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

A consistent theme of this series of articles is that The Best Support Call of all was the one that was never made because the product didn’t generate the need for it.  I’ve been advocating that basic reality for all of my career, and yet still encounter obvious examples of companies shooting themselves in the foot, wasting money and reducing customer loyalty.  While there are times that you definitely want to talk directly with your customers, forcing them to engage in unprofitable and unnecessary conversation with a support rep isn’t one of them.  Are you throwing money away and discouraging customers in your company’s contact center?  Are you sure?

The Game Begins

Start RunnerInstalling a major update to one’s desktop computer operating system is, even in the best of platforms, an opportunity for ripple effects throughout the system.  I’d completed the upgrade, and knew that I’d better check the revision level on some key applications — including my backup utility.  Did the application in question have an easy button to use to make sure that it was up to date?  No.  Perhaps there were reasons why customers objected to automatic installations of upgrades, but there is no excuse for making people hunt through the application and the company web site just to see if there’s something new that they need.  Tell them!  Or at least let them set a preference to either be automatically updated or offered the option when available.

Sign - Bump SMI was not surprised to find that there was indeed a new upgrade for the application, and that it was required for users of the new revision of the operating system.  Unfortunately, the clumsiness of the application design was continued as I proceeded to purchase the new version.  I’m already a customer, my serial number is embedded into my copy of the application — why are you wasting my time and yours, and risking keying errors, by making me re-enter it into your website order entry page?  As it turned out, while I pasted in my serial number in full, the website truncated it and rejected my order.  The only way forward was to email a request for assistance to Support.

Enter the Rep

Firefighter SMThe reaction time for the email was swift.  The support rep, Stuart, looked up my record in the database and found that the serial number was good but truncated.  He provided me with the complete number, and also appended a document about the upgrade compatibility with the new operating system level.  I was impressed by the speed and the completeness of his response.  I took the number and used it to complete the upgrade order.  This time, it worked.  The system emailed me a confirmation that my credit card payment had been processed, including what was described as a new license key and a link to the download site for the new software.

Sign; Dead end SMUnfortunately, the new license key was not a key; it was an “Upgrade Authorization Code” that would entitle me to get a new key at a later point, and the listed URL for the download was not a link to where I could actually initiate the download.  I wasted further time in searching around the site to find a place where I could download a copy of the new version, only to discover afterward that my “license key” wouldn’t work to unlock the file.  Did  the application or the installer package tell me that what I had was a UAC and not an actual key?  No.  Did it offer any suggestions as to what to do next?  No.  I had to return to the website to locate the link for sending an email to Support again, and write another request for help.

A Turn For The Better

thumbs-up-linedrawingThe response time for the second email was also short, which was good.  Stuart explained the difference between a UAC and a license key, and pointed out that the previous email had included a procedure to be followed.  What was most important was that he took the initiative himself to complete the processing of my new license key for me, and assured me that I would shortly receive an email with both the proper key and a direct click to download link.  The promised missive soon arrived, and I finally got the software successfully installed.

Stuart was correct, the second email had indeed given a procedure to be followed. But that procedure was buried lower down in the email, and the text above it definitely would tend to make people think that they didn’t need to read further.  If it truly is necessary, for some obscure reason, to make what in nearly every other application is a clean one-step process into a more involved procedure, then the company ought at least to be clear in its communications about what needs to be done.  The failure to do so is what I term a “call-generator,” an unnecessary producer of avoidable interactions, wasted time and reduced profitability.

The HotLine Scorecard

Thumbs-down-linedrawing-02 There is no excuse for not having a simple and easily located button to use to check for updates in the application top menu.  If you don’t want to have updates automatically detected and installed, then offer customers the choice of being at least notified when such are available.

Thumbs-down-linedrawing-02 I can’t think of any reason why an “Upgrade Authorization Code” step would be a good idea, but if you’re going to do it, at least let the customer know very clearly what needs to be done to get to what they want: a fully updated application.

Thumbs-down-linedrawing-02 I am sure that mine was not the only incident wherein the inadequacies of the automated email process had generated unnecessary support interactions.  The proof is not hard to find; a quick search of your company’s case management system will tell you how many times the problem has been encountered in the past, and give an indication of how much time and money has been wasted.

Thumbs-Down-linedrawing-SM++ The response time for the emails was swift, and Stuart’s handling was excellent.  He took the initiative to make things easier whenever he could.  If I have to interact with Support, give me a Stuart every time.  Unfortunately, reps of his caliber are not common, and those that do show that level of professionalism tend to burn out and leave.

The Bottom Line

Arrow missing bullseye SMThe backup application does its primary job well in creating and verifying safety copies of my applications and data as far as I can tell.  But its manufacturer clearly thinks that they are only about producing a technology product, that they don’t have to think about the impact of the user interface on customer retention.  I have news for them on that score: if another company comes along and offers an equivalent technology and a consistent, customer-centric user experience at a reasonable price, I’m very likely to switch.

I may not have the technology skills to fully appreciate the internal quality of an application.  But I am very capable of assessing the value its manufacturer places on their relationship with me.  The architecture of the relationship may be subtle, but it speaks volumes.  I buy products to make my life easier and my work more productive.  The little details matter a lot, especially those that get in the way of accomplishing the primary purpose.

September 24, 2009