The HotLine Magazine Archives
For The Profession of Cloud/SaaS Product Support
By Mikael Blaisdell

Customer Support quality has long been a sensitive subject for the senior executives of technology companies. As the Software as a Service (SaaS) wave continues to grow, the pain of customer support quality is also swelling. In the previous briefing, I talked about The Customer’s Metric, how the customer differentiates between Good and Bad support. Good support is getting an acceptable resolution to the customer’s problem from a courteous competent agent in the shortest amount of time. Bad support is everything short of that outcome. But for Senior Management, there is a huge and horrendously expensive trap of their own making lurking in the failure to properly set the customer’s expectations. What is the definition of customer support? What is included, and most importantly, what is not included? If senior management doesn’t provide an answer to those questions in advance, the customer is then free to set their own definitions at will and to expect the company to meet them.

Search the web, using “definition of customer support” as the search-string, and you’ll see literally millions of possible references. Buried amongst them are a variety of seeming definitions that highlight the confusion. Support is “installation, configuration, troubleshooting, customer assistance, and/or training, in response to customer requirements” according to one site. According to another, “The best customer or technical support consists of real-time conversations between end users and knowledgeable representatives for the vendor, and the availability of such representatives without long hold times.” In short, the user expects fast access to all of the resources of your knowledge inventory according to their own requirements.

If I handed you my checkbook with all of the checks already signed, you’d probably think that I was offering excellent support for your needs. Unfortunately, my bank account is not endless, so there is a very definite limit to the number of people I can please by this route. No business could operate like this, and yet many try, for when Sales says “If you have any problem, just call Support and they’ll take care of you!” — a blank, signed check just got handed to the customer for them to fill in as they choose. Worse, there was no record made of that check/promise, and no one assumed responsibility for either the making or the fulfillment of it. To compound the error, contact center staff members are often taught that their mission is “to constantly and consistently exceed the customer’s expectations.” In other words, if the customer didn’t put in a big enough figure on that blank check, the agent should help them to ask for more.

This is why customer support, especially in the technology sector, has such an abysmal reputation. No one can succeed under these rules, let alone be profitable. The extravagant promises of SaaS in terms of the quality of the support to be provided can only make it worse. The support centers have been set up to fail by their senior management teams by the lack of essential product and service definition.

There is no industry standard definition of customer support. But there needs to be a clearly articulated company definition of what is and is not included in the support services to be provided to the customer, together with a consistently attainable definition of quality. The creation of such a set of definitions and the setting of expectations is a senior management responsibility, and it goes with determining the role of the customer contact center in the overall company profits-realization strategy.

May 23, 2007