Hollis Tibbetts

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Are Your Online Support Tools Ruining Your Business?

The Use and Abuse of Tools like "Chat with a representative now"

Guns are dangerous - as well as useful weapons.  Online customer support tools - such as Chat can also be useful... or dangerous.

Powerful Tools Are Dangerous Tools
I'm a gun-owning American who believes in the Second Amendment.  I also believe that proper training is a critical and mandatory part of responsible gun ownership.  The very first training course I took as part of becoming a responsible gun owner taught me a few basic principles - all focused on safety.  For example - "always keep the gun's muzzle pointed in a safe direction" .

Basic principles like these help ensure that "no harm is done" - and that's important.  Just like with the famous physician's Hippocratic oath, it's very important that no matter what you do, you make sure you don't make things worse.

So How Does All This Apply to Online Customer Service?
This same principal needs to be applied to Online Customer Service tools.  Customer Service is one of the most important - and certainly the most "delicate" thing that impacts the customer (or ownership) "experience".  And the "ownership experience" is what shapes the Brand.  And companies live and die by how well their Brand does (just ask Apple).

Companies have the ability to acquire numerous and excellent Customer Service "weapons".  Online Chat.  Automatic "problem resolution" engines. Social Media filtering and dashboards.  Multi-channel helpdesk.  Moderated Forums.  Knowledge-bases.  And so on.

When Powerful Tools Are a Terrible Idea
Yet simply implementing one of these potentially powerful solutions is a terrible idea.

In the absence of sensible and proper guidance and education - implementing these systems is almost as dangerous as putting a loaded weapon on an untrained person's gym bag.

These online tools such as "Chat with a representative now" set certain expectations in the Customers' mind.  And if you don't have the proper policies and procedures in place to fulfill those expectations, you're shooting yourself in the proverbial foot (or perhaps somewhere else considerably more painful).

How Reasonable Customer Expectations Lead to Disaster
Let me give you a great example of a terrible customer experience brought on by a powerful "Customer Service Tool" - in this case, more aptly called a "dis-service tool".  It's not the tool's fault - it worked perfectly well.

Here's the scenario - A certain person I know (let's call that person "Me") bought a radar detector that cost nearly $400.

As part of the initial set up, the instructions tell you to connect the detector to your PC with a USB cable, download some software and check for updates.  When I (err.. I mean "that person") followed the directions, they didn't work - the software wasn't able to "see" the detector.

So that person went online, and clicked on the "chat with a support representative now" - and he was informed that (because it was Saturday), there was nobody there to help, that the line was open Monday through Friday, and that someone would get back to him as soon as possible.

OK - although one would think that a consumer-focused products help line would be open at least on Saturday.  Some of us  tend to be kinda busy Monday - Friday during working hours... um... WORKING (so they can afford to buy expensive radar detectors).

But, hey, it's ok.  Help is on the way.

This person felt like he had left a pretty complete description of the message - he even made sure to let them know that he plugged the USB cable into the PC (in case they thought he was a total idiot and didn't know that the other end of the cable had a purpose):

"I have just purchased a GX65 serial number BJ003058 I download and  install the Beltronics Detector Tools on my Windows 7 laptop..  I take the laptop out to my car, connect it with a USB cable to my detector (which is turned on) plug the other end of the USB cable into my PC, start up the Beltronics software, and it tells me "no detector connected".  I've tried this with two different USB cables and two different laptops....What do i do now?"

Anyhow, this person had what he would call "reasonable expectations" - that someone would get back to him soon with something that would be helpful.

When Bad Things Happen to (what should be) Good Customer Experiences
I recently met with Micah Solomon - a popular speaker and author of "High Tech, High Touch Customer Service" - he's been named by The Financial Post as the "New Guru of Customer Service Excellence".  One of the points he made was that "not getting back to someone quickly" is a huge mistake.

How did this company do:  they responed at 2:43 PM on Monday.  I'd have to give that a C minus, but it's not a total catastrophe.  Simply slightly annoying.  If the response had been helpful, then people start smiling again.

But here's what you've gotta chortle over (in a weird grim way) -   the response to this guy's plea for help.  It is worthy of writing about  - to deliver a "please don't abuse customer service technology and do this to your customers" message.

From: belradarsupport@beltronics.com [mailto:belradarsupport@beltronics.com]
Sent: Monday, June 11, 2012 2:43 PM
To: Hollis Tibbetts
Subject: Re: When you were offline (via LivePerson) [InteractionID: 713d28c4-bafa-4a20-9b8d-74a2d795d7fb]

It is good to hear from you!  Please feel free to give us a call and we will be glad to help.

Thanks for your interest in Beltronics!

----- Original Message -----

From: Hollis Tibbetts 

To: Beltronics Support <belradarsupport@beltronics.com>

Sent: Sat, 9 Jun 2012 13:03:31 -0400

Subject: When you were offline (via LivePerson) [InteractionID: f5f55adf-ec24-4cde-8068-ced857a93d19]

> I have just purchased a GX65 serial number BJ003058

> I download and install the Beltronics Detector Tools on my Windows 7 laptop..  I take the laptop out to my car, connect it with a USB cable to my detector (which is turned on) plug the other end of the USB cable into my PC, start up the Beltronics software, and it tells me "no detector connected".  I've tried this with two different USB cables and two different laptops....


> What do i do now?


> The above message was sent when you were offline, via your Timpani site.

How Customers Respond
When customers' reasonable expectations are not fulfilled they get cranky.  They've spent money and time, and had what might be called "a bad customer experience" because a product didn't function as expected.  Now things get even worse.

Let's do a post-mortem on this bad experience by examining this person's reaction to the email he received:

"I thought it was amusing that they were glad to hear from me - apparently the malfunction in my expensive radar detector  (which made me reach out to them after I wasted a lot of time trying to make this work and searching online for a solution) made them feel good or instilled some sort of happy feeling in their hearts."

"If I wanted to call them, I wouldn't have tried reaching them via on-line chat.  I would have CALLED THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE.  Sheesh."

"If they're glad to help, then WHY DIDN'T THEY HELP?"

"Why didn't they just send me to a landing page after I submitted my question that said 'Thanks for so carefully describing your problem.  Unfortunately, that was a silly waste of time <lol!> - just call us on Monday afternoon.'  They could save a lot of money in licensing fees (for the Chat software).  And I wouldn't have had to wait until Monday afternoon for an irritating and useless response.

"OH, and I'm not 'interested' in Beltronics, I'm a customer.  There's a difference."

Post Script
This person has retracted that last bit of feedback, as he has just finished packaging up the Radar Detector and is sending it back to Amazon for a refund.

Important Note: This entire article is simply the author's personal opinion as someone who has spent a lifetime being a consumer, and about 25 years being in the software technology and marketing world trying to build great companies.


Note: Hollis Tibbetts is a Director for Software Strategy for Dell, Inc., in the Global Mergers & Acquisitions organization.

More Stories By Hollis Tibbetts

Hollis Tibbetts, or @SoftwareHollis as his 50,000+ followers know him on Twitter, is listed on various “top 100 expert lists” for a variety of topics – ranging from Cloud to Technology Marketing, Hollis is by day Evangelist & Software Technology Director at Dell Software. By night and weekends he is a commentator, speaker and all-round communicator about Software, Data and Cloud in their myriad aspects. You can also reach Hollis on LinkedIn – linkedin.com/in/SoftwareHollis. His latest online venture is OnlineBackupNews - a free reference site to help organizations protect their data, applications and systems from threats. Every year IT Downtime Costs $26.5 Billion In Lost Revenue. Even with such high costs, 56% of enterprises in North America and 30% in Europe don’t have a good disaster recovery plan. Online Backup News aims to make sure you all have the news and tips needed to keep your IT Costs down and your information safe by providing best practices, technology insights, strategies, real-world examples and various tips and techniques from a variety of industry experts.

Hollis is a regularly featured blogger at ebizQ, a venue focused on enterprise technologies, with over 100,000 subscribers. He is also an author on Social Media Today "The World's Best Thinkers on Social Media", and maintains a blog focused on protecting data: Online Backup News.
He tweets actively as @SoftwareHollis

Additional information is available at HollisTibbetts.com

All opinions expressed in the author's articles are his own personal opinions vs. those of his employer.