How To Lose Customers And Alienate People - InformationWeek
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Dan Tesch
Dan Tesch

How To Lose Customers And Alienate People

Tech products need to work properly, but customer service makes the difference between a satisfied customer and someone ready to look elsewhere.

Recently I decided to re-evaluate my company’s vulnerability scanning options. The problem wasn’t functionality, accuracy, or cost. The problem was service. I was using two vendors: a cloud provider for external scanning, and a company that sold virtual appliances for internal deployment. Over the past few years, one of the vendors had been acquired twice, and over time that vendor’s service became miserable.

Support requests that were once answered directly by an analyst were now routed through low-level technicians who often didn’t have the answer on hand. I understand that a growing security vendor has to cope with scale, but it routinely took 24 hours for a callback. That’s frustrating, particularly if I’m dealing with an emergency.

I also had no idea who my sales rep was. The rep listed in my portal was no longer with the company. In fact, my only reliable contact from the company was an automated e-mail when it was time to renew our annual subscription. Whenever I did manage to get someone on the phone, they pushed multi-year contracts. If I’m already dissatisfied, why would I want a long-term commitment?

Since I was taking the time to shop around, I thought that a unified interface to manage the internal and external scanners would be great to have. It turns out my existing internal scanning provider also had an externally hosted product with new PCI-related features. This seemed like a good place to start.

Unfortunately, the unified management package was priced substantially higher than my existing product. I was also dismayed to learn that the vendor was no longer selling the product directly. Instead, I’d have to go through a distributor that likely knew little about vulnerability scanners.

I weighed other options and called a few vendors. I left voicemails, all of which went unanswered -- just the sort of thing I was trying to escape.

Eventually I decided to renew my subscription with my internal vendor and add their cloud-based perimeter service. I declined the unified management option because of the cost, but at least I’m dealing with just one vendor now rather than two.

The move saves my company a couple of thousand dollars per year, but more important to me, I’m no longer rewarding that other vendor for increasingly lackluster service.

Products need to perform as expected, but service and relationship are important too. Even the most straightforward products occasionally require contact with a human. Some companies seem to have forgotten this -- to their detriment.

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Drew Conry-Murray
Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
12/10/2013 | 12:36:14 PM
Re: Customer service
I think it's a bad sign when the only contact you get is the "It's time to renew your license!" e-mail. I know customer service costs money, but isn't it more expensive to acquire new customers than to keep the ones you have?
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
12/9/2013 | 3:04:42 AM
Small Interactions Are Important
Amen. When I try to imagine how companies install someone of these hairball customer service systems, I imagine that their reasoning goes something like the following... X% of the time, the automated systems and phone trees make the process more efficient, but Y% of the time, the bureaucracy and impersonal tone lead to customer resentment. I think for a lot of companies, if X >> Y, they install the system. But here's a big problem: not all experiences equally impact how customers and partners view a given company. Even if bureaucracy gets in my way only 5% of the time, if those rare circumstances are aggravating enough, I might still drop the company.
Kristin Burnham
Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
12/6/2013 | 9:42:09 PM
Customer service
Businesses forget how important a personal touch is when it comes to customer service, and it's sad how rare it's become. The phone trees, voice command promts -- they all drive me insane when all I want to do is have a quick question answered by a rep. Automation may save the company time and money, but it's a waste for the consumer.
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