One of the best customer service stories I have ever heard comes in the form of an experiment by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. He tested his customer service personnel to find out how far they would go to please the customer. He did this by asking a mystery caller phone in and ask the reps if they would help the caller order a pizza. Where most companies might treat this request as a prank, the Zappos reps retrieved the three nearest pizza places and phone numbers for the caller – even though Zappos main business is selling shoes and clothing online.
Zappos’ whole business model is underpinned with exceptional customer service. Their logo is “Powered by Service” and their main tenet is to “wow with service”, which is shorthand for doing whatever it takes to over-satisfy the customer. Over-satisfied customers are happy customers, who not only stay with a company, they are brand evangelists and promote their happiness to others.
We could do with a lot more of that attitude in the IBM i software world. Here’s how I believe vendors can cultivate an exceptional customer service attitude in our industry.
It Starts with Live Support
Customers should be able to dial up a software vendor when they have a problem and get a live person to answer the phone.
Customers shouldn’t have to battle voicemail to get help. I’m astounded that there are still software companies whose idea of customer service is an automated recording that asks you to leave a message and tells you “they’ll get back to you at their earliest convenience”. Their convenience? Software companies should be worrying about the customers’ convenience and problems, not the other way around.
Exceptional customer service starts with live people picking up the phone, someone who can quickly help resolve a customer’s problem.
Software Support and Production Reside in the Same Building
At DRV Tech, we believe you shouldn’t outsource customer service…ever! Your customer service people should live side-by-side with your development team, close enough to share a pizza or to work on customer issues. The closer your customer service people get to your software developers, the better. Distance causes delays in helping solve customer problems. Vendors shouldn’t forget that Customer Service and Product Development are on the same team.
Incorporate Customer Suggestions & Needs Into the Software
Great organizations use their customer service to improve their software. Customers find holes, suggest new ways to improve the software, and generally critique what you’re doing. How exceptional is it when a company will rewrite software to include a feature a single customer needs? Sadly, too many software companies make it hard for customers to suggest improvements and make it even harder to incorporate a customer’s specific needs into the software.
Take Care of Bug Fixes, Don’t Excuse Them
In the early years of the computer industry, companies responded to bugs with clichéd messages like “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” We’ve advanced since then. Now companies provide more sophisticated responses like “It’s not a bug, it’s an unfortunate design decision.”
Great companies own their bugs and provide fixes whenever possible. They don’t argue or try to wiggle out of admitting there’s a bug in the software. And when the company can’t provide a fix, they respond honestly about the issue and work with the customer on the solution.
Experienced Software Technicians in Customer Service
Customer Service reps should be fully trained in the software and 100% dedicated to solving your problems and answering your questions. Customer service is no place for interns, new employees, or temps. CS reps should be totally focused on customer issues, and not be distracted with other administrative duties while servicing the customer.
Customer Service Goes Beyond the Phone
Exceptional customer support involves multiple ways of answering customer requests and questions, including voice, email, chat, websites, newsletters, text messaging, Twitter, and the other technologies customers routinely use to gather information.
Exceptional customer service also includes software training, especially online training and education, which answers customer questions 24x7x365 without having customer service reps on duty. Software training is customer support. The more training you offer, the easier it is for your customers to easily get the answers they’re looking for. This includes webinars, as well as YouTube videos.
There’s also traditional in-person software training through classes and (in some industries), conferences dedicated to software solutions.
Easy Installation and Assistance
A lot of IBM i software includes 10+ page installation procedures that are so confusing the customer has no choice but to call the vendor for assistance. And some companies (or outside vendors) make additional money selling installation services. If your software is difficult to install, make sure you have enough trained technicians available who know the ins and outs of installation.
Better yet, make your installation procedures easy enough that a customer can install it themselves in 30 minutes or less, like delivering pizza. Software installation shouldn’t be a revenue creation event or a jobs program. Easy to install and easy to use software are also parts of exceptional customer service.
The Steps to Exceptional Customer Service
Sadly, there are many software vendors who believe in exceptional product development, but not exceptional customer service. Exceptional customer service can convert everyday users into fiercely loyal customers, create communities around your software, and attract more customers. At DRV Tech, we try to incorporate and practice these ideas in our software support. Hopefully, more companies will mimic this philosophy in the future.
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