“Hello. How can I not help you?”
So, you have a company and you have customers and they might have problems with your products. You need to provide a method for them to redress those problems. First thing first, decide if you are building a Help Desk or a Call Center. Hopefully you are building a Help Desk, because if you aren’t, I will cut you.
Now that you are building a Help Desk, the next thing to do is determine the avenues you wish to open for support. Phone support is a tried and true method, but you can also do support by email, text, live chat, message forums… So many options. Which ones work best will depend on the type of products and services you provide, but the key is to just avoid confusion. It should be clear to your customers how to contact you and the level of feedback they should expect.
Feedback is very important. If I call and leave a message and then no one calls me back, I feel ignored. Next time I go to buy a product, I might not buy yours if there are other options. The same goes for emails and forums and texts… anything asynchronous needs to have a response time, a point by which you will either have an answer or you will contact the user and tell them you are working on it. I worked for a company once that funneled all support calls to a voice mail box, then when a caller left a message a pager would go off in the office, the person in charge of the pager would listen to the message, create the ticket, and assign it to a tech. We would only call the customer if the message was unclear. The tech would have 60 minutes to respond to the customer, either with an answer or to get more information. The important part is that we explained exactly how this worked to our customers, and while some people I know predicted we’d be flooded with messages that said “I have a problem, call me” the opposite happened. Our customers began leaving extremely detailed messages. Later we added an email address they could send problem descriptions and screenshots to. Again, some people predicted we’d get lots of “I have a problem, call me” emails, but instead we started getting well written narratives with pictures. It was great. But the point is that we established an expectation – report a problem, get contacted within the hour – and since we never ever failed at that, our customers worked to maximize that system, providing the best detail to speed response and increase accuracy of solutions.
Now, the next step is one that nearly all help desks/call centers I’ve interacted with fail at on some level. Assume you are in the business of providing phone service. Now assume half of your network has shit itself and half of your customers are experiencing problems. You need a way to communicate to your staff that the problem is known, how to identify if a caller/user is affected and what to say to them to explain the problem. If I call your help desk to report a phone service problem and your people there happily take my information, assign me a ticket number and tell me a technician will call me shortly without even a mention of a wide-spread outage, you have failed. And the failure will just get bigger because in an hour when I’m still having problems and no technician has called me back (because he’s too busy trying to fix the problem), I’m going to be furiously angry and possibly seeking out a replacement for your service. What would have fixed that? “Oh, this issue is linked with the current company wide outage we are experiencing. Our technicians are working to resolve it as we speak. I will put your name on our call back list to notify you of any significant updates or when a resolution is found.”
The final part of a good help desk (besides good help) is the followup. After the problem has been resolved, probably the next day, someone from your company is going to call the customer and ask them if everything is okay and if the problem was resolved to their satisfaction. Don’t outsource this. And I don’t mean to another country, don’t outsource this to people who don’t know anything about the problem. I work with one company and their followup call is a person who not only doesn’t know anything about the problem, the only thing they know is my name, my phone number and the problem ticket number. They can’t even tell me what the problem was, which is a problem when I have a half-dozen open tickets. 83759374 doesn’t tell me anything worth knowing. And when I ask, “Is this concerning the [insert problem description here]?” they can only reply, “I don’t know.” And I can’t fault them, because they don’t know, they haven’t been given the tools. However, I do fault the company, and it means they exist with one strike against them all the time.
I just don’t understand how so many companies can get something so simple, so basic as setting up a functional help desk that provides actual help and makes their customers feel helped. No, wait, sadly I do understand. Lots of people just don’t care.
I suppose I should entitle this something like “Reading & Comprehension: The Lost Art” because that’s really what’s about to happen, but since I’m most irritated with the way people treat their email, I went with this instead. Anyway, onward…
Let’s pretend I send you an email. And let’s pretend that in that email I ask you two questions. When you reply, answering only the first question and I have to send you another email with the second question, you look like an idiot. Emails aren’t twitter. Don’t stop reading at 140 characters. Read the whole damn thing.
Extending this, if you are sent an email asking you to do something – for example, to look into a previously reported problem and find out why it doesn’t appear to be being worked on – and your first thought is that you need more information – continuing the example, the ticket number of the original problem report – before you fire off an email asking for the information – “Do you have the ticket number?” – you should probably scroll down and read ALL of the emails in the chain – including the one right below the one you are replying to, in which the ticket number is given. When you don’t do this, you look like an idiot.
Some people – idiots – will defend this behavior, often citing reasons such as “I was reading this on my phone and the screen was too small.” As a solution, try this: Don’t read emails on your phone if you can’t properly read emails on your phone.
Lastly, sometimes when a company sends out an email – specifically an automated one – to which they do not expect a reply – probably because they are just informing you of a status or error – and within the body of the email, either at the top or the bottom or somewhere in between, it says “this email comes from an unattended mailbox, do not reply” or some variation thereof, when you reply to that email, get no response, and then later call up angry that no one replied to your email that you send to the totally non-functioning mailbox that the sysadmin only checks to see if it’s getting a large number of bounces or other error conditions, you look like an idiot.
Seriously, though, I’m saying this for your benefit – and mine – because you don’t want to be thought of as an idiot – and I’d rather get stuff done than repeat myself or listen to you complain about a problem that isn’t mine. For the sake of all that which you hold dear, read your damn emails! In full!
This is a rant…
Recently it came to my attention that I was probably paying too much for my car insurance. Not because I saw a Geico commercial or anything, but because I was randomly musing about the fact that we have two cars, one a 1997 Volkswagen Cabrio and the other a 1998 Jeep Cherokee, and they are both (obviously) old, 15 and 14 years old respectively, and that they probably aren’t worth very much, each is worth – in theory – about $2,000 for private sale or maybe $1,500 trade-in value. We currently are sporting a policy with a $1,000 deductible. Given the worth of the cars, any accident which is going to cost more than the deductible to fix is going to be 50% or more of the value of the car, thus the insurance company is likely to just “total” the car and cut us a check instead of paying for repairs. So, it seemed silly to me to pay them what I was paying them for them to not really cover anything.
So, I called them up and cut my insurance payment in half, maintaining the medical coverage and the liability (damage to other people). They were very happy to do it and thanked me for my continued business and all was right with the world. Until…
Like any average American, I have so much, I can do this. Not.
A couple hours later, I’m sitting there smiling about the money I’m going to be saving when it occurs to me that the value of my cars hasn’t changed much in the last couple of years. They’ve hit a sort of “value plateau” where the fact that they are running in good condition is the bulk of the value. Which means that I’ve been overpaying on my insurance for a couple of years. It’s going to total out to probably around $600 a year that I save, which means I’ve probably paid $1,200 to $1,800 for coverage I didn’t need.
Being a software developer, I know that it would be painfully simple to have a program that compares the coverage on a vehicle to the vehicle’s reported value (using something like the Kelley Blue Book as source) and this would generate a list of people to whom you could contact, by mail or email, and make them happy by offering to adjust their rates.
Of course, I know why they don’t do this. Something like auto insurance is seen by people as being required but interchangeable. They have to have it, and they pay more attention to the ads the companies run than to their actual policies. Most people will go to another company, get a quote and switch insurers before ever considering calling their current insurer to see if they can get a better rate. As such, companies focus more effort on signing new customer than on retaining existing ones.
For a non-insurance example, look at your local cable company. When was the last time they called to say they were running a special for all existing customers? Never, that’s when. The half price deals are for new or returning customers. Or for people who call to cancel. If you don’t leave and don’t complain, they’ll happily charge you twice what they charge new people, returning people, or people who threaten to leave.
Lesson: call your cable company every six months or so and threaten to cancel. Tell them you are switching to satellite, and then accept the new rate they offer to keep you.
You can probably do this with your garbage collection too, if you have to pay for it yourself and there is competition in your area. I’ve had the same company for a couple years, but where I was originally paying $30 a month, I’m down to $10 because they’ll “price match” any competitor’s offer, I just have to prove it’s a real offer. But they know who their competitors are, and they know what they charge. Why aren’t they sending out a letter to all their customers saying, “Hey! In appreciation for using us, we’ve reduced our rates!”
The other main reason they don’t randomly call existing happy customers to offer new lower rates is because those customer are, apparently, happy overpaying. Why would they throw away that money? Sure, being awesome for your customers might breed some loyalty, but loyalty is nothing in the face of cold hard cash.
Where am I going with this?
I have no idea. It all folds into that idea of “enough” I suppose. Some of these companies are making lots of money in profits, and they don’t reinvest that money into making the company better, nor do they reinvest it in reduced prices, they take it out of the system. Maybe they spend it back into the system somewhere else, but not at the rate it would get spent back into the system in the form of a few dollars into the pockets of thousands, tens or hundreds of thousands. Despite what the self proclaimed “job creators” tell you, a person, or small group of people, earning $5 million a month aren’t going to spend $5 million a month, but a million consumers saving $5 each on their bills are incredibly likely to spend that $5.
It just seems logical, for the better health of the entire economy… which is probably why I’ll never run a company or be in politics.