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

Every day, every hour, customer support / service contact center reps exercise one of the few powers they unquestionably possess — the power to lose a customer. What’s worse, their use of that power is invisible, for no one is ever held accountable for the loss. Who gave the Support team members such authority? How did they come to have such a significant impact upon the company’s profitability? For the answers, we have to look well above the pay-grade of anyone in the center itself.

The Broken Promise

Thumbs DownHere’s an example. I called my web-site hosting provider for support in using a particular tool that would enable me to make easy backups of my database. I had previously been assured that my preferred tool was indeed supported. But when I called for assistance in overcoming some obstacles in connecting to the database, the rep gave me a simple answer: “Sorry, we don’t support that functionality.” Escalation to an engineer produced the same response without the apology. “We don’t support that functionality.” No options offered, no explanation; just the flat statement of policy.

I’m a customer like any other, and my reaction was not unusual. I’d been misled, to put it charitably, but it was obvious that a complaint was not going to get me anywhere I wanted to go. So I ended the call, and immediately began looking for a new hosting company. The reps had exercised their power to say No, and I was now determined to exercise mine to say Yes to another provider.

A Silent Departure

Speak Not

Notice that I did not tell either the rep or the engineer “then I’ll find a vendor that does.” Why bother? My departure could mean nothing to either of them. The first indication of my decision to leave will come when I cancel my account. At that point, it’s far too late to address the problem for the hosting vendor. They’ve lost the revenues and profits from my account, and they won’t even know why. I’ll become just a part of the 20% or more expected annual turnover in the customerbase, and the company’s Sales department will continue to burn money in searching for new customers to replace those driven away by the contact center.

Doing it Right

For contrast, let’s consider another example. I spent a week in Dublin some years back, doing some work for an Irish company. On the first night, I made a decision to take all my evening meals in the hotel restaurant simply because the food was very good and the staff was way beyond excellent. Was it that the size of the tip they might receive was clearly connected in their minds with how well they read and responded to my needs? I’m sure that was a contributing factor, but it wasn’t the entire picture. There was more than one night’s meal & tip opportunity to be considered, and they’d been very well trained to look at the larger picture of customer retention.

The waiters knew that their company’s “product” was both the food and the service, and so did the chef and the kitchen team. So did the hotel’s senior management team. They were selling an experience, and consistently demonstrated their corporate strategy of keeping every customer coming back for more. The web hosting company, on the other hand, thought that providing some technology at a reasonable price was the totality of their product. The difference between the two companies is not tactical; the true source of the lost customers of the one and the successful retention of the other is the strategic decisions about product and company definition made by the senior management teams.

May 9, 2008