Great Support Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive

By | September 18, 2006

Support services for application and hardware is nothing new to the IT industry. What is new are the creative methods vendors employ to support their products. Support providers need to be creative with their methods to provide quality support tools and techniques that yield high customer satisfaction. Surprisingly, some of the best user experiences don’t rely on expensive technologies; just innovative uses of existing ones. What are the pros and cons of methods used today to provide customer support, from “no-brainer solutions” like e-mail to more complex technologies like streaming media and which cost-effective implementations of the technologies do customers like best?

IT Support and Customer Operations Managers around the globe have gone through an evolution, if you will, deploying various support techniques and standards – all striving to find the “magic bullet” that will keep operational costs low, and customer satisfaction high. There are several common technologies that are employed today.

E-mail-based Support

While cheap and easy to deploy, the overhead required to track a call’s status makes this method unsustainable and unmanageable over large customer bases. Companies who limit their support to e-mail send two clear, negative messages to their customers: a) the company is immature and b) the company doesn’t have enough resources to provide “real” support. In turn, customers interpret these messages to mean the company is avoiding them. Aggressive spam filters may also “tag” or “remove” replies to your customer, making it appear as though you never responded to their plea for help.

Telephone Support

Consumers feel their best results come from talking directly with someone vs. something, such as e-mail or Web forms, and overwhelmingly prefer this method of support. In a busy and hectic world, we need solutions fast. But classic telephone support problems – infuriating IVRs and long hold times — can sound the death knell to customer satisfaction with phone support. Oftentimes, the only panacea Customer Operations managers have to resolve these issues is additional headcount. Walking through walls can prove to be an easier than obtaining added personnel.

Online Web Support Portals

Although a standard technology in today’s support organizations, having a portal is only half the battle; quality content and user interaction design being the other half. Small and large companies alike rarely invest in professionals with the User Interaction experience required to provide customers with meaningful, “user friendly” experiences. Poor site navigation design is a sure-fire way to force customers to either pick up the phone and call for support or abandon the Web site, and potentially the company, permanently.

Offshore / Inshore Outsourcing

Either way you put it, it usually means that you are not dealing directly with the vendor’s technical support organization. Instead, you are interfacing with a contracted, “technically trained” third party organization. Outsourced support organizations are rarely able to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction. Customers complain bitterly of insufficient product knowledge and frustration in dealing with representatives who aren’t fluent in their native language. Oftentimes, outsourcing is not as cheap as you originally thought. Watch for hidden costs in your early estimates as they may not include required IT integration costs, travel budget for your staff or resources required to regularly train and manage your solution provider.

Web Logs (Blogs) / Wikis

I can’t tell you how many times I have found the resolution to my problem not on the vendor’s support services Web site, but rather by simply employing the power of Google®. Those who have real-world experience deploying and integrating vendor solutions, the “user community”, are tired of looking for help and have started Web logs to provide it. In fact, Slashdot began as a blog that is now widely considered to be a portal to well-established reputable technical resources for many IT professionals.

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