Support and service is the digital brand

When I think of SMTP.COM, I don’t think about their logo, their corporate colors, their tone, their mission statement or their advertising. Instead, I think of great service. It’s so amazing to find great service today. So amazing to find a company that actually cares about its customers.

I just got an email from Alex, who works for SMTP. “Hello Gerry, How are you today? I haven't heard back from you on my email below for some time now, and would like to follow-up on it.” This is Alex chasing me up in order to help me solve a problem I’m having sending email. That’s amazing. I can’t remember that happening before.

Most interactions with support are stressful. The support person is often trying their best to sound like a bot as they effusively welcome you, while at the same time trying to get rid of you as quickly as possible.

In most organizations, support is the lowest paid, least respected part of the organization hierarchy. Everyone looks down on support because everyone looks down on current customers. Consequently, support people tend to be expected to follow rigid procedures. They can only ‘help’ the customer within very limited parameters.

There is hardly any room to be flexible and to innovate in order to solve the customer’s problem. As a result, dealing with support feels like dealing with a juggler in a straightjacket wishing you the happiest of happiest days as they tell you there’s nothing they can do to help you, or else repeatedly telling you to do something you’ve repeatedly told them you can’t do.

In a 1989 study, consultant Sidney Yoshida found what he called The Iceberg of Ignorance. While 100% of front-line problems were known to the front-line employees, only 74% were known to team leaders, 9% to middle management and just 4% to top management. This is still true today. The further away from the current customer you are, the higher the pay and respect you get.

The customer with a problem is like a leper. Stay away from them. They’ll cost us money. It’s a cultural thing that’s deeply embedded in the DNA of traditional organizations. Support is a cost to be managed, to be outsourced. Get those lepers into a ‘Knowledge Base’ where we’ve dumped a load of badly written, out-of-date, horribly organized information churned out by serfs who get paid by the word.

The customer with a problem is an opportunity. Customers with problems are a marketing and sales goldmine. Because customers with problems now have the tools to communicate to other potential customers about their problems. And who are potential customers looking to hear from most? Current customers. Real customers. Not fake, smiley face marketing personas. Real ones.

Nobody thinks you’re perfect. Nobody expects you to be perfect. What customers expect is that when they have a problem, there will be a genuine attempt to solve that problem. Is that too much to ask?

Today, for most organizations, it is. Because most organizations have contempt for their current customers. They overcharge them and under-support them. The Web gave the current customer the greatest, loudest, baddest megaphone. And all around the Web you can hear current customers roar: “We’re mad as hell! And we’re not going to take it anymore!”

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