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Setting the Bar for Customer Service? 275

Posted by Cliff
from the technicians-and-support dept.
meburke asks: "Computer repair, copier repair, customer support: It seems to be mostly done the same way for the last 40 years. That is: 'Something breaks, call the repair guy.' But customers expect more, and they can't tell us what they expect, so where do we develop guidelines for customer service and how do we improve? I've searched the net for three days now, and I haven't found a comprehensive list of actions or standards that distinguish the excellent tech from the average tech. Can anyone point me toward some sources?" It seems that as our technology becomes more complex, the service that is offered to customers continues to fall shorter of the mark. What kind of service do you expect from your vendors, and how close is reality to your expectations?
As an aside, shooflot wonders: "If the definition of 'news' includes 'rarity' then good service must be news. My usual experience includes the kind of sulky and dismissive attitude I got from an Apple rep when my new iPod wouldn't charge (I eventually got him to exchange it). However, I was recently surprised by Rogers, my cellphone provider, when I followed up on some charges for ringtones I'd never downloaded. The service rep not only cancelled the charges but discovered I'd been wrongly charged an extra air time fee for the whole last year and credited me for the entire amount plus tax! What great service stories does Slashdot wish to share which (I hope!) may inspire all those other reps in the trenches?"
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Setting the Bar for Customer Service?

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  • ITIL (Score:5, Interesting)

    by XorNand (517466) * on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:07PM (#12909762)
    The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL [wikipedia.org]) is growing in popularity as the defacto "best practices" for IT services. It's not for the faint of heart (nor cheap), but it's extremely comprehensive.

    And to blantantly plug the message board in my sig [smallbizgeeks.com]... this is a topic that we discuss there frequently as well. "What's the difference between a 'computer guy' and an 'IT consultant'? [smallbizgeeks.com]" was one of the threads that comes to mind. I know that one of the more frustrating aspects of my job is having to clean up other techs' messes. And worse: having to charge the customer for my time to do that when they already paid the last guy a pretty penny. With PCs now in the magical $300 range, the divide between the two types of techs seems to be growing. I don't know whether this is helping my business or hurting it yet though.
    • BicycleRepairman! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Doug Merritt (3550) <doug@rema r q u e . o rg> on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:53PM (#12909972) Homepage Journal
      I haven't found a comprehensive list of actions or standards that distinguish the excellent tech from the average tech. Can anyone point me toward some sources?

      The obvious example of excellent tech support to follow is...BicycleRepairman! Quoted from a bicycle web site:

      My favorite Monty Python skit is one called "Bicycle Repairman." In the skit, we see superman walking down the street in his splendid costume. Then he stops to catch a bus, but surprizingly, the bus driver is a superman too, in an identical costume. Then, when he turns to walk back to his seat, we discover everyone else on the bus is a superman too. We go on into town, and there we find that every person in every store is a superman.

      Then we see a superman riding his bicycle, but it begins to wobble badly, and then he crashes. The bicycle needs repaired, but superman doesn't know how. Then the call goes out for Bicycle Repairman. Everywhere, supermen are frantically searching for the hero.

      In a crowded laundromat, a group of supermen are waiting for their costumes to wash, when another superman announces the emergency. One of the supermen looks around to see if anyone is watching him, and then he disappears into a dark recess, where he turns into Bicycle Repairman, with his brown coveralls and tool chest.

      All the supermen are excited to see him, and he goes and repairs the bicycle. The message of the skit is, of course, that all of us can play an important role; we don't have to be superman. We can play some other essential role, such as Bicycle Repairman instead!

    • Re:ITIL (Score:3, Funny)

      by stefanb (21140) *
      "What's the difference between a 'computer guy' and an 'IT consultant'?"

      Saw a billboard a couple of weeks back off-strip in Las Vegas: "We repair what your husband fixed."

  • by Deekin_Scalesinger (755062) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:09PM (#12909771)
    I think some of it comes from within - if you have a good people nature, you'll be a better tech, at least in the customer service area.I say this from a long time support background, but I have done a lot of different types of it and that internal desire to help others is a constant. A good heart radiates outward to your outlook, manner of working, etc. Wish I could point you to a specific doc, but meebe this helped instead...
    • While it's true that a good service attitude has to come from the heart, there are good books to guide one too. I have a copy of IDG Books Customer Service for Dummies, and it's got a lot of good ideas.
    • And a lot of what comes from "within" has to do with the company that they're working for. A company that constantly nickles-and-dimes their employees by providing low wages and poor benefits doesn't build any loyalty with those who are manning the phones all day long. I used to try to reason with customer service reps, something along the lines of "If your company delivers bad service, then people like me will take our business elsewhere. When your business declines, you will be out of a job". I've nev
  • In IT (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TykeClone (668449) * <TykeClone@gmail.com> on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:09PM (#12909772) Homepage Journal
    Good customer service is doing what you said you'd do when you said that you would do it for what you said you would charge.

    That sets the bar pretty low and is kind of a sad commentary on the state of IT customer service.

    • Re:In IT (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DanteLysin (829006) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:17PM (#12909818)
      I disagree. Simply doing one's job is not the same as good customer service. Good customer service can translate into repeatable business. I had a problem with my Air Conditioning. Twice it had failed, and I came home from work to find the house at over 80 degrees. I'm using to working in a server room. 80 degrees is pure torture for me.

      The first company I called came out and fixed the AC. When I called them, the office assistant was short (almost rude). I had to take the day off waiting for the technician. When he arrived, the technician grunted and mumbled a lot. He did his work and left.

      The second time my AC broke, I called another company. The office assistant was very pleasant to speak with. She offered to call to my cell phone to let me know when the technician was "on his way". So, I was able to work most of the day and saved a vacation day. The technician was also pleasant to talk with. Not only did he fix my AC, but he explained how it failed and how I can catch it in the future. He also went over some preventative maintenance tips with me.

      The next time I have any AC problem, I will call the latter company. I passed along this info to my friends. Good customer service. Repeatable business. Referrals.
    • Re:In IT (Score:5, Informative)

      by einhverfr (238914) <chris.traversNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:25PM (#12909864) Homepage Journal
      A few points to help:

      1) Stand by your work. If the problem is not fixed on the first visit, return to fix it free of charge.

      2) Follow up with your customers to make sure that the problems are resolved.

      3) Send customers an email detailing the problems they called about, the cause, the resolution, and actions they can take in the future to reduce the need for service calls.

      4) Err on the side of the customer when there is a dispute. Note that the customer is NOT always right (after all, if they were, why would they need us), but see disputes as opportunities to build goodwill.

      5) Repeat after me: most customers aren't stupid. They feel lost amid the technology and they are frustrated. Try to explain things in everyday language so that they can feel that the mystery of the technology isn't so overwhelming.

      All this takes discipline, and I even find myself slipping up on it from time to time. There are more points here that I use for my business, but these are the main substantive ones.
      • Re:In IT (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SomeGuyFromCA (197979)
        > 5) Repeat after me: most customers aren't stupid. They feel lost amid the technology and they are frustrated. Try to explain things in everyday language so that they can feel that the mystery of the technology isn't so overwhelming.

        most customers are willfully ignorant. no, i can't fix my car, but i
        a) learn the terminology - i don't call the wheel the engine or the gas pedal the go-faster button. (all those words like hard drive, modem, etc that the computer gets called. plus the ones who think the mo
        • Re:In IT (Score:3, Interesting)

          Router story sniped..

          but how do you make someone understand the signal won't reach 30 miles? i tried the radio station analogy - if you go 100 miles away, you get different radio stations. he blew up and said that i told him it would work anywhere.

          i'd meant anywhere in the house.


          Which is what you should have made clear to teh customer when you installed it. You know it won't work 30 miles away, I know it won't; but someone who pays to have a newtowrk setup *probably* doesn't realize it won't work 30 m
    • I may have low expectations, but I agree.

      A recent example would be Apple - odd since shooflot seems to have had bad experience, but anyway - I recieved an iMac with a dead power supply, unfortunate but inevitably possible. Went to the website, found 'self service' warranty support, ordered a new PSU and had it in my machine the next day, as well as having a prepaid shipping box to get the old one back to them. No questions asked, no mess, no "please wait up to 28 days", just getting what I asked for and ha
  • by neurokaotix (892464) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:10PM (#12909773)
    AOL
    • Nonono, the three letters that will put the willies up any Brit are as follows.

      N.
      T.
      L.

      NTL are the epitomy of shit customer service. They are AOL on steroids and crack. They will fuck up and they will bitch and they will moan and they will NEVER apologise when something is clearly their fault, and when all is said and done you have to threaten to switch to BT (British Telecom for the England-deprived) to lift their fucking fingers out of their arseholes and fix your fucking Internet connection.

      There are so
  • The most obvious answer probably is:

    Not having to call support in the first place.

    This, of coursed, implies assuring high quality, durability and ease of use, in both software and hardware. But sadly, it seems companies are more focussed on producing and manufacturing as cheaply as possible.
    • By the way, I do realize that even high-quality hardware and software willfail sooner or later. And when that happens, I hope companies won't charge way too much for their support. It seems to become a new trend to try to cash in with ridiculous prices on the customers' problems that often the companies themselves created in the first place.
  • by hbo (62590) * on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:12PM (#12909784) Homepage
    Although "technical support" may seem to be about technology, it's really about people and their behavior under stress. Having filled dozens of support roles in 20 years as a systems guy, I can tell you that the greatest factors in my success have been patience and humor. What book do you go to to learn those things?
    • What book do you go to to learn those things?

      The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Just look at the cover and "Don't Panic"

    • I'd agree, though I'd also add "good ability to research/find information" is a HUGE plus.

      No tech can really be expected to know ALL of the answers, but there's no excuse for not having the skills to look it up using google, etc.

      These days, except for providing and installing replacements for defective parts, most computer service is really about straightening out OS glitches, finding updated/proper drivers for devices, and removing software causing malfunctions.

      You can buy yourself a surprising amount o
    • What book do you go to to learn those things?

      Well, not sure about the patience, but the book "Comedy Writing Secrets" is full of neat tips and tricks with writing comedy--which also helps a great deal in conversation.

      One of the coolest ones that has helped my humor is: leave the punchline until the last word, or if not possible, the last few words. This makes it funnier, because it sets up the listener to expect to hear something, and they instead hear something else.

      Example: "Great minds thin

  • by CorporalKlinger (871715) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:13PM (#12909792)
    And here, I was going to say that you could just walk into the average Best Buy or CompUSA with a complex computer problem, write down everything the technician there does (interactions, attempted fixes, plan of attack, etc.)

    The exact opposite of everything you wrote down is exactly what customers would really like.
    • I agree with that. You can be very pleasant, and completely unable to help your customer. Although you might get a lot of dates^H^H^H^H^Hcompliments on your work attitude.

      It's just that geeks, I consider myself one, are likely to overlook the human side. I'm sure we've all seen brilliant engineers who needed to be roped off from end users - and higher management. Often the technical problem can prevent you from seeing that the real solution is organizational or personal. Geeks like to sneer at "politics,"
  • by NetSettler (460623) <kent-slashdot@nhplace.com> on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:14PM (#12909794) Homepage Journal
    As we pressure companies for cheaper and cheaper everything, we squeeze out the dollars they need to do support, and they outsource it--to us.

    Do I want companies to offer good quality and stand by their work? Sure. Do I expect it? Ha. It's bad enough that I generally just hope the price point is low enough that when it breaks I can afford a new one rather than talk to some unhelpful jerk on the phone.

    Look at what's happened to watch repair shops. No one repairs watches any more, they just replace them. Same with shoe repair. Heck, in some regions of the company, away from big cities, it's hard to find contractors to repair houses because the people who know how to do the relevant work find it both easier and more lucrative just to build new ones. Other "technology" will probably follow suit, if it hasn't already.
    • Except when you buy a new house you always get to move all your furniture. When you buy a new computer, it might be because your last one is toast and your data is gone.

    • by Skynyrd (25155) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @03:39PM (#12910452) Homepage
      Heck, in some regions of the company, away from big cities, it's hard to find contractors to repair houses because the people who know how to do the relevant work find it both easier and more lucrative just to build new ones.

      Although I live in a big city, I think I have a relevant comment on the house repair issue.

      I recently shut down a handman service I was running for the past five years - because of the customers (mostly).

      Why? People don't want to pay for quality service and work. People would complain about my prices (25-35 an hour) by saying that the day laborers in the Home Depot parking lot are cheaper.

      Yes, you can get one cheaper, however (at least in LA) they:
      1) Don't have tools
      2) Don't generally speak English
      3) May claim skills they don't have
      4) Don't have transportation
      5) Can't be found again if there's a problem

      So, you can pay $10-$15 for a guy you can't communicate with, who you have to pick up and return *and* buy/rent tools for them.

      So for about twice the price, you get a card with my name and phone number (and I answer it). I drive to the job. I can pick up things at Home Depot on the way. I bring tools to the job (and the cost of the tools is usually more then the cost of the job). I speak fluent English and passible Spanish. I'll tell you if part of the job isn't in my skill set.

      And people still ask for big (25%) discounts.

      Sometimes good customer service simply costs "too much" for some people.
  • by cballowe (318307) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:15PM (#12909805) Homepage
    I find that my DSL company has excellent customer service. They aren't like the phone company who tries to convince you that you caused the problem and starts out by warning you that it will cost you if the problem is found on your site. I think the trick is that the person on the phone is able to fix 90% of the calls. I've called at 3AM, explained the problem, and had it fixed in 5 minutes.

    I don't know what customers expect, but if the service was modeled after Speakeasy, I can't see many people complaining. I think part of the trick is that it's a very flat support organization - you don't need to escalate to a level 2 or level 3 person on the phone. The person you get on the call can do everything short of showing up at your door.

    Dell, on the other hand, makes people jump through hoops when they call in with a problem (like a dead hard drive). This even happens on corporate accounts - the field techs at work have been known to spend 4 hours on the phone going through dell's script.
    • I've found that my best bet for getting something done by Dell with little pain is to avoid the phone completely.<p>

      I'll run tests (their diagnostics and others such as memtest), then do a detailed writeup of what I've tested, what the results were, what I think the problem is and any steps I've taken to try to resolve it (e.g. removing & reseating the memory). Then I go to the support site, put in the service tag, and go through the contact us bit and "Email Product Support." It may take a day o
      • I don't know what your Dell support level is, but when I call Dell gold support I get the problem resolved releatively quickly. I've only gotten someone with an Indian accent once, and he probally was an immigrant that worked in there call center in Texas or if not definatly not a script reader. As a matter of fact he was able to identify a problem with my server hanging on reboot as my video card not liking my monitor when the All American white anglosaxon protestand tech I called the day before was asking
    • by Mad_Rain (674268) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:45PM (#12909942) Journal
      I'm going to second that. Speakeasy has been overwhelmingly good for me and my connection - They have knowledgable tech staff on the phone, who have a sense of humor, don't talk down to you, and have even given their extensions to me so I can talk with the same person over several days. They returned my phone calls! How many places are like that? Certainly not my cable company, phone company, gas or electric company.

      Now, as I type that out, I think therein lies an additional piece of truth - they're able to adjust their skills and apply their knowledge to MY level of geekitude. Since different people are going to have different levels, flexibility in explaining things and providing transparency in what their doing would go a long way in customer service.

      So for example:
      Me: I have problem X, and have tried solution A, B, and C. Can you help me out with this problem?
      Them: Okay, we're going to have a tech look at D, and depending on D's status, we'll do E, F, and G. In the meantime, check H. We'll call you back in an hour with an update.
      Me: Great!

      Now, if they're talking with say, my parents...

      Parents: I'm having a problem with X. Can you help me with that?
      Them: Absolutely. We'll send out a tech to check a few things, and get back to you in an hour with some solutions. It's probably just Problem Y, but we'll check over the whole thing for you, just in case.
      Parents: Okay, we'll wait for the next update.
    • That's because Dell isn't a service organization, they are a supply chain management firm. Once the machine leaves the door, they don't want to hear about it even again. If you are an IBM or HP customer you can easily contrast the support you get from IBM services division with the support you get from Dell. Dell just doesn't want to help you. IBM will be quite happy to help you; that's how they make all their money.
    • That's not the phone company's fault. That's the result of de-regulation and the breakup of ATT.
    • Dell, on the other hand, makes people jump through hoops when they call in with a problem (like a dead hard drive). This even happens on corporate accounts - the field techs at work have been known to spend 4 hours on the phone going through dell's script.

      I used to work in the support department for a company a few years ago. Any time I had a problem with a Dell system, I would just diagnose the problem myself then call their support line. Since I knew what the problem was I would just answer their qu
      • I have a customer who is a retired technician (used to maintain the old AT&T crossbar switches-- see I told you most customers aren't stupid). His Dell stopped working and would crash shortly after boot.

        He called a friend of his who spent an hour on the phone with Dell trying to determine the cause of the problem, and they concluded that Windows was completely hosed.

        At this point, the friend calls me for a second opinion. I listen to the story, that it happens the same way in Safe mode, and that it
    • Dell, on the other hand, makes people jump through hoops when they call in with a problem (like a dead hard drive).

      I never seem to have problems with technical support and I suspect my own attitude has a lot to do with it.
      I don't go in pretending to be a Geek, or spoiling for a fight. I don't mind admitting to some stupid mistake. USB plug in an Ethernet socket. That sort of thing.

    • by Tim Browse (9263) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @07:51PM (#12911486)

      Dell, on the other hand, makes people jump through hoops when they call in with a problem (like a dead hard drive). This even happens on corporate accounts - the field techs at work have been known to spend 4 hours on the phone going through dell's script.

      Yes, Dell support sucks. I got my Dad a Dell PC, and the CD burner didn't work properly - it was intermittent when burning CD-RWs - sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn't. Seemed pretty obvious to me that the drive was screwed in a hardware type way, esp. as sometimes the burn would 'succeed', but the disc would be blank (using media from the same batch).

      Anyway, rule #1 with Dell support - you do NOT have an intermittent problem. It goes wrong all the time, every time, ok? If you have to lie, then lie. Otherwise as soon as it works, they say "Oh, it's working now, sir - bye!"

      Then I tried CD-Rs - XP cd burning failed every time. I call back, and get passed from pillar to post - they kept wanting me to reinstall the POS burner software they ship out with the system, I keep insisting on keeping it simple and using XP's built-in burning software. They bitch about this because they are not 'trained' to use XP burning software. WTF? You put a blank CD in, open the CD drive, drag some files on, click 'Write to CD'. How much training do you need?

      Also one of the guys I talk to tries to tell me that they don't test the drives with XP burning. I point out that it should still work, no? He says they don't test it, and tries to wriggle out of helping me. I ask him if Dell has sold me a burner that doesn't work with XP. "XP is made by Microsoft, not us, and we don't test the XP burning software." So I reply, "So you're telling me that you've sold me a PC with a CD burner that you know doesn't work with XP? Your product doesn't actually work? Isn't that illegal? You've even put one of those 'Designed for Windows XP' stickers on the box and everything." Not surprisingly, he backs down.

      Eventually they say it's a software problem, so I'll have to pay for a software call to resolve it. This pisses me off no end, but I confirm that if it turns out to be a hardware problem, then I won't get charged. They try to convince me that it's not a hardware problem because the Dell diags program tests the burner drive and reports success (despite it stating that it does no burning testing).

      So anyway, I call the software team and explain the situation. I am told that it can't be a problem with the hardware because otherwise I wouldn't even be able to read normal CD-ROMs, which I can. I query this in-depth analysis, but they are adamant. Riiiight.

      Anyway, surprise - the software team fail to get it working. They tell me to reinstall XP. I hadn't realised that people still do this. I tell them this is a pretty unreasonable thing to ask me to do, but the guy says it should only take an hour and a half to reinstall XP and set up all my apps and data again. Sure.

      So in frustration I install XP on a scratch hard-drive. Hey guess what, CD burning still fails every time on CD-Rs.

      I call the hardware group back, they grudgingly admit my initial diagnosis of hw failure might be correct, and arrange for an engineer to visit the next to day to replace the drive.

      He arrives, changes drive, new drive works perfectly.

      Total time on phone - about 5 hours, talking to about 8 different people.

      For a duff optical drive. Hardly rocket science.

      Before anyone replies with "Dell aren't a service company", well, they sure charged me for the next-day on-site service contract.

      And before you tell me I'm a mug for paying for that, I live about 120 miles from my parents, and the alternative is to ship the PC back to base, where Dell could sit on it for 6 weeks. My Dad cannot afford to have no PC for 6 weeks.

      In summary, I have the service agreement so if they need to repair it, they will come to my Dad, and

  • by sakusha (441986) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:15PM (#12909807)
    You are kidding, right? Service is getting to the point where all they say is "throw it away and get a new one."
    In the early days of microcomputers, we used to do component level repair, for example, diagnosing and replacing individual memory chips, or replacing individual chips on disk drive controllers. It's been many years since that was discontinued in favor of swapping out whole circuit boards. And now that is becoming rare, it's rarely cost effective to replace boards, now the techs just tell you to throw the whole unit away and get a new one.
    This is a major problem, the IT industry is not manufacturing technology products, they are manufacturing garbage heaps full of unrepairable electronic junk. I would rather buy repairable products that have a longer life, than to pay less for disposable junk.
    • Can't help it.

      When a computer motherboard costs less than 15 minutes of qualified electronics repairman's time, there is absolutely no point in even trying to repair it. Just ship it to distributor/manufacturer for replacement.

      Someone in some low-wage country will probably one day take a look at it and fix it, if its easy to fix... but in the western world, you can't find a person who'd work cheap enough repairing these things to make it worth it even when compared to the retail prices (let alone wholesal
    • Try to get a blender repaired, or a vacuum cleaner, or a television set, or household furniture in most areas. If you find one or two shops that still do any kind of appliance or furniture repair in a major metropolitan area of several to several dozen million people, you're lucky.

      And if you manage to track one of them down and carry in a product made after 1990, they'll likely tell you that it's unfixable because things these days "aren't made to be serviced" and there are "no parts available from the man
    • Considering that the design and manufacturing of most circuitry has been outsourced to places like Taiwan and China, it is no wonder that computer componentry has become a commodity.

      Computers are no longer crafted like they were in the glory days of DEC and IBM. They're more like a carton of milk or a bag of chips. What you're advocating would require a return to the days of "computer carpenters". That won't happen as long as China and India are designing and producing most hardware used in North America a
    • When one does component level diagnostics on certain parts (say, memory sticks) one can discover that they underlying problem maybe corroded contact points on the memory or the socket. Customer hands me a system saying "black screen, no boot". I hit the power button and the fans whir to life, no POST. Cutting the power I reach inside and push down on the rockwell socketed BIOS chip, feeling it crunch a lil as it seats. Hit the power agian the system comes to life. Proceeded to reseat all the cables that
    • I would rather buy repairable products that have a longer life, than to pay less for disposable junk.

      I agree with you, unfortunately most Americans do not, which is why most stuff now is cheap junk designed to last about 3 years. People buy the cheap WalMart special as opposed to the higher quality product from a small electronics store that costs twice as much.
  • by baryon351 (626717) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:17PM (#12909813)
    I've seen some bad customer service, but I've also seen some shocking customer expectations. A friend works at Apple, and one of his headbutt-the-desk moments that come up all too often is when a customer phones complaining that a new model is out, and their 3 month old powerbook/ibook/whatever is now out of date... and will he give them a refund or a replacement unit.

    Having also worked on an ISP helpdesk, some of the customer expectations there are equally insane. One business had thousands of business cards, letterheads and other stationary printed with their email address listed as "http://www.businessname.com/". Who did they immediately phone? us - demanding that when someone sends email to "http://www.businessname.com/" that it get to them.

    Pity their hosting wasn't with us, even if their net service was.

    The technically clueless just want someone to blame if something doesn't work to their satisfaction - and that's entirely fair - however when they come on all insistent that their problems can be fixed by places they can't, or they don't realise their expectations are entirely unrealistic it's when service providers just turn off and want to go "piss off, idiot"
    • My young nephew was telling me about how some of his college buddies have been prank calling Dell tech support centers that they know are in India just to pose such questions to them. Indeed, they'll say stuff like they put their DSL "Intarweb" into the floppy drive. Or that they want their monitor to work but they don't want to connect it to their computer. He told me one story about a call where his friend said he had cockroaches coming out of the computer.

      Indeed, if tech support people have to face such
      • Indeed, if tech support people have to face such horrors, then it is no doubt that the quality of their services will drop! They have no incentive to be courteous and knowledgable.

        Crank calls pre-date the tech sector by about as long as the telephone has been in existance. They are not a valid excuse for sub-par support response.

        While working in a pizza shop, I've had my share of crank calls. In a one-location, moderately busy shop (~60 delivery orders, about 100+ calls in a typical night spread be

  • Personal Experience (Score:3, Informative)

    by epiphani (254981) <epiphani@nospAM.dal.net> on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:17PM (#12909814)
    Netapp. They have excellent customer service, and they cover what I want in service quite well.

    There are three basic lines of support, which I appreciate - and a methodology that is very important.

    • Online Documentation and forums. You can find information, HOWTOs, simular problems, best practices, example deployments, in depth technical details into how things work under the hood. This is an invaluble resource - I want to find and learn it myself, not depend on telephone technicians.
    • Application (or in this case, appliance) phone home and two or four hour onsite support. I prefer to find out that I had a hardware failure when I wake up in the morning to find a set of emails - one from the appliance, one from the vendor, one from the datacenter, and one from the tech - that my problem has been fixed.
    • Competant telephone support. If they cant answer my question on the phone, they'll escalate. If they cant cant resolve my problem, they'll escalate. I'll get an accual engineer on the phone if my problem is big enough.
    • Willing to take responsibility. If its broken, and I didnt break it, then its the vendors' problem. We had a problem a few weeks ago with one of our Filers, and after two failed attempts to fix the problem they accually flew a tech to our office and told him he wasnt leaving until it was properly fixed according to our schedule (as it was a production filer). And he was there for two weeks.


    Go the extra mile. Thats what I look for in support and customer service.
    • You have obviously never encountered the "Fast WACK", the fsck-equivalent for NetApp that their sales organization swears does not exist, and their support organization has never heard of.

      NetApp are a bunch of chronic liars, and no amount of support can cover up that problem.

  • by Carcass666 (539381)

    Trying to purchase some Dell notebooks this week was an excrutiating excercise. The online credit application initially rejected me and gave me a number to call. The person I spoke to was very polite but had absolutely no authority/ability to assist me in getting my credit line established or switching my order to use a credit card instead of the credit line. The order ended up getting cancelled, and the two notebooks I selected from the Dell Outlet site ended up going to somebody else by the time I ende

    • The problem isn't so much that the call centers are offshored, it's that the staff are not provided with any meaningful mechanisms to address customer concerns. They seem to have a list of things that they are expected to respond to and responses they are allowed to give.

      It's more fundamental than that. The culture in India is one of extreme politeness, but self-directed thinking just isn't a part of their culture. They know how to follow instructions. As a culture, they don't know how to think and act

    • -A remote call center is fine to talk Joe Average in figuring out why their AOL connection isn't working as expected.-

      I would disagree with this, and for a very good reason. I work for a very small (read: Boss, Me, New Guy) general PC Repair/System Builder type store (you know the type). For the last six years the company has had 25-35% growth every year, precisely because people don't want to call India to find out why their AOL connection isn't working. They call us. These are the same people that se
  • Depends (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tom's a-cold (253195) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:19PM (#12909828) Homepage
    A lot of companies treat their customer service as a "bag on the side" rather than as an integral part of the business. As a consequence, the reps aren't empowered to do anything to improve the customer relationship (for example, fixing accounting errors or offering complimentary goodies). Instead, they're held accountable for keeping the costs down by ending calls as soon as possible, by any means necessary.

    Worse, I've been at a lot of clients where customer satisfaction is not systematically measured, where there's no incentive for reps to do the right thing, and where there's no awareness that future sales depend on the company's reputation for service as much as on the product itself. This includes some well-known companies where you'd think they'd know better.

    The FPP anecdote about Apple is a great example of how great products aren't the end of the experience for customers. The other side of the coin is the somewhat pricey ISP I use. If cost and connectivity were the only drivers, I'd dump them in a heartbeat since broadband is a commodity product. But their tech support and customer service are much better than the (admittedly lousy) average, so I keep on paying the premium.

    • ""they're held accountable for keeping the costs down by ending calls as soon as possible, by any means necessary. ""

      This 'method' of saving costs is the easy way to ensure the customer support is total CRAP.

      No sane person with any knowledge of the product/service/area of expertise will stick around in a workplace where short call > resolved call. All you get is drones that do their damnest to end calls and/or bounce them around so their 'minutes per call' is kept low and they seem 'l33t support techs'
  • by ChrisBrown1 (212711) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:21PM (#12909837)

    I would highly recommend the book: "Customer Satisfaction Is Worthless, Customer Loyalty Is Priceless : How to Make Customers Love You, Keep Them Coming Back and Tell Everyone They Know" [amazon.com].

    This is required reading at my company. The book has a lot of self-hype, the author can't seem to grasp the concept of ordinal numbers, and is a bit condenscending, but if you get past that it has a LOT of REALLY EXCELLENT customer service advice for all businesses.

  • Look at the world around you and recall the times you felt you received good service. Doesn't matter if it was from a waitress or a plumber. The first thing that I recall with good service is the persons willingness to step up to the plate and take ownership of you and your problem and following through on doing their best to find a resolution. Even if it's not fixed the first time you know they're doing everything in their power to get it done.

  • Excellent tech = me.

    Average tech = you.

    Lousy tech = the one who still does that for a living.
  • by rkcallaghan (858110) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:22PM (#12909847)
    On Thursday this week, I went in to a local Staples store, found a desk and a chair that I liked. I went ahead and ordered it.

    A nice man helped me get it all set up for delivery, and gave me the information on some people that can assemble it for me. Wonderful. He says they can email me a delivery time estimate, and that he knows personally they don't sell it or anything like that, so no spam even from them. Very cool.

    Yesterday I get a call on my cell, its the delivery guy at my apartment and the managers office won't take delivery or let him in (even at my request) to drop off my stuff. The delivery guy is very friendly, especially considering he's gonna have to come back. He gives me the number I can call to reschedule.

    I'm dreading this call. Ohhhhh gawd I think, I'm gonna have to talk to some phone jockey retard who couldn't care less about helping me. So I call. It asks me if I want English or Spanish. BEEP! For a moment, I start to groan to myself as the customer service hoop jumping is about to begin. Wait? What's this? Hello? Holy smokes! A live person, right away! He's friendly and asks me for my name and whats wrong before my order number. He tells me he's going to have to get someone from another department. My stomach sinks again, oh junk, here we go, its the run around. I get about a minute of hold music, and then, woah wait a minute, its the same guy! He's doing a warm/live transfer, and the new guy already has all my info and knows my situation! WOW!

    The new guy is friendly too, he gets me set up for a new delivery time, and we part ways.

    What's the moral of this story? I mean you'd think it sounded pretty plain. These days, it doesn't. I've come to expect to be punted, lied to, have to jump through 3 dozen hoops until I yell at a manager, just to get the simplest requests past the call center guys that are paid to reduce the amount of customers that want stuff that costs the company more money. Treat me right, give me a little customer service with no bullshit, don't get in arguements with me over who's fault it was I didn't get the email, answer the phone when I call, don't cold dump/punt me, and I am now a Staples customer for life (or at least until they go down the shitty customer service is cheaper route).

    ~Rebecca
    • In the past I've avoided rebates like the plague. To the best of my knowledge Staples is the only company that has an option to submit your rebate online AND has a way to track the rebate even if you've mailed it in.
    • I think the live transfer is the mark of a higher standard in technical support. I had a similar experience with Apple and was shocked at how polite and personable they were over the phone. The live transfer to another tech was also something I hadn't seen before then and it made a world of difference in terms of my perception. I didn't have to repeat myself and the new tech was already up to speed as if I had just talked to him myself! Not only that, you just get warm fuzzies with live transfers. Good
  • Sorta like medicine? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Logic Bomb (122875) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:25PM (#12909863)
    I don't want to make a straight comparison between someone who fixes technology and someone who heals people, but I think medical professionals and IT/computer professionals can be evaluated by some of the same basic questions:

    1. Is the problem resolved?
    2. Was the resolution as efficient as possible?
    3. Will the fix make it harder to help the person/fix the device in the future? (You want a 'no' on that one :-))
    4. Did the fix put the person/users of the technology through any unnecessary hardship? (Another 'no', hopefully.)

    Good support is like pornography; you know it when you see it, but it's hard to define.
  • There's not likely to be a useful comprehensive list of best practices because too many would be industry or company dependent making much of the list useless to others.

    There's an organization based on improving customer service, but you have to join to get access to most pf their material: http://www.socap.org/ [socap.org]

    It took me years to figure out why my father came home in a bad mood every night from his TV repair shop. All the phone calls he receives were from people who were (1) angry because their TV was b
  • Wrong approach (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gunner800 (142959) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:28PM (#12909876) Homepage
    There is no master list of steps. It couldn't be flexible enough to allow excellence. Here's my vague, hand-wavy suggestions:

    1: Do a little more than the support contract says you have to. If it's a serious problem, call the customer a couple days after fixing it to see if it's still fixed.

    2: Have your support people educated. Flowcharts and checklists for solving common problems are fine, but don't let anybody answer your phone who doesn't understand the product.

    3: Don't use your support system as a sales channel. Solve the customer's problem without fobbing more product on them.

    4: Don't put a mediocre support person on first-tier phone support because it's "easier" than the levels for more complex problems. First tier interacts with almost everybody who calls in, it's an important job, get somebody good at it.

    5: If a support person in the field calls the home office, the office guy drops everything and deals with it. Make sure you support people know this is an option.

    6: If possible, have your field support people familiar not just with your products but with your customers' processes. This helps communication. It's a nice perk when your customers are rather homogenous, but probably doesn't matter for something like photocopier repairs.
    • 4: Don't put a mediocre support person on first-tier phone support because it's "easier" than the levels for more complex problems. First tier interacts with almost everybody who calls in, it's an important job, get somebody good at it.

      That's a tough one. From my experience, any one who is good at doing first level tech support will get bored with it so quickly that their initial enthusiasm will drop and you're left with someone about as effective as one who knows nothing about the problem.

      Good organi
  • The best answer is both simple and complex. As pointed out, better quality equipment would be very helpful, but alas, machines break, it is their nature.

    When they break, people are stressed, and quite often they will be trying to get services that they have not or are not really willing to pay for.

    Given that these seem universal truths when customer service is required, the best answer is a combination of all answers. Polite and helpful C/S agents who are both knowledgable and able to help customers no ma
  • The higher bar for customer service is coming in once a day/week/month running maintenance to prevent problems occurring in the first place. The problem is they don't want to pay for us to come in everyday and check for any problems and fix them while they are small. If they do pay for the service it will not last long when they switch a CFO they will go why do we have a guy looking at the product it never breaks. Alternatively there is also a monthly service agreement where the company pays the service
  • by yagu (721525) <yayagu.gmail@com> on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:31PM (#12909887) Journal

    So, this is something studied for years, and companies still don't get it? I guess especially in technical arenas I've seen they really don't, though I can't begin to imagine why not.

    It's really about satisfying the customer... treat 'em like they're people, don't lie to them, do any and everything you say you'll do, don't make promises you can't keep.

    My best experiences with any support be it on-line, by phone, or in person have little (if anything) to do with final resolution of the problem, but more to do with whether I was treated respectfully. Some of my best "support" experiences have come from people who clearly didn't know the answer to my problem, but knew steps to take to ensure my problem was addressed.

    Companies who drive support to "bottom line" criteria are missing the much bigger picture of what an unhappy customer base does to the bottom line. I go out of my way to stay loyal to businesses who care enough to have a relationship with me. On the other, for example, a bank whose exponential growth over the last 10 years has grown at the cost of their local flavor and service has lost me as a customer... I've moved all of my accounts from them to another friendlier local credit union.

    Not sure why this is such a hard problem for businesses to solve...

  • > That is: 'Something breaks, call the repair guy.'

    If someone's computer breaks, they usually end up calling me because I'm the "computer expert" who knows more than the store techs, and I work on the barter system. I'm talking neighbors, parents, cousins.

    Is that how it usually works anyway? Something breaks and they call the local computer geek in the neighborhood who'll fix it as long as a steady supply of Dr. Pepper is on hand?
  • Consumer Reports (Score:2, Informative)

    by pHatidic (163975)
    The most recent issue of Consumer Reports gave Apple by far the best scores in customer service for their computers. They got basically double the points of the next best company.
  • More what? (Score:4, Informative)

    by jayhawk88 (160512) <jayhawk88@gmail.com> on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:34PM (#12909898)
    That is: 'Something breaks, call the repair guy.' But customers expect more...

    More what exactly? Psychic predictive repair? Technicians dressed as 1950's pop icons? Free balloons for the kids?

    Look, it's computer repair. You can talk about making computers more reliable or easier to use, but there's always going to be a need for the "call the repair guy" option. At that point, the customer just wants their computer fixed. Quickly and efficiently, and preferrably cheap or free.

    Yes, there are a lot of companies out there who are horrible at computer service, but there are also some good ones as well. The focus needs to be on improving that level of service, not redefining or creating new services.
    • Is this a troll for a business plan or something? I haven't known people to expect more than good service, but maybe I'm wrong. Obviously people are getting "more" than that from somewhere, but where? And why won't this person articulate it? I agree that predicting the future might be a good entrepreneurial angle, so let us know when you figure that one out.

      Good service hasn't really changed in the past century. Don't make your customers hate you, and tell prospective customers how you're going to prevent
  • They want the broken item FIXED, and fixed QUICKLY. If that is done, then the customers will be happy.
  • The Best Article... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tteddo (543485) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:38PM (#12909915) Homepage
    As a person who has been doing this awhile, the following link was the best article I have ever read on this subject: http://whatexit.org/tal/data/techjob.html/ [whatexit.org]
  • You just run up too hard against human nature when you get close to technical support. I know this from my own expectations:

    - I want it as cheap as humanly possible and will frequently switch providers the minute I spot the opportunity to save a small amount of money on support costs.

    - I want the best experience possible, I want the service tech to fix it even before it breaks but if that's not possible I want expert and friendly service that goes above and beyond the minimum required to provide a basic c
  • The best support organizations I've run across had well defined customer support processes and made sure that all their employees were on the same page with respect to how the processs worked. Actually a good business process in general can make the difference between a poorly performing business and an excellent one. Of course, you can't just hit amazon up for all their customer support process and business process books -- you also have to understand which processes work best for your particular company.
  • I don't use them myself, but when I've had to help out relations (most of whom I've eventually steered away from the Time Warner Borg service, regardless of the fact that I own stock in them), AOL's customer service has been
    (a) prompt to respond -- short hold times
    (b) accurate
    (c) willing to admit what they do and don't know, and that they have to go ask someone (rather than just, 'hold please'
    (d) willing to call back
    (e) surprisingly consistent in calling back!

    (e) is my biggest pet peeve with my hosting ser
  • I expect my vendors to:

    Answer the phone. In well spoken and understood english (or whatever the native language is for the region that the hardware was sold)

    Respect the fact that I am an experienced system administrator, and I don't need to be told to reboot the machine. Granted, there are people that need to be told that - those customers should be given a different number.

    Get me on and off the phone quickly. I'm busy. If you can't get to me right away - thats fine, but maybe you could call me back or e
  • How about companies that use technology to track whether you are a customer and haven't paid your bill, but can't get their system to work? It's the non-customer who pays (either time or money). Case in point, 3.5 years ago I cancelled my AT&T phone service. Yesterday, I had to deal with them billing me the final bill yet again. Last summer, and the summer before, and other times as well, I've been told that the problem is permanently corrected and I won't have any more problems. Yeah right, I'm keeping my copy the cancled check for $12.27 dated January 16, 2002.

    At the end of my hourlong session on the phone, the lady then asked:

    Can I interest you in our phone ...

    At which point I cut her off stating I was a life-long non-customer of AT&T based on this experience. Then she launched right into:

    How about broadband ....

    At which point I said again something like: "I'll never ever even consider AT&T - I want you guys to delete me from your DB completely, don't just flag me as closed. Never call me, never send me mail, don't email ... don't even think about me!'

    The lady on the phone actually giggled when I said "don't even think about me!"

    I'm sure I'll get to reuse the joke next summer when the AT&T bills start coming again (I ignore them and wait for the calls to start -- I figure it costs AT&T more money that way).

  • and then in a deadly, powerful stroke, bash the customer's head. With proficiency, the experienced CSA [customer service associate] only needs to deliver only one blow." -- From Hewlett-Packard's customer service handbook.
  • Customer Service for Dummies (ISBN: 0764552090, find at your favorite bookstore) is a good book on customer service, deals mostly with face to face interaction than at an organizational level. However it's those little things that count mostly. Find it and see!
  • by manavendra (688020) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @02:06PM (#12910026) Homepage Journal
    maybe it's one of my pet peeves now, but i think being short, rude, couldnt-care-less attitude is the norm in IT:
    1. You go down to PCWorld, and the reps there try to brush you off with the tersest replies they can muster. Worse is the look in their eyes if you ask them something and you can almost see the smirk twirling around their lips as they answer you. Which is wiped only when you trash their whole theory that I should buy a PC, when you tell them how you checked the motherboard and concluded its the SMPS that's busted
    2. Countless software vendors I've worked with in the past have had the same attitude - 'dude, its your problem.'. Until you send them a log of their own software falling over itself every two minutes, or how it encountered an 'unexpected situation' and keeps writing a wierd error message in the logs.
    3. Not that I'm dyed-in-wool. I'm currently working for a company recently acquired by Micromuse, and they mess their customers around as soon as they receive the PO. The sheer infighting and the jealousy kills any scope of friendliness and care for the customer. Little wonder the customers turn nasty
    I don't think that people have woken up to the fact that buying a software is so unlike buying hardware. If its faulty or doesn't work, the hardware may be repaired or exchanged, while in software, they just mess you around, till you either threaten to sue them, or worse still, get your money back, return their software and lose your precious time
  • Read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Interesting read, bugger all to do with motorcycles... Or Zen.

  • Working as a tech support intern for a non profit company (and, according to most of the folks there, I'm good at 'support', even if I'm still learning 'tech',) I've learned what I should and should not bring with me when I go to work on a person's computer:

    Bring: Friendly smile and understanding
    Don't Bring: Muttering about the peons lack of knowledge when it's an easy fix

    Bring: Assumptions that they don't know shit about computers
    Don't bring: The idea that I have to make them realize that if they don't a
  • There are a lot of things you can do to improve your image and worth to your customers.

    - Listen to them. You may have heard it all before, but if you let them babble for several minutes they might divulge some critical little factoid that suddenly clears up the problem and makes a solution apparent. Interrupting or cutting a customer short on their description of the problem can make it very difficult to pry the necessary information from their head once they're in "ok I'll shut up now" mode.

    - Be patien
  • Remember when you could tell people, buy a Dell and that would be a good thing because their hardware was good and their support was great? Well then they shipped all their support to somewhere in India or something. Then the hardware seemed just OK because the support sucked so bad?

    Say hello to SonicWall.

    Nice hardware, good OS, don't even think about calling them before 2100EST because if you do you will get what must be the WORST support in IT.

    Classic:

    SWS: I need you to download this file.
    Admin: I
  • It's really quite easy: excellent customer service is completely transparent. It's when things just work or people get what they need before they even know they need it.

    It's Xerox having a machine that lets the company know that there is a problem - and a tech fixing it before the client even knows about it.

    It's the waiter getting you the refill before you even asked for it.

    It's when you boot up your computer and you can do your work - without calling the tech guy.

    From that point of view, your question
  • Assuming you know your job and the skills required to do it, the only thing that really sets anyone apart is the experience they bring to the transaction.

    Anyone can uninstall a moutain of spyware, but not many people make sure that the customer really enjoys the expereince of having spyware uninstalled. That is, most often tech don't take time to educate without condescending or to really connect with the customer on a personal level.

    I highly recommend the book The Fred Factor [fredfactor.com] by Mark Sanborn (ISBN:

  • I have a summer job answering the phone at a company which sells lawn mower parts. Not mowers, but parts to fix 'em when they break. Not if they break, but when.

    I am amazed at how many dozens of calls I take each day where the customers have no idea what part is broken, certainly no idea of what part they need, and they expect a 1-800 number to be able to solve their problems.

    Them: "My mow deck isn't working"

    Me: (looking through my mower database) "Do you have the model number of your mower?"

    Them: (pa
  • I'd say, before trying to be excellent, be good. Then try to be excellent.

    To be good, work out what is bad, and then avoid it.

    I've been a bad customer support person, and the main thing that makes bad customer support is anonymity. I could literally tell a customer to 'fuck off' and hang up and they would have no recourse. They didn't know who I was.

    I've also been in the situation where they were ringing or emailing and greeting me by name cause my name was listed on the website as support. Even at m
  • It's the nature of customer service to be asked to provide infinite knowledge and support with little or know reliable input from the customer. And its the nature of the customer to always want more and never feel completely satisfied. End users will never have a good technical understanding of the problems they encounter nor will they know how to communicate that as more than their frustration.

    Take auto repair centers. Cars have been around for over a century now, and yet the average schmoe who brings

"You need tender loving care once a week - so that I can slap you into shape." - Ellyn Mustard

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