Always New Mistakes

March 13, 2008

6 rules to get customer support right

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 2:03 pm


Every single person that works in a business has been taught that customers come first. Nevertheless this simple piece of advice is, in my opinion, the most neglected one in a wide range of enterprises. Why this happens escapes my understanding. I remember when I was studying Marketing (yes, I’m a marketing computer scientist) we got banged really hard with: users, users, users (alas “developers, developers, developers” from the Steve Ballmer’s speech) but it seems not many people were listening that day.

I talk about this because I continually see entrepreneurs neglect the “users come first” motto. Customer or users are the most important part of any business, including web applications. I’ve highlighted several key point I think are worth noting:

  • Never, ever, under NO circumstances be disrespectful with your customers. This first point seems fairly easy, but in my experience, it’s the most recurrent failure in many businesses. The lack of respect and education is really broad. Even if the customer is wrong, being disrespectful is a no-no. First of all, being wrong is a subjective notion, and we have to always try to understand the user’s perspective. But even if a customer is truly wrong, we have to treat them in an educated way and swallow the bad moment. You can reduce this notion to: “The customer is ALWAYS right“. This brings me to the next point.
  • Do not confront a customer. That’s bad PR, bad Marketing, bad everything. In the end you won’t getinsolence.jpg nothing out of a confrontation as the customer is already angry and if he isn’t, a confrontation is probably going to piss him off. Under this point I want to share two stories. The first one happened to my blogger friend Tom Raftery. Blueface’s CEO confronted him in a really nasty way. This case is even worse, not only are you attacking a former customer, but a prominent blogger with media exposure and it’s the CEO the one that is attacking him. Please bear in mind that the CEO and founders of a company are an extension of the company’s brand. Their personal brand is as important or more than the company’s, so do not engage in a confrontation, but even if you do, don’t expose the CEO or founders. The second story happened very recently at one of the South by Southwest‘s panels. It was during the Mark Zuckerberg’s interview by Sarah Lacy. I won’t get into the gory details, you can read those around, but there was something that really made me jump. At one point of the interview she confronted the audience in a very cocky way and said: “Try and do what I do for a living, it isn’t as easy as it looks“. From all points of view, even if she had a reason to say that, confronting a bored audience of geeks and developers is a really stupid move. Not only she didn’t accomplish anything, she probably made things worse with that attitude. So remember, if you ever feel the urge to yell and attack a customer (we all have been in that situation), refrain yourself, tell yourself you wont get nothing positive out of it.
  • Be transparent with your users. This point is probably more of a strategy to build a great brand, but I wished more companies did it. Yesterday I went to an event where they talked about the importance of personal branding. For the speaker, a brand is all about relevance, reliability and notoriety. When you are transparent with your users you increase the reliability perception of your brand. People tend to mystify companies and as such they tend to think that they are evil and that they only do things to gain big money. Being transparent brakes that notion and sets a human face to the company. For example, if Sarah Lacy had disclose that the reason she did the interview with Mark Zuckerberg the way she did was because of restrictions imposed by the organizers, maybe the audience wouldn’t have had their expectations so high. Evidently, a company can’t disclose strategic plans, but most of the time the can and in my opinion, they should. I know a lot of people that would be really happy if Twitter explained what is going on every time they are down.geek.jpg
  • Know your users. When someone starts a business, one of the first things they do is to make some market study and see which market niches they are after. You normally get a profile of the kind of user you are targeting. Strikingly, when dealing with customers and users, a company forgets all about this and treats them in a way that doesn’t makes sense with their profile. Come one, lets try to be coherent. If your target niche are geeks and developers, please, bare that in mind when you talk with your users. Communications flow in a much nicer way when you are in synchrony with your users.
  • Treat your users as adults. One thing really gets on my nerves is when you call customer support and they treat you like if you were completely retarded. Why do I have to tolerate that? I can understand that most of the calls a company gets might be from people with no clue of what they are asking, but extending that notion to all your user base is very dangerous. Please, treat your customers as adults, give them the benefit of being well educated and respectful persons. If you treat them as dumb, they will react as such. If you treat them as adults, some of them will hopefully react as adults.
  • Ask your users in a regular manner. I just added this last point just to remindfeedback1.jpg everyone that user feedback is the best tool start-ups and even fully grown companies have to understand and measure their brand awareness and quality of their products. Always introduce feedback capabilities into all stages of your products. This is even true at an internal level. Introduce feedback systems into you internal procedures to review and understand what is happening inside your company. And of course, act consequently. There is no use in processing feedback if you don’t do anything with it. Listen, process, act and most importantly COMMUNICATE the changes the company made based on the feedback. Feedback is a two way tool. This last point relates to the one about being transparent.

Concluding, I think that most of the tips I wrote about are pretty straightforward. Nevertheless I can’t decide if companies choose to ignore them because they don’t think they are paramount or because they couldn’t care less. Anyway, if you are an entrepreneur and you are bootstrapping your start-up (as I am) include these best practices as soon as possible as it will pay off on the long run. As I love to eat my own dog food, I encourage everyone to leave a comment with their thoughts on the matter.



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      Pingback by Lo que siembras, cosechas: reglas de atención al cliente | Blog en Serio — March 13, 2008 @ 5:53 pm

    2. I would add this: try to get into a business where you really like your customers. There is a downside to everything and you have to sort of enjoy the downside.

      So let’s spell this out. If you teach, it’s because people don’t know stuff. That means they don’t know and there is not point complaining that they don’t know and don’t catch on quickly! That’s how we earn our crust.

      If you are in IT, you deal with people who don’t know what you know. That’s how you earn your money! And they know some stuff and not other stuff. Nature of the business!

      Now it is true, sometimes a situation takes you by surprise. Or even the customers take you by surprise. You find you don’t like them. You have three choices: find a mentor to show you the ropes; take a deep breath and work it out for yourself, painfully if necessary; or find another business where you do like the customers.

      That might sound like you are giving in. It isn’t. It’s following your deepest instincts about your place in the world, what you love to do and whom you love to do it with.

      But remember there is always the downside, and you are in the business to fix that downside. You have to enjoy that very critical part. It has to really bring you alive and make you feel that it the most tremendous and important thing you can be doing with your one and only very precious life.

      I would love to hear about the businesses you love, the clients you love even though they frustrate just about everyone else, and maybe, just maybe, if you would be willing to mentor younger people learning the ropes.

      Comment by Jo — March 13, 2008 @ 7:41 pm

    3. Hi Jo,
      Interesting question you pose. Maybe it’s true that when you love what you do, let it be teaching or IT stuff or any other job, you have such a passion that you enjoy talking with your customers and helping them out, the same way they help your business out.

      I’ve been thinking about your comparison between teaching and IT and I realized you are right, it’s the same with most jobs, the only difference probably is that in most technical jobs there is a historical wider separation between the “tech guys” and customers. That’s probably one of the reasons why I have the feeling it’s harder in IT, when in reality it isn’t so as you point out, it’s just our perception.

      I suppose you could drive a similar example with a job at a restaurant. Talking with customers is the daily job for a waiter, but if you get the chef to talk with customers he might get everything wrong.

      About the businesses I love… hmmm let me think… I love what I do, computer science is my life and I enjoy every single second I’m with a computer but I also enjoy socializing, things like PR or marketing are also great business loves. As a secret I’ll tell you that I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant/night club. Something like a jazz club or similar where people come to eat and you have live performances. But not the typical pub with performance. Something maybe more serious. But this dream is just as a hobby, not to actually work in it. It’s more like I have money, I don’t care if this business doesn’t gives an awful lot of cash but I would love to manage it.

      About the clients, I love the ones that not only tell you what they think it’s wrong with your product (constructive feedback), but they try to understand that even though you represent a company , you are a human being with feelings, and problems like everyone else.

      And about mentoring, indeed, I personally love inspirational persons and I always try to do the same with others. I used to teach a programming course at my university like 3 or 4 years ago and I still bump into pupils that tell me how they loved the course and how much they learned with it. For me, that’s worth much more then money.

      Ok, time to go to bed. Night Jo!

      Comment by Alex Barrera — March 14, 2008 @ 1:22 am

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