Vendors and Phone Support – it’s almost non existent today…


Back in the early 90’s I worked for a large PC Manufacturer called AST Research here in Australia. AST was at the time the #3 PC manufacturer in the world and here in Australia we did pretty darned well with market share and our fair share of named accounts including Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, GIO and a host of others that I can’t even remember now.  Back then I worked in the Tech Team and one of my responsibilities at one point was the support / RA department. So I know a little about how phone support used to work in the old days 🙂 We had a phone system with multiple lines and a service coordinator that used to manually transfer the calls through to the tech’s.  Customers would wait on hold for a few minutes before talking to a tech and by and large this was considered "great phone support". If the tech could not resolve the issue after looking at it with the customer they would investigate it and then call the customer back.  The big thing here is that customer phone support was all about one thing – THE CUSTOMER. Customers only had to purchase a product from your company and you gave them phone support.

Now – in today’s world – some 18 years later, I’m looking at the methods that many vendors use for phone support and I’ve got to say that it is shocking what we now come to accept as "good phone support".  Vendors these days in the interests of "efficiency" have "improved" their phone service using automation. In reality these "improvements" lead to a drop in customer satisfaction vs what we had many years back. The process with most vendors is now along the lines of lodging a call either via phone or via a web interface. This then gets channeled to the right person in the team that can deal with your problem and they eventually return your call. This process can take from minutes to many hours depending on the vendor.  Of course if you happen to have an enterprise level of agreement with the vendors and pay them many thousands of $$$ then they will happily take your call right there and then.

How does this affect us in the SMB space in particular? Well for starters we typically don’t have the enterprise level agreements that allow us to talk to a person quickly. So we will have a technician on site with a problem and they may be offered a call back. No clue as to when the call will come back. No appreciation of our environment and the fact that we bill by the hour. What are we supposed to do here? What do we tell the customer? Who pays for our time? 

Ultimately these "improvements" really are a major step backward for the vendor / reseller / client relationship. If makes the resellers NOT WANT TO CALL the vendor when we have a problem and as a result the vendor does not get to really understand the issues at hand. The vendors continue on with their rose coloured glasses because the people that actually do call them give them great praise for the support they do receive – all the while the SMB market suffers. The customer suffers. We all suffer. Nope – vendor support generically sucks these days.  I keep hoping that vendors will realise this and that one of them will say "you know what we will offer outstanding support to our customers and blow the cost".  The vendor who does that will certainly start to win more and more business over those that continue down the path of "it’s not our problem".  Vendors need to look at support as an opportunity to impress the resellers and customers rather than a cost to the business. People only EVER call support when something is wrong. Don’t make them suffer even more by telling them that they are call number 72 in the queue and will get a call back next Tuesday.

Category: Business Focus
Published: 6/09/2008 5:22 PM

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