Technical Support is Never Just an Expense

Over the last two days, I’ve been engaged in a very upsetting conversation about technical support.

As a follow up to verify that a client’s technical issues were resolved, an employee discovered that from the client’s perspective, one remained open. When that issue was reported to senior support management by the employee who had contacted the client, it was greeted with an e-mail response that the issue had been closed a month earlier and an attachment with a copy of the resolution. The employee responded that the issue was, at least in the mind of the client, still open and a request was made to contact the client once again.

The manager balked saying that the job of the team was to close issues and once an issue had been closed, it was the responsibility of the client to speak with his colleagues and discover the resolution so no additional call would be made.

While this issue was being brought to the attention of departmental leadership by the employee, a lead developer weighed in on a different matter. He explained that there is always a consequence of adding features and functionality. When we add features, he explained, the software becomes more complex and the clients invariably ask more questions and support is further challenged.

More on the conclusion of the story in a moment, but first, an important digression.

All of our clients have choices. If we are simply and only measuring closed calls, our measurements are insufficient. Closed calls do not lead to client retention. Client satisfaction does.

I spoke with a colleague at a very large company and asked him what his company measures. Their measures include days elapsed until there is a solution and top ten call generators. They expect a spike in tech support calls when they release a new product but the top ten call generators tell them what they need to fix to reduce the call volume. Incidentally, the costs associated with addressing these “top tens” are charged back to the group that made the product. That’s one way to make sure that they get addressed.

A percentage of customers are also called every day to verify issues are resolved. They also count numbers of calls per support-paying customers. They view these customers as their best and most important customers.

One of his most interesting insights was that his company is moving to do all support in live chat. He noted that Google and Amazon already do all of their support via e-mail. This allows these companies to track the issues and the conversations with much greater ease and accuracy.

His company, however, is moving to live chat. Live chat provides the benefit of tracking the conversations and topics but keeps the human dimension in place. Sounds like a forward thinking approach.

Now back to our story…

With no place to go on this issue, the employee contacted the client and shared the documented resolution with him. Turns out closing the issue was premature. The proposed solution did not work as expected and the issue needed to be reopened. The client was right.

As to the developer, he was reminded that without releasing enhancements periodically, the software would become stale and the company would lose clients and share. Additionally, when clients learn that enhancements are being made to a product, the will begin to suggest additional way to make the software even better. This, by the way, is usually a good thing.

Technical support is not an expense. Done right, the client experience is enhanced. Market share grows and the business booms.

In these challenging economic times, it’s a lesson worth revisiting again and again.

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