How Not To Provide Customer Support

I recently had an interesting interaction with a company’s support team and the results were less than spectacular. Originally, I had a much longer post planned that better detailed the problem, brought attention to the company and gave details of how poorly they handled it.  I felt the approach was less than constructive.

The bottom-line is I had a need to contact a well-reputed company and faced several of the hurdles outlined by Ian Landsman of HelpSpot recently in his post about customer support.  I won’t rehash them here, so you should go read his post right now. Scott Watermasysk of KickoffLabs had bit of follow-up to Ian’s post that you should also read.

I came out of my experience with two additional rules that we follow and you should consider reviewing your work as a person who supports “customers”:

1. It works for me, so it must be you

This one really bothers me, and I’m probably guilty of it over the years.  You have a customer who has a problem, you can’t reproduce the problem so you pass it off as not your problem and close the issue.

I have checked the site via a proxy and it’s showing up correctly:

<useless url to proxy removed>

This issue appears to be local. As a troubleshooting measure, I would recommend restarting your computer. If the site is still having connection issues, I also recommend restarting your router as well. Please let us know if you’re still experiencing connection issues after trying those recommendations.

This goes along with #9 on Ian’s post, Listen Carefully. I had provided a trace route to the support team which clearly showed my request was terminating at the host of the company.  Had this tech read my email (I sent the trace route 3 times by the way) and listened, he would have seen proof the problem was not local. 

2. Passing the buck

It’s really easy to look at problem your customer is facing and not know the answer, saying you don’t know is fine.  One response may be to blame the problem on someone else because you don’t want to continue dealing with it and you want it to pass it on.  This is the exactly how my problem was handled.

I use a utility which is a graphical client to interact with another service, the utility was timing out.  I tried to access the endpoint directly and it was also timing out.  A bit of my own sleuthing revealed my requests were being either dropped or blocked.  Support finally realized that in-fact my IP address was being blocked for unknown reasons.

The tech involved on the ticket decided the utility I was using must be the problem, even after repeated attempts at telling them it was no longer running. This was their response:

Good afternoon Rob,

Thank you for contacting us today.

The reasons that ******** state on their front page for using ******** aren’t very sound. Why would you “avoid being connected to the internet” to make a post when you must connect to the internet to make the post? ** isn’t making a bunch of data calls back and forth while you’re sitting on the post editing page so the network bandwidth consumption would be negligible even if you had to “be connected” to the internet.

With that said, anything that hits our server with multiple connections too quickly from the same IP will be blocked for attacker like activity. My suggestion is to contact the developers of your software and have them work to throttle the connections down or at least offer the option to do so. If they are unwilling to work with you I would request a refund from them and potentially find another plugin to duplicate this functionality.

If you have any further questions please let us know and we’ll gladly assist you.

Gladly assist me?  Hmmm….

The result is a lot of frustration trying to solve this issue.  Normally this company provides great service and they have a great reputation in the community but sometimes a company’s growth and not communicating culture can be negative.

Please don’t do this.

How I Don’t Provide Customer Service

I recently bought a Mobee Magic Charger to stop having to replace the batteries in my Apple Magic Mouse so often.

I immediately had issues with the Magic Charger and figured I must have a possible defective unit because it should not work this way. I wrote up a blog post about my issues and submitted a support request to Mobee.

You can see below the Mobee Support Form asks the right questions, clearly taking my name:

Mobee support

My message submitted April 10th, stated my issues:

Hello,

I have just purchased a Magic Charger and having some issues. I put the mouse on the charger and the power light flashes green but never gets to a solid green light indicating the charge is complete. I have left the mouse on charge for over 24 hours and still blinking.

The charge level of the battery never goes above 76%.

It appears I may have a defective unit. I heard similar issues with the charge level not going above certain levels from other users.

How can these issues be resolved?

Thank you,
Robert Bazinet

And their response on April 12th:

Dear Customer,
Please make the following test:

- Remove the battery pack from the Magic Mouse and place it on top of the base station. Please confirm that the LED is blinking green ?

- Leave it during a full night on the base station, please confirm that the LED is now full green ?

It is normal if you seen a battery level of 76%.

You can fin the explanation on the link below:

http://www.mobeetechnology.com/support/faq/view-article/7-why-the-battery-level-displayed-in-osx-is-only-70-to-80-after-several-hours-on-the-base-station-.html

Thank you

The first thing that stuck in my mind is “Dear Customer”.  What?  They took my name in the support request form but don’t use it to address me.  This may sound picky but it really annoys me when companies do this.  Take the time to use my name, otherwise, don’t ask for it.  This tells me you really don’t give a damn about me but rather I am just a response in your customer support system.

Pro tip: If you have the customer’s name, use it.  If you have a customer support system beyond just email, learn how to use it.  If your support system won’t allow customizing emails, it sucks, replace it.

My two problems could have been addressed better.  The first one, “It is normal if you seen a battery level of 76%”, is a result of a poorly designed and implemented product.  How many support requests do you think Mobee gets on this one?  Well, enough to put in a FAQ.  As a product owner this would bug me until I engineered a way to make it go away.

The second problem where the Magic Charger seems to charge forever, never giving an indication it’s done.  So, based on the answer to issue #1, 70-something percent is normal, a full-charge should occur in some magic window of 70 to 80 percent.  Well, the batteries charge to that level but don’t get any higher yet the charger is still blinking.  The suggested solution to the problem is “Remove the battery pack from the Magic Mouse and place it on top of the base station.”.  Now, I may have missed something but I thought the purpose of the Mobee Magic Charger was to be more convenient?  If I need to remove the batteries to charge them, then why not just use regular AA rechargeable batteries?  They would certainly cost a lot less.

Rather than admit I might have a defective unit or apologize for a poor design, I need to remove the batteries from the mouse to charge them and know I have a full-charge at 70-something-percent.

As a product owner I would not ever handle support this way.  I always address the customer by their name, not some all-fitting title, offer a way that fixes the problem to their expectation OR offer to refund their money.  I think this is a pretty simple way of doing customer support, fix the problem or offer a refund.

Design Lessons from the Apple Store

I recently visited the Apple store in Farmington, CT because I was having a problem with my iPhone 3GS.  I own many Apple products and happy with them all. The area we live is not located near any Apple store so I buy my Apple products from the Apple web store. Up until recently, have had no problems with any of them, this was the first trip to an Apple store.

I am not trying to come off as an Apple fanboy here, but I think my first impression of experiencing Apple retail can be translated to how everyone can better deal with customers and how to convey company culture.

photo_westfarms

First Impressions

There is an old cliché that says you have one chance to make a first impression.  Those of you who are long-time Apple customers who visit an Apple store on a regular basis then you probably take it for granted how the store works and have long since forgotten your first time to one of these stores.   I can only say it was an great experience and a completely positive one.  Had this first experience to the store been negative, I probably wouldn’t be writing this now.

I had contacted Apple Support via their web site and made an appointment to see an Apple Genius about my iPhone.  This reminds me of making a doctor’s appointment.

As I arrived at the Apple Store in the Westfarms Mall and several things came to my attention immediately.  I think we can apply Apple Store design to application design:

  • Large and spacious – the store itself, unlike many retail stores in the mall, had plenty of room.  I didn’t have to bump into customers or employees.  As with many web applications I see, clutter is the norm – full of ads and jamming as much content as possible in a small place.  Well designed web application have plenty of white space and don’t give me the impression I am at the carnival.  My favorite applications are cleanly designed, like lessaccounting.com.
  • Very bright – the store was very well-lit with lightly colored walls.  Comparing other stores in the mall, some are dimly lit and painted with dark colors.  I guess it is better to hid a poor product until the customer has left the store.  I like to apply design to my applications the same way, keeping colors light which are easy on the eyes.  I don’t like my users to have the experience they are visiting a dungeon.
  • Lots of iPads, iPhones, MacBooks and iMacs with which to play – Apple wants you to experience and appreciate their products.  When visiting the store you aren’t faced with endless glass display cases like you are visiting a computer museum, you get to actually touch and try-out any product you want.  My first experience with the iPad was at the store and this experience determined whether or not I was going to buy.  If users can’t try out your application how can they decide if they want to use it?  It is my policy to give users a full 30-days to try out my software before deciding if they want to continue.  Many sites give limited access to features until you cough up money.
  • Genius bar looks like a bar, including bar stools – upon entering the store and briefly looking around, I immediately knew where I needed to go to see my Apple Genius.  The store, as I mentioned, is laid out very cleanly with the Genius Bar (an actual bar as you recognize in any lounge) in the far back of the store, separated visually and physically from the rest of the store.  This makes it very clear where someone needs to go to get help.  This is exactly how web applications should be designed, make it very clear where users need to click to sign-up, cancel, get help, contact and any other function they may need.  How many times have you been to a web site and had to struggle to find an email address so you can contact someone at a site?  It is annoying and does not make me want to do business; keep the links and information readily available so [potential] users can find it.
  • Lots of people to help you out - who also carry iPads to check-in people with appointments.  Nice way to demo the new iPad platform.  I think “eating your own dog food” is essential.  If you don’t use the tool you create, how can you really know how people use it?  Apple uses their iPads to let the Geniuses know when an appointment has arrived or add folks who are just walk-ins to the queue.  This is free advertising for one; customers get to see people actually using an iPad for something other than a “big iPod Touch”.  This also gives Apple feedback from the field for both the software, operating system and hardware perspective. Brilliant!  Use the applications you create.
  • Don’t make me wait – Wait time was small even with a lot of people and dealing with the Genius was simple, no hassles and out in minutes.

These were my initial impressions when visiting the Apple Store, all positive.  I can take away so much from the experience which I can then apply to my own business, my own products.  Apple has spent countless hours and piles of money to offer the experience they offer.  Why not take some lessons from them?

Customer Service

Beyond my first impressions about the look and layout of the store, I think the real win in my mind was the great customer service experience.  I had in my mind, since my issue was not exactly reproducible on-demand, that Apple may tell me there was nothing wrong with my phone and send me on my way.  They could have just as easily pointed blame at one of the applications on the phone.  I was well-prepared to visit the Verizon Store in the mall and walk out with a new Motorola Droid running Android and say good-bye to the iPhone and AT&T forever.

My overall wait time was only about 10 minutes after checking in upon arrival to the store.  The process was really very simple:

  • Called up to Genius Bar
  • Genius takes phone, asks a few basic questions.
  • Runs diagnostics on the phone, finds nothing.
  • Offers to give me a new phone.

There was no griping from the Genius, he instructions were clear, just make the customer happy.  I came expecting a fight and left with a new iPhone and a smile on my face.

Isn’t this how we should treat all of our customers?  Customers have choices, they can buy our product or service from suppliers other than us.  It takes much effort to attract and keep people willing to give us their hard-earned money, so why not just agree to do whatever it takes to keep them.  This is a rule meant to be broken, we all have those customers that no matter what you do you cannot make them happy, these will always exist.  We do have plenty that are happy and just want good service, so think about it next time when you are just thinking of saving a buck and refuse service to your existing customer.  They will eventually go somewhere else.

Finally

There are plenty of lessons to be learned here and not just from Apple.  Number one, first impressions are important, so please make your web application, store front or company presentable.  Make it reflect on you and how you want to be viewed, put your heart into it.  Number two, treat people and customers the way you want to be treated.  It is easy to think of the bottom line at a very superficial level and I think this will hurt your bottom line in the long run.