Premium Customer Support Is Mandatory – Not Optional

There’s a joke that keeps making circles in the software development world:

At a recent software engineering management course in the US the participants were given an awkward question to answer. “If you had just boarded an airliner and discovered that your team of programmers had been responsible for the flight control software how many of you would disembark immediately?”

Among the ensuing forest of raised hands, only one man sat motionless. When asked what he would do, he replied that he would be quite content to stay onboard.

With his team’s software, he said, the plane was unlikely to even taxi as far as the runway, let alone take off.

We spend all the time in the world nurturing our ideas and build world class products. We should be. If our product isn’t the best that we can build, then it’s a fundamental problem.

It doesn’t matter whether our product is online or offline, physical or intangible. It just isn’t going to fly.

But assuming that our product is good – and worth it’s weight in gold – how good is the customer support behind it?

Is your customer support being handled in a way that would make Chesley Sullenberger proud?

I have been collating my personal customer service experiences from the last few years – and making an objective determination on what was good, and what was downright bad.

I used to use TypePad a lot a few years ago. One of the impressions that sticks with me even today from the TypePad experience was  that their customer service was exemplary. And it was all included in their $14.95 per month plan. Tickets used to get answered on time, every time – and I had a certain degree of confidence in putting in support tickets that they would come back resolved.

Another example that strikes me is JustHost. They’re a shared webhosting company – and upsell a $19/year priority support plan. Now I do feel that priority support should be a defacto standard in your service, but for what it’s worth, they deliver to their promise. Every ticket that I put in for JustHost comes back resolved within one hour. Now that’s real nice!

The third example I have is a bit personal. A few months ago, I  bought the Ungderground 6 Recordings from Yanik Silver. The DVDs never came. Fedex records showed that they delivered the package – but I didn’t have it. What do you do in such a situation? Yanik and his team had a FedEx proof that the iitem reached me – and yet they sent in a replacement copy. Guess what – I am going to stick with them no matter what!

Now, contrast that with the Posterous experience that Danny Brown wrote about a few days ago. I am willing to give Posterous the benefit of doubt, as they were getting hammered with DoS attacks when this happened – but with the expectations not set, the experience lingers behind as not too positive.

I had a similar experience over the weekend. I was playing around with Grou.ps – a personal social networking site. I created a test group, then decided to delete it. Guess what – self service delete option is missing. Contact customer service – send them an email.

Fair enough, I send them an email. It bounces back.

I then hunt down an alternate email address, and send out an email to them. No confirmation. No acknowledgement, and no response yet.And guess what – my group has now been deleted without any notification. So apparently the email works – but for some reason the folks are Grou.ps believe in zero communication.

They also have premium support options, though. $9 a month buys me premium support – but with a 48 hour response SLA for 30 tickets a month. What dp you make of it? I am not impressed! People don’t mind premium support – but atleast make it worth their money and effort!

WordPress.com also offers premium support – but their pricing options are really premium, and for a reason. Or look at the support that comes with the myriad of WordPress themes. Headway support is awesome, as is the one from WooThemes. But cross over the boundaries, and support pretty much becomes an asynchronous see-if-it-can-fly support forum approach. The difference is fairly apparent.

There are situations when failure is just not an option. Flight emergencies. ER situations. Mission critical product launches (when Mr. Murphy always has his way).

But think about it this way. For your customers, every situation needs a safety net. Every situation is an emergency that they cannot handle – if they could, they would already have fixed it themselves.

Your product is premium – how premium is your customer support? Can you provide premium support for your customers – each time, every time? Heck – it isn’t even optional – it’s mandatory. Anything less, and you are battling the odds against long term survival and success.

At the end – the day when (and if) your plane tanks, we all would like Captain Sully in the cockpit, won’t we? Why not be the Sully for your audience?

(Image Credit: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plane_crash_into_Hudson_River_muchcropped.jpg)

2 Responses to Premium Customer Support Is Mandatory – Not Optional
  1. Mike CJ
    Twitter: mikecj
    August 31, 2010 | 1:07 am

    I think we have some real customer service issues in on-line businesses. As they grow, they don’t seem to grow the customer support team at a rate commensurate with that growth.

    I’ve seen companies where you can call as often as you like and get great service in the start up phase, then as they grow they become “Ticket support desk” operations where it takes ages to get an answer.
    Mike CJ recently posted… How To Win The Blogging Grand Prix

    • Kapil Apshankar
      September 2, 2010 | 12:10 am

      …. and that’s when the Goliath loses the battle, Mike.

      If businesses could just keep their eyes on the customer service ball all through their growth, the world would be a much happier place for everyone 🙂