“Thank you for calling. Your call is important to us.” How many times have you heard that while on hold with your cable company, telephone company, bank – just about any company you do business with these days? That calm, cheery robot voice reassuring you just how important you are.
The problem with that message is it is usually followed by something along the lines of, “There are currently 81 (presumably also important) calls ahead of yours…”
Why technical support generally sucks
Most technical support is bad because the person on the other end of the wire knows less about your problem than you do. In many cases, they don’t know anything about the product. They listen to your question, consult a list of scripts for something that sounds vaguely similar to what you are describing, and start reading to you.
Or even worse, they start from a default script, asking you to perform some task that you have probably already tried or ruled out as a cause of the problem (“Ma’am, can you please unplug your modem ma’am, and wait sixty seconds…”).
The person who would really understand your problem is not answering the phone. That person exists only in the rarified and mysterious world of second tier support. They may be consulted if you are insistent enough, but you will never speak to them directly. Which means your problem is likely being filtered to them through someone who has no idea what you are talking about.
Talk about a game of “telephone” gone bad.
Okay, so the company that provides this kind of support hates you, right? Not necessarily. Once the customer base is of a certain size, really high quality technical support becomes virtually impossible to provide in any form, let alone by telephone.
If you have hundreds of thousands of customers and any one of them can pick up the phone and call you at any time, day or night, you need a large number of people on hand at all times just to answer those calls. A certain percentage of those callers can be successfully helped by the scripted tier 1 staff, but for the rest, there will be no joy at the end of that call.
How we provide technical support that doesn’t suck
If you have ever had to contact technical support or billing here at DiscountASP.NET, you know that we conduct support by email only. No phones, no live chat. We purposely set the support department up to work that way from day one, even though the approach flies in the face of the prevailing wisdom in the hosting industry.
Why on earth would we do that?
First of all, let me tell you a bit about our support staff. They are a bunch of geeks. Seriously. They love internet technology, and the myriad of complicated, ever-changing stuff that goes into a hosting environment like ours.
We seek out people like that. People who are excited by things that “normal” people might find…well…odd. Once we find the right kind of person, they undergo 3 or 4 months of one-on-one training with an experienced staff member before we cut them loose to work unassisted.
The result? A support staff without a “tier 1.” So when you explain your problem, the person here on the other end of the wire knows what you’re talking about. They actually understand the concepts and technology, and have likely dealt with similar problems many times. They are qualified to provide what is normally a tier 2 level of support.
Anything that they can’t handle or that requires some kind of server-level intervention is escalated to system administrators. Beyond them there is – well, there’s no one. Because the system administrators built and maintain the network. They are really smart, and if they can’t answer your question, no one can.
One of the reasons we can structure our technical support this way is because we document a whole lot of common issues in our Knowledge Base and forum. So when an everyday question comes in (“How do I set up Outlook to check my mail?”), support staff can point you to a KB article with step by step instructions.
Now if we decided to offer telephone support, the odds are the caller asking how to check mail is going to say, “Uh, why are you sending me to a KB article? I’m here right now, just explain it to me,” and we end up with that well trained tier 2 support person explaining how to set up Outlook. And quite frankly, 3 or 4 months of training is not necessary for that. So in order to provide telephone support we would have to hire an entire tier 1 staff, and once we do that we’re back to the scenario where all but the most basic calls end in frustration.
So while email-only support may take a bit of getting used to from the user’s end, it is much more effective and far less costly than telephone support. Your problem is going to get the attention of people who can actually do something about it, and that is what counts at the end of the day.