Thursday, December 30, 2010

Customer vs. vendor expectations of customer support

I've been meditating on customer support, after having spent the last two days monitoring a customer support issue that involved two major media companies. For the purposes of this post, the identities of the two companies are not important, although if you're curious you can check out this post in my Empoprises Amplify blog or this Facebook page (click on "Just Others" to see the relevant discussions).

As customers, we expect that vendors (a) immediately identify the cause of a bug, (b) immediately let every one of their hundreds or thousands of employees know about the bug and its resolution, (c) immediately let every one of their customers know about the bug, in any media we choose (company website, Facebook, Twitter, our e-mail box, newspaper advertisements, postings in laundry room bulletin boards, etc.), (d) provide everyone involved with the exact time that the fix will be implemented, and (e) fix the problem in two minutes or less.

And no, I'm not exaggerating.

We get frustrated when one support person says one thing and another support person says another thing. Why is one support person telling me to reboot, reinstall, or move to the United States when another support person is telling me that there is a known bug and we don't have to do anything?

We get frustrated when the company doesn't communicate to us. Why is one company employee posting cryptic messages on the company website, another company employee posting less cryptic messages on the Facebook page, and neither company employee providing hourly updates?

And why can't any of the company employees say something other than "we're working on it"? Why can't they tell me that the problem will be fixed by tomorrow at 3:00 pm? And why do I have to wait until tomorrow, anyway? You know what the problem is, or should know what the problem is - can't you just get one of these code whiz kids and fix it in five minutes?

At the same time, the vendor has issues of its own. Vendors expect that customers (a) immediately provide bug reports of true verified bugs to the company's preferred support mechanism, having previously created any required logins and passwords, (b) allow the company time to verify that the bug is truly a bug and not a result of the customer using that really cool special software that was downloaded from that really cool warez site, (c) allow the company to let its employees fix the bug, rather than requiring the employees to waste valuable time replying to every danged Facebook message and tweet that complains that the company is a bunch of "loosers," (d) allow the company to fix the bug and get it done right, realizing that modern systems involve a number of interconnected components, any one or three or ten of which may be the cause of the problem, and (e) realize that no company is perfect, and that just because you can't use the device for an evening doesn't mean that the world should end, or that our company's Board of Directors should commit mass suicide.

So how do we bridge the gap between customer and vendor expectations? And if we can't bridge that gap, then how do we narrow it somewhat?
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