When Customer Support is the only number Part I

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I had a support incident a while back with one of the service providers we use in our home.  In fact, I had two incidents in close succession with two different brands. Each situation was similar in nature:  There was a technical issue that was quickly and easily rectified, but on further inspection (the technical issue brought to light), I realized that I wasn’t really getting what I’d expected out of the services I was paying for.  One of the brands is a large well-known home-service provider that I’ll write about here.  The other was a smaller, start-up brand also in the home-service field, and I’ll write about that in another article.  Both of them, however…and possibly for different reasons…displayed the same myopia when it came to my concerns as a Customer.

Without getting too specific about or directly calling out the big brand, the business model is that we pay a monthly service fee and as part of that, this company monitors one of the systems we have hooked up in the house.  At one point we noticed that our system was offline:  not working or responding to the remote function we have through apps on our phones.  Only, we weren’t alerted that there was a problem, rather we had to find out on our own after who-knows-how-long of our system not being operational.  Until then, we’d assumed that the company was actively keeping track of the status and health of the system…we’d surely be alerted via our app if, say, the system went offline.  Turns out not.

Fortunately with this incident, we were incredibly pleased with how the brand took care of the issue:  They were fast, responsive, clear, easy to work with, polite, and professional, and we were up-and-running right away with minimal effort on our part.  That’s just the way it’s supposed to be, especially with such a trusted and well-known brand.  And considering that we live in a flawed world, it’s unreasonable to expect that everything is always working properly, so even an occasional problem is understandable.  As I’ve mentioned before, in an imperfect world, often it’s the Customer support experience that really tips the scale on CX.  And this brand definitely came through there.

But then something curious happened:  After we got things fixed, I thanked the person in the support function and asked if they’d mind pointing me toward where I could discuss my more fundamental concern:  You’re not monitoring my system, and I’m paying you to do so.

Now, I was finished with Customer support.  I was fully pleased with the work they did fixing my problem and getting me back online.  In fact, if the issue ever repeated (and it did, in fact, the next week), I could even self-heal going forward (and, I did).  Thanks very much, can I speak with someone in sales or accounts or even engineering, please, because I have a question or two about your actual services, not a technical or support issue.

So, this is a huge, publicly-traded corporation with tens of thousands of employees.  I wasn’t expecting to be able to speak with, say, the head of their sales division or whatnot.  It’s not like I demand to talk to the CEO of an airline if they lose my luggage.  I was simply looking to be transferred, or a warm handoff to someone in sales, frankly.  It seemed simple to me, but what I received instead of that transfer (or even an explanation of how to reach them myself) was complete obstinance.

I filled out the survey with a pretty low score overall (because your offerings aren’t serving my needs, no, I’m not likely to recommend you) but glowing verbatims about how wonderful and helpful the tech support organization was in helping me with my issue.  I was directly contacted by a supervisor via email—no doubt due to my low score—and I seized that as an opportunity to once again ask for help finding who I should contact about my specific concern.  That, of course, was none of his concern…he was calling for his own support-supervisory purposes.  Probably in an effort to placate me, he assured me (or tried to at least) that he’d take my feedback and pass it along to the proper department.  I clarified that it wasn’t feedback I had for the brand (let alone anything other than praise for the support function), but rather it was an actual existential discussion I wanted to have with someone:  Should I continue to pay you monthly to do something that you’re not doing?  Or should I look to a competitor who does monitor their system?  It wasn’t a one-way, “here’s my thoughts on you” monolog I wanted to deliver, but rather a conversation I wanted to have in order to better understand as a Customer what they offer.  He was having nothing to do with it.  He was much more concerned with ticking the box he had as a supervisor to ‘close the loop’ with what must have gone wrong with my call than in actually listening to me and helping me understand anything about their offerings.

It was a brick wall, and our email back-and-forth even got a bit awkward at one point with him insisting that I trust that he’ll make sure my concerns would be shared.  He clearly wasn’t listening, and there was nothing within the character of the organization that was going to guide him as an employee to actually pay attention to what I was asking for:  He had a script, and wasn’t going to go off track.  I eventually just called their 800 number and asked for sales.  I talked through my concern, confirmed that they do not actually offer what I considered monitoring, and I moved on to a competitor.

In a world where some brands make it impossible to contact them for tech support—some going even so far as to hide the phone number deep within their website—it’s interesting that some other brands make it impossible to communicate with them in any way other than tech or Customer support.

In doing so, this brand made it more challenging for me to lodge a true concern with the right people or even investigate that concern at all.  Now, I eventually got the information that I was seeking, and that information regrettably led to my severing ties for simply transactional reasons—they simply don’t offer what I’m looking for.  Sometimes that happens and usually, you can treat it with a no-hard-feelings shrug.  But there’s a bit of a bitter taste in our separation, and my partner and I chuckle at the mailings we often get from them pleading with us to come back.

It may not matter to them that I left with a small grudge about their CX when otherwise I simply would have left because their offerings didn’t suit my needs.  I’m likely never to go back, even if they ever do enhance their offering to include true monitoring because now I have two reasons not to be a Customer of theirs:  one existential (they don’t offer what I want), and one attitudinal (theirs is not a Customer-centric company).  The former is much more simple to rectify than the latter, which lingers as a memory and in a reputation.  You can roll out a new release of your product with a new feature everybody is clamoring for, and on a date certain suddenly be the product everybody wants.  You can’t, on the other hand, simply declare yourself “Customer-centric” and expect nobody to remember that, in fact, you haven’t been.

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