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The New World of Support?



Today, I’m going slightly off-topic, and yet it really isn’t. I want to talk about customer support.

These days, a lot of support is provided in the following way. Firstly, you are required to browse a library of answers to common problems. There may be some logic built in however usually I cannot find the issue that I am having so what is the next step? Usually, it is to contact a real support person but the problem is that the support number or email is often hidden deep in the support side of the website. They really DO want you to self-support spending your valuable time digging in their library of (usually totally obvious and unhelpful) answers. So, add another 5 minutes of frustration trying to find the way to contact a real person. Some companies use a messaging system to talk with support and actually, at times, I have found this highly effective. For example, I have gotten pretty good support from Amazon via this route when an order hasn’t shown up or whatever. But for software support? I’m not convinced.

I want to talk to a real person. That is what I mean by support. Having dug and finally found the number, you call. You might wait quite a while and then go through another round of identification. Then, a lot of the time, the person turns out to be light first line support and actually, beyond a few basics, totally and utterly unable to help at all. They may ask you rather insulting questions like “Are you sure you have the sound on?” or “Are you actually logged in?”. OK OK as I get older, such questions may have a bit more relevance but…. you know what I mean. So this means another wait, another round of questions, or await while they read notes, and then finally, you may just get the help you needed or, in some instances, you get lied to. Yes – lied to. This is even more frustrating when you realize that you want through all of the above only to be lied to and have to go back and start all over again.

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Let me give you a couple of recent examples to illustrate my point.

I have a bank account with what used to be a building society named after the other Yorkshire town beginning with ‘H’ – I come from Hull, Yorkshire, by way of a further clue! It is used solely to collect rather minuscule Amazon UK royalties on the sale of my books. Recently, I tried to log in just to get a bank statement and to change my contact address since it was incorrect. The problem was that it had added yet another layer of security to its already complex array of security items – a verification call made automatically. Well, it turned out that this number was wrong by a single digit and so, I cannot log into my own account. So first I went through the unhelpful library of issues finding instructions on what to do if the number is wrong. The answer much to my chagrin was to visit the branch (impossible under current circumstances) or call their support number – at least that number was helpfully provided. I called and after a wait finally spoke to a helpful lady who told me they would resolve this issue but it needed to be performed by a supervisor and I would need to wait. After 15 minutes on hold, I was told – OK, it is fixed. Great. I tried to log in. Same problem. Called again. Another helpful lady apologized and we repeated the process. “Wait a couple of hours for our systems to update correctly,” she said. Three hours later, a new login attempt – same problem. To cut a long story short – 7 times I went through this process (once being cut off for ‘shouting’ – I wasn’t shouting but trying to explain the problem as clearly as I could but the support person took offense and dropped the call). On the 7th attempt, I asked to speak to the supervisor. After a wait, I was put through and the supervisor explained to me that unless I could verify using the verification phone call, they could not and would not fix the phone number issue – I would need to visit a branch. So I was lied to I asked. No, I must have misunderstood, I was told. Anyone who knows me will understand this is like waving a red rag at a bull……. I am still locked out of my own bank account and my only resort is to write a begging letter to the bank always hoping that my passport ID page photocopy is sufficient proof of who I am in order for them to do what I ask – close the account and send me my money.

The second incident occurred more or less at the same time. I was looking to build a survey for our new research project and wanted to find an alternative to the usual provider who is very expensive. I found another one beginning with T. I signed up for a monthly plan and began to build the survey except for every time I tried to add logic, half the questions were not shown and so I could not add any logic. Furthermore, the answer of ‘Other, please specify; didn’t appear to exist. So, off I go looking for support. The library of answers opened a new page for each inquiry and guess what? You had to log in on that new page as for some reason as you navigate their support pages, each one requires a login! I’m guessing that is poor design? I couldn’t even get near to the question I had. Support phone? Hell no – an email. So I wrote an email explaining my two issues. 24 hours later I got a reply dealing with only 1 of my two issues and pointing me back to the library where I was sure to find my answer if I logged in enough and dug deep enough. Well, sorry, what I actually did was ask the help library how to cancel my account and get a refund. We will use the expensive tool. At least it works and the support is quite good.

I’m sure we have all experienced issues like this? So, these people who design support like this must realize what a bad reflection it is on their business. Surely they do? So logic tells me that the only other explanation is that they simply do not care.

Now, as CTRM software goes to the cloud and as prices come down and down in a cloud, SaaS environment – at least at the low end of the business – the question is, will support become the nightmare I have just outlined? When you pay only a little for your SaaS software in the cloud, it seems like a good thing. That is until you realize that at this level of cost, support becomes a library of self-help articles and an email with a bot at the other end……?