How To Help Your Help Desk
How often do you call technical support?
In a past life, I worked for a company that had the support contract for the Microsoft Office suite of products. We provided telephone based support, free, for consumers, and pay-per-call and other plans for business customers. Microsoft had decided that the total cost of ownership of providing in house IT Help Desk support to its customers was too costly, and that outsourcing the product support was more cost effective. They provided all of the tools necessary for us to provide a high level of customer service and satisfaction. As Microsoft grew, our business grew and diversified into service contracts with other software manufacturers and also with other Microsoft product lines. This arrangement worked very well. The phone support rep had all of the tools available to an in-house help desk representative and the customer had no idea they were calling a third-party support vendor.
Then the trend of overseas outsourcing took over and the company took a hit. Software manufacturers, hardware manufacturers, and companies across virtually all industries began to outsource their customer support to overseas locations. It was beyond cost effective, it was plain cheap to do this. What many of these companies failed to realize at the time was that they were sacrificing the ability to control the customer experience, and they were putting their client base in jeopardy. As this became more and more evident, and as the recession started to take root, off-shore operations began to move back home. Companies who had switched over to an off-shore model were losing customers. The off shore companies were no longer providing the bang for the buck they once were.
Understanding Your TCO
Having a full understanding of the total cost of ownership when it comes to in-house customer support is essential when deciding how your post-sale customer experience will play out. A key component of this TCO is customer retention. Often when looking at total cost of ownership data, the focus is on the actual cost per head for associates in the call center. There is an enormous amount of data that goes into calculating this number, and it is easy to get a highly accurate cost. What is often left out, though, is figuring the cost per customer lost. If each point of customer contact represents a potential expense, each point of contact can also represent a potential revenue opportunity. When companies lose customers, they lose future revenue opportunities.
Service levels and goals for providing outstanding customer service must be factored in to your help desk planning. If customer service is compromised by the need to reduce costs, then one must understand that there is a risk of loss of revenue due to a drop in customer satisfaction and customer retention. In technology, you want customers to follow your upgrade path. Any bump in the path can cause a customer to delay their journey to the next product version or switch course all together and change products. Too often this failure to succeed with a product upgrade path stems from leaving basic customer requirements out of the mix.
Does it cost more to provide outstanding customer service? Yes. Does it cost more to ensure your product map matches the course of your core customer base? Yes. Does it cost more to focus on customer satisfaction and customer retention? Yes. Should we compromise these areas in order to reduce cost? No.
A drop in product quality exposes a company to risk. The company risks losing customers and spending more on product support, as well as a host of legal and regulatory issues that may stem from product failures. A drop in service levels or a drop in the commitment to delivering outstanding customer service is akin to a drop in product quality. You can produce the highest quality widget available, but if you can not back up that widget with the highest quality customer service available, you risk losing customers and spending more on product support. A focus on service quality and delivery, and an understanding that providing outstanding service can reduce long term customer support costs will help you better position your help desk.
When a customer has to call your support center, chances are they have already tried to resolve the problem or answer the question on their own and were unsuccessful. This means there is a good chance they are frustrated. The opportunity to retain them as a customer comes in that first point of contact. Ensuring that the customer's first impression of your service quality is a favorable one ensures that you will retain the customer and that customer will cost less to maintain over the life cycle of the product.
Tips for Refining Service Delivery
Customer needs and wants will vary from product to product, industry to industry. Every help desk shares a few common attributes, regardless of the industry or product. Polishing these attributes so they shine will help improve service quality and provide outstanding customer service.
- Right tool for the job: Ensure your help desk has the right tool for the job they need to do. You do not need a full tool chest, the the correct set of tools that allow the help desk to quickly and effectively service the customer.
- Communication training: Most front line support groups use scripts to handle the most common issues. (Call FiOS support some day, you'll see a prime example.) In many cases, first level support personnel are not allowed to go off script. If there is a problem that can not be answered by the script, the call is escalated. Providing call center associates with training on communicating with customers, and allowing them to go off script to correct a problem allows for more first level call resolution and reduces the cost associated with call escalation.
- Clear path: Inevitably, there will be a need to escalate a call, either because the first level support can not resolve the issue or because the customer has requested escalation. Make certain that there is a clear defined path for call escalation and supervisor involvement. Ensure that call center supervisors can be reached for escalations and that second level support is adequately staffed and trained to resolve the customer's issue and deliver outstanding service.
- Point of contact: Ensure that the customers are aware of the correct contact point for service. There may be several phone support options for your customers. Ease their burden with a single contact point off which they can travel to the appropriate service area. Ensure that this path is well mapped out for them so you do not lose a customer before they get the service they require.
Calling a help desk is sometimes seen in the same light as a trip to the dentist. By easing your customer's experience and establishing a reputation for providing outstanding customer service, your help desk will thrive and you open up the opportunity to reduce your cost.