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The Truth about Tech Support

Date:May 24th, 2010 Author: Tags: ,
Category: General Comments:2 ;

You know how satisfying it is when you read something, instinctively know it’s right, then have something happen that gives you concrete proof?  Well we had one of those moments this week – and I wanted to share.

We read quite a few business blogs and for down to earth, quality advice Jason Cohen is our man – Joel Spolsky sometimes comes up with the goods, but he can be a bit full of himself, we don’t get Seth Godin at all – seems to have made a great career out of stating the blindingly obvious – but Jason; on the money, pretty much every time.

So this week’s post from Jason was on the importance of good tech support – and the prevalence of tech support which is anything but good.  Done right, Jason says, tech support is sales. We read the post, nodding sagely in agreement.

Then that evening we had a support call from a customer who was trialling our Reminder web part for SharePoint.  The customer had quite a few questions and we were on the phone for around an hour.  Once we had sorted out his questions about Reminder he tells us that he is trialling our product along with a similar product from one of our competitors – but he can’t get the competitor’s product to work and he can’t get any response from their tech support.  So, as we are so helpful, could we possibly help him to get our competitors product working as well?

Well, we like to think we’re helpful, but not that helpful, so we had to politely decline on that one.  Still, within 24 hours we had a nice $1,200 order in from the customer – who had still had no response from the other company, so had given up on the whole product comparison idea and just decided to go with us.

Oh we did feel smug!

I still don’t really get the IT industry’s attitude to speaking to customers and prospects.  I’ve worked in other places – finance, travel, property – where we grabbed every opportunity we got to talk to potential customers (some of the time they were trying to avoid us ).  If someone’s thinking about buying your product and wants some advice on how it works you talk to them – wow them with your products features and your company’s super-helpful attitude – right?

Wrong in the world of IT is seems.  Here are a few support policy quotes from other vendors in the SharePoint webparts market:

“Unlimited email support with a 2-3 day response time”

“Access to our extensive knowledge base”

“Per incident support $180 per hour”

“Post your question to our support forum”

I still find it scary and a little sad that the simple willingness to just answer the phone and talk to people who want to give you their money  – or indeed people who have already given you their money – is such a differentiator in this industry.

Tech support like any kind of customer service can sometimes feel like a bit of a grind – you tend to hear a lot of the same questions, and often the calls for help come at the worst moments – like 6pm on a Friday evening when you’re just heading out for a nice cold drink.  Here our developers do the tech support and it’s always the way that the trickiest support calls come when they are deep in coding mode.

Sometimes you need an incident like this, or a blog post like Jason’s to give you the motivation to keep up the work.

What Jason’s blog post and our experience showed us was a) just how bad tech support can be in our industry, and b) how if you do it right, tech support really is sales.

As you’ve probably figured out this whole tech support issue and just why it’s sometimes so bad in our industry is one of my personal crusades, so I would love to hear your best and worst tech support experiences – either as a user or a provider.

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2 Responses to “The Truth about Tech Support”

  1. Clare, I could not agree with you more! I am just as fanatical on this subject and it’s what differentiates me from my competition as well. I had the same treatment from vendors in the past and it drove me insane that they simply refused to answer emails. It is now my company promise to every client I have that every email will be responded to within one day. I am going to move Heaven and Earth that that will never change.

    Personally, I am in the process of leaving my hosting company because I simply cannot stand the “techie” who has to handle my support calls. He treats me like an idiot and has never once given me the right advice or solved any problem I’ve had. Their sales team was so fantastic, I signed up because of them. But because of one seriously incompetent techie with absolutely zero people skills, I am taking my business elsewhere.

    Techie support will make or break your business in the long run. I’m seeing it happen daily. Ignore this at your peril.

    Great post Clare.

  2. Jason Cohen says:

    Thanks for the kind words!

    I know what you mean about having to get pepped up every now and then to keep up the cheery disposition on the phone. It’s easy to talk about how valuable it is, but — like most things — 90% of it is still just a grind.

    Still, as you say, it’s just so *easy* to do a much better job than everyone else, so there’s really no excuse not to. Sad, but exploitable.

    Congrats on the sale; sounds like it was well deserved.

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