What does a customer have to do to get some support around here?
Recently, the stars mis-aligned and two technical-issues-from-hell interrupted my week. We may be in a digital age, but technical support in the retail and enterprise space appears to still be in the dark ages.
When IT leaders are choosing a new vendor, one of the measures should be how prospective companies treat the smallest, least-revenue producing clients. The small local or regional businesses (especially non-profits). The elderly or low-income retail customer. Large companies should have the talent, processes and systems in place to treat all their customers in a quality, respectful fashion. Since it is fall, it frosts my pumpkin when large companies treat small customers poorly.
- Exhibit A: Large internet/cable vendor treats elderly customer like crap. Better appointment scheduling of lousy service is still lousy service. The customer’s internet wasn’t working. First, a technician arrived (late) and proceeded (rudely) to tell the customer that the equipment in the house was not the property of the company. Second, the customer brought equipment to the vendor’s local office to confirm the equipment, though old, was indeed the property of the company and was given updated equipment to self-install. (Aside: what do customers who live some distance away from a vendor’s physical office do? ) Third, the verbal instructions from the local office contradicted the document that came with the equipment and resulted in a day or so of confusion and further technical issues. I could write a lengthy tome on how the broadband industry structure is an enabler of situations like this, but I need to focus my time on helping this elderly person “cut the cord” and getting an alternate internet solution.
- Exhibit B: Technology company surprised that customers needs the technology to perform. The configurable Software-as-a-Service technology is a quality product and competes well in the market, and the customer got reasonable financial and licensing terms & conditions. However, good terms and conditions on non-working software just means paying good money for bad stuff. First, the software started to become unavailable beyond a certain number of users (well below contracted license levels), and the issue increased in frequency as the weeks went on. Second, the client had to scream loud (multiple e-mails and phone calls) to get attention. Third, I almost fell off my chair when the vendor confirmed they don’t pro-actively monitor for basic connectivity; they wait for the client to call and tell them. This was all just prior to an expanded rollout of the software (which had to be delayed). When the vendor-hosted & managed environment in which the software runs is crap before the system even goes into full production use, then the prospects for a quality experience are dim. I could write a long-form article on how tech vendor revenue should be tied to client-defined measures of success, but I need to focus my energy on getting this product deployment back on track.
So what’s a retail consumer or enterprise IT department to do?
- Solution A: As a retail consumer of technology, know your choices. While choice of the common large cable providers can be limited based on your location, increasingly there are feasible ways to get internet from local or regional providers at better prices. You don’t need to subscribe to the cable behemoths to get local TV, sports, or your favorite streaming services, but it can be complex for the non-tech savvy. Your Town Hall or local library might have information and support for those who need advice.
- Solution B: As a corporate customer, manage your vendor lifecycles. First, the way to avoid support problems later is to negotiate the right terms and conditions now. In particular, structure the financial arrangement so that material payment doesn’t happen until after the software is deployed and working according to mutually-agreed upon measures of success. Second, if the contract and product is already a reality, and you really like, want, need the product, you may have to invest in a higher degree of vendor management than you’d like to get past the support hurdles – or suffer grit in your company gears. Your existing vendors know that the cost of change is high for companies no matter how much you loathe their product and/or support. Third, always have an exit strategy. Like a retail consumer, know what else is out there and the business conditions under which you will want or need to change. Know when vendor contracts are up for renewal and allow enough lead time to explore other options.
As a former CIO, I’ve been accountable for multiple IT support functions (a/k/a “help desks”). Admittedly, they aren’t easy to run, can get a bad rap from customers, have typically high turn-over rates,and internally are seen as cost centers. It’s not cheap to design and implement the tools, processes, and incentive systems to meet customer expectations for fast fixes. However given the increasing “experience economy,” the ability to share digital experiences on social media, and the choices of technology out there, technology vendors would do well to see their support functions as revenue-retention centers and make investments accordingly. Investments need to include leaders for support functions who are passionate about solving problems and making customers experience with products as amazing as possible.
Got a great product? Get great support to go with it.
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