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

Under the MicroscopeThe best Support call of all is the one that was never necessary in the first place because the product didn’t generate the need for it. However, only buying high quality well-designed products is not a guarantee that you’ll never need to call the manufacturer’s customer support contact center. Here’s what happened on a recent expedition into SupportLand, and the discovery that there is more to being authentically Product-centric than just building excellent hardware. Is this happening in your contact center? Are you sure of your answer?

Houston, We Have A Problem

The task was simple. Scan in an executed contract, and e-mail it off. The scanner hummed, and the image of the document appeared in the preview screen. I clicked Accept, and proceeded to scan in the next 5 pages. I specified that the output was to be a PDF document, and saw the familiar icon appear on the desktop. When the process ended, however, the PDF document suddenly vanished.

I went to the web site, signed in, and began with my customer profile, which includes a list of all of the company’s products that I own. I selected my scanner model, and searched the knowledgebase for articles about vanishing PDF files. No joy; there was nothing relevant to be found. I then went to the user forum, and read through many pages of topics to see if anyone else had encountered this or a similar problem. No luck there, either.

Time to Call

Service BellI was able to find the appropriate telephone number, and placed the call. The on-hold duration was about 5 minutes. The woman who answered the phone was pleasant, and knew what she was about. Unfortunately, her mission was to sell me a new scanner rather than helping me fix the problem with the one I already owned. I told her that since my scanner was clearly working, what I had was a problem with the manufacturer’s software, and that I wanted to speak to Support. She shifted gears fairly smoothly, and tried hard to sell me a service contract. I finally got her to admit that I could pay for a single support incident — she never offered that option until I specifically asked for it. For $39.00, I was to be permitted to talk to a support rep. For an out of warranty product, that didn’t seem excessive, so I paid, was given a case number and moved to the next stage.

The Windows Team

“Hello.” No name, no indication of department, no invitation was offered, though the voice was clearly North American in tone. I gave my name and a clear description of the problem. The CSR asked about one detail, and then suggested I try a slightly different approach. I began the process, and when I got to where the scanning software asked for a name for the destination file, the CSR told me to put it on the C drive. “I’m running on a Mac — I told the first agent that before she connected me to you,” I said. “Oh,” he replied. “I don’t know anything about Macs, this is the Windows Support Team.” He didn’t offer anything else, so I asked if I could be transferred to the Mac team. “Okay.” The phone went silent, and I thought I’d been disconnected. Then there were some odd noises, and finally an automated request to confirm the transfer. I pressed the requested key, and was rewarded with a ring sound.

The Mac Team

“Pepe” gave his name, and asked how he could help. He had an accent, but I could understand him fairly well. I had to repeat the problem description, even though I gave him the case number. Pepe suggested trying a different approach, saving the scanned file as an image instead of a PDF document. It worked; progress! But before I could relay that information, he asked about the version of my Mac’s OS, and then suddenly informed me that since I was using the latest version of the Mac OS, my scanner wouldn’t work at all since there were no drivers. “But,” I began, “it did partially work just now.” “Let me talk to my supervisor,” he said. Pepe quickly came back and repeated that there were no drivers and therefore there could be no solution. Was there anything else he could help me with today?

“Let me confirm what you’re telling me,” I said. “I’ve just paid $39 to be told that you don’t support my scanner with the latest version of the Mac OS because there are no drivers.” Pepe went back to talk to his supervisor, then returned to tell me that the charge on my credit card would be refunded. Was there anything else he could help me with today?

The HotLine ScoreCard

The scanner company has supposedly won awards and certifications for the excellence of their customer support. Sorry, they didn’t live up to any award-winning level this time. Here’s how The HotLine Magazine rates the experience:

+ + Having all of their products I own listed in my profile on the web support site is excellent. Being able to click on one and have the selection automatically included in the search specifications to the knowledgebase is brilliant. Unfortunately, after having set my expectations of quality to a high level, everything afterward was definitely sub-standard.

Not being able to open a Support case from the website is a surprising fault to find in a company of this stature. If you’re smart enough to maintain an online record of what I’ve purchased from you, why wouldn’t you make it easy for me to enter a problem report there?

The support forum software is lacking some vital functionality that could significantly increase its effectiveness. Few people are going to search past the first page or so of possible topics. You need to have the same search capabilities that you have for your knowledgebase resource. Just having a support forum is not a magic bullet; you only earn points if it is usable to solve problems.

It’s clear that the gatekeeper CSR is focused only on up-selling and cross-selling. But can you imagine how mad I’d have been if I’d bought a new scanner only to discover that it wasn’t going to work with my system either? She didn’t offer me an appropriate set of options for getting support, and many customers would have simply given up at that point.

The guy in the Windows Team either needs serious retraining or to be replaced. He obviously thinks that his only function is to answer technical questions that fall within his specialty, and cares nothing for the customer.

“Pepe” on the Mac Team at least tried, but clearly didn’t know very much about what he was doing. I give him credit for immediately understanding that I didn’t want to be charged for a non-answer, and for taking the initiative to get authorization for the refund. But he missed the ball by not asking what I meant when I told him that the software had partially worked, for I had discovered a work-around that ultimately enabled me to accomplish my original task. That could have been turned into a knowledgebase article.

The Bottom Line

The scanner company is clearly product-centric. They manufacture what they consider to be superior products, and I agree with their perception of the quality of their hardware. But it takes more than just a good product to earn my loyalty as a customer. Your support needs to be every bit as good as your product design. Am I willing to recommend the company to others? No — their Net Promoter Score with me is zero. Will I buy from them again? Maybe, unless/until I find another company that offers both good products and good support for them — and who wants to retain me as a customer.

Related Posts

Here are some articles that may be of interest to those looking to improve the quality of their company’s customer support contact center:

Centricity & The Ownership of the Relationship

“World Class…” or Legendary?

The Cost of a Call

March 13, 2008