test it! You’d be surprised what customers notice or find that everyone else has missed.
Lessons Learned 2. – Get Your Story Right
There is nothing more frustrating than calling an organisation for support and getting conflicting or misleading information. The website showed one thing, the support people said another and had to be challenged on the issue to actualy discover the problem. Had I not pushed my story I would have gotten nowhere. Worse, had I blindly installed the firmware I had received I may have had bigger recovery problems to deal with.
Lessons Learned 3. – Get Feedback
I wonder how often a customer has a bad experience with customer support and simply drops the issue or even the product because it is too much effort. A quick follow up call or email (with a real email address I can respond to) is all it would take to ascertain the success of a support incident. I certainly will not bother to give any feedback if I have to wait 30 minutes on hold just to say “yes, all is fine now”.
So in summary, customer support has to be friendly, efficient, accurate and consistent. This might sound expensive but without it those hidden costs of flapping around and losing product confidence will be significantly more costly.
Robert Rath – http://www.innovation-mentor.com