Last night I’ve spent just over two hours on the phone. I don’t normally talk much. Most conversations are kept to a minimum. This call was different though. I was talking to my cable Internet support staff. I have to confess, it’s a very odd, tricky, almost elusive problem, and they were very kind and tried a few things, but to no avail. My Internet connection is still unstable and doesn’t perform the way it should. They promised to get back to me, but I wonder if they will.

The experience made me wonder: what makes (or breaks) a good customer experience? Why is it that we stick around with some companies, even when they screw up? yet are prepared to ditch a supplier whose service is pretty good, just because of a single mishandled support incident? It’s clear that a poor product or service is unlikely to make customers happy even with great support and fantastic customer service. Shoddy support however can certainly bring down even the best company providing the greatest products and services.

Support. It’s a misleading term in itself. I don’t need your support. Just get your act together and sort things out for me please. And do it quickly.

At Testuff, we use many online providers, and inevitably use their technical and customer support every now and then. We also provide support to our own customers. We pride ourselves in giving quick, efficient, courteous and straight-forward response to all our customers. We don’t always get it right of course, but we surely try hard.

So how can we be sure our support is satisfactory? And what really makes us annoyed when getting poor support from our providers? We would love to hear your thoughts, but here’s a quick list of things we noticed really make a difference:

  • Timing – getting (and providing) a quick response really makes us happy. Don’t mistake a quick response with an automated reply though. We want a real response, by a human, who actually understands the problem. There’s nothing more frustrating than having an urgent issue with no response for hours or even days. We do however try to be patient when the issue isn’t really urgent, and few issues are.
  • Getting it – My level of frustration really hits the roof when the support representative at the other end just don’t get it. There’s nothing wrong with asking for clarification and making sure they understand the issue, but in some cases – it seems like nobody bothers even reading the request.
  • Irrelevant responses – usually accompanied by some form of a template with things I should try. We understand that companies deal with many cases, and most issues can be solved with a CTRL+ALT+DELETE. Nevertheless, getting a template response with little or no indication the request was actually read by a human being can be annoying and time-wasting.
  • Plain wrong or inaccurate responses – we are all humans, and we all make mistakes, but it does appear like some companies do it more frequently and consistently than others. With some of our providers, we used to just get too many inaccuracies (and in some cases, blatant lies).
  • ‘We don’t know’ – as funny as it may sound, I have much more respect to companies who don’t necessarily know what the problem is or how to resolve it. Obviously, it can’t happen too frequently, and I expect them to investigate and resolve the issue eventually. There is nothing wrong with an honest, straight-forward reply, even if they don’t know the answer.
  • Being pro-active – this is subject to debate, and we don’t seem to always agree about it at Testuff. I personally like getting messages from companies telling me there’s a problem, even if I didn’t even notice it, or we really weren’t affected. This is not a pure support issue, but I think it adds to the confidence customers have in companies. If a company tells me when they’re having issues, I know it’s the kind of company who would really work hard to avoid it. Conversely, when the server is down and I’m the one who seem to break the news to the company?! I’d be out the door in a blink of an eye.
  • Communication – This is partly related to being pro-active. Do you get notified when an issue is investigated? Even, or particularly so when no progress is made? As I was writing the post I noticed my Internet is performing better. Checking further I think the problem may have been resolved by my ISP. I didn’t however get a call from their support staff as promised.
  • Taking ownership – Acknowledging a problem is important. Nobody likes being blamed for something they’re supposed to be doing fine, but taking ownership of problems when they take place is crucial.
  • Language and Courtesy – Bad language can translate to bad manners. It is very culturally dependent however. When we reviewed some of our support responses, we realised that the way a sentence is constructed can hugely affect our customer satisfaction. This is also true when requesting support. When you get a one-line email with “X doesn’t work. Fix it.” (or similar), it’s very hard to try and be helpful.

So what’s on your list? Did we miss something out? What do you love/hate about the support we provide at Testuff? and How can we make things better?