Zen of Customer Support

MalfunctionWhen everything works, it appears as though we, Customer Support personnel, are not needed. However, when equipment malfunctions, our customers may feel that we are not doing our job.

It is asked, "If a tree falls in the forest when no one’s present, does it make a sound?" One cannot know for sure.

We can (and, routinely, do) speculate: Today we find a big tree lying on the ground. Yesterday it stood tall. It seems plausible that it made quite a racket on its way down, we speculate.

I have witnessed a similar phenomenon in the area of customer support of high-tech facilities. Thus, the user’s question comes, "If the room always works for me, for what do I need these support staff?"

Here’s the rub: When everything works, it appears as though we, Customer Support personnel, are not needed. However, when equipment malfunctions, our customers may feel that we are not doing our job.

Is there any way around this paradox?

While there is no magic bullet, I think there are TWO ACTIONS that can be implemented easily to begin to diminish the prevalence of the Customer Support Paradox: DOCUMENTED preventative maintenance and MANAGED expectations…

1. Documenting Preventative Maintenance. Uninterrupted, trouble-free operation of any system depends almost entirely upon routine preventative maintenance (PM). Periodic equipment checks — once a week or once a day, proportional to the mission-critical nature of the associated activities — detect most problems before they impact the user.

Trouble is, the user isn’t a witness to this critical service (the aforementioned falling tree in the forest).

One solution is to place an INSPECTION TAG in a prominent location in the room (just like the inspection certificate in elevators). Each time a technician checks the room equipment, s/he signs and dates the sticker and gradually…

User comfort level increases once customers recognize that a real person regularly checks all the equipment.

Clearly, regular equipment checks can be time-consuming and, therefore, costly. However…

When we trim costs by eliminating preventative maintenance, we unknowingly force our customers to do equipment checks in real time DURING THEIR ACTUAL PRESENTATIONS.

In the long-run, fixing a malfunction under these conditions is far more costly.

2. Manage expectations. Everything breaks. When we remind the customer that this is so, we encourage them to a) prepare contingencies and b) focus on the kind of feedback that is mutually beneficial, because…

The difference between a support unit that works and one that needs tweaking is what happens upon notice of a problem.

If the repair is expedited and the customer kept informed of any delays, you’ve done a good job.

However, you may soon be history if a) you can’t get to it sooner than a week after being notified; b) you don’t have a spare component or the means to obtain parts or repair services and c) you avoid contacting the angry customer for fear of incurring further wrath. And don’t forget…

Although an equipment malfunction may be a crisis for the user, it is a faulty assumption to think you will gain your customer’s admiration by co-opting their outrage.

We can learn something from fire fighters: At the scene of a fire, the only people screaming and yelling are the owners or tenants of the house ablaze. To a fire fighter, a burning house is their job. It is a project. They have procedures. They are professionals going about their work with precision.

Our greatest asset is the ability to expedite our work with decorum and professionalism in the face of adversity.

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