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The Final Piece of the Puzzle in Building a Winning Tech Support Team


Posted by Finch, Curt at Tuesday, 12/18/2012 11:44 am
 
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This is the final article of a three-part series. Have you read parts one and two?

Now that you have a new and improved technical support team in place, you need to let people know. This includes departments within your company and external customers, both of whom need different types of marketing. This article will outline some ideas on how to spread the good word.

Where to Start

What happens when you tell someone to do something? The person’s reaction will be based on your relationship with them. An acquaintance might tell you “no.” A friend will explain to you why they aren’t going to do what you told them. Your kids will pretend to obey while they secretly do exactly the opposite. Your employees will sometimes do you the honor of attempting to do what you tell them to. That, frankly, is as good as you will ever get by telling someone to do something.

Have you ever had any luck telling someone at your company who doesn’t report to you what to do? Me neither. So what you need to do is sell it to them. This is not a one-time deal—you are looking to ingrain deep-seated changes and repeated transactions. That is the realm of marketing.

Changing Perceptions

Have you ever been served a plate of food that looked exactly like the picture on the commercial? Did you lose that weight like the health club promised? Were you able to get those stubborn stains out like it says on the bottle of cleaner you bought? That’s marketing.

You have to talk about the ideal case, the goal. Don’t shoot too high, using words like “guarantee” or “perfect.” Those words will come back to bite you. Also avoid shooting too low, using phrases like “if we are lucky.” That kind of attitude will undermine you right from the start. Rather, the perception that you need to set goes something like this:
“We have made some major changes. We are now better organized and better trained. We are monitoring and measuring ourselves to ensure that we consistently perform at a high level. You can trust us.”

Internal Marketing

You are going to need to market your team to the rest of your company before you try it with external customers. You will also want to involve other departments in your external customer marketing effort. You do, however, have a small window of time to accomplish this. If the external customers discover the new technical support system for themselves, it will lose some of the impact and you will get less credit for it.

Focus on the benefits each department will receive from your improved support system. When you are talking to salespeople, talk about salespeople. When you are talking to developers, talk about developers. When you are talking to accounting, talk about accountants.

1.       Sales

When salespeople get together for their three-hour martini lunches, they probably play darts with your picture up on the board. Unfortunately, difficult relationships between your departments is a lot to overcome, but since they are keenly aware of the problems, you should have no trouble beginning a conversation on how to solve them.

Salespeople are focused on sales, so you need to explain this in terms of how it will help them close more sales. For example, you can tell them that they will be spending less time on the phone troubleshooting problems. They will also be able to call existing customers and ask for more business more easily. There will not be a large support problem standing in the way of customer satisfaction and developing the relationship further.

You need to provide Sales with both a new support transition script and a process for turning support cases over to you. The script can be fairly simple: “Yes sir, I understand that this issue is important to you. We have just spent a lot of time revamping our technical support system, and the team is much faster at figuring out solutions to problems than I am. They really care about fixing problems for you, so I trust them to take care of this.” You will have to determine which process will work best in your company. My recommendation is that you keep it simple. If you give the salespeople a checklist of information to gather, then they won’t bother. An email to the helpdesk with the customer’s name is perfect. If they can give you some indication of the type/severity of the problem, that is even better. You can also ask them to call you personally so that you can take down the information and create the case yourself.

2.       Marketing

Marketing lives on happy reference-giving customers, so they will be glad to follow behind you to dig for quotes and references. It is important for the company that you help them to do that. Automating customer satisfaction surveys, for example, will be very useful.

Marketing feeds sales. Those quotes and reference customers are your long-term marketing program with the salespeople, helping you reinforce their new behavior. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together? I hate buzzwords, but that is synergy.

3.       Accounting

The new technical support system will also provide support cost data that can be allocated to each specific customer. Right now, the accountants are probably just spreading the costs of technical support across each customer based upon the amount that the customer has paid. If they can get data from you on how much technical support time each customer actually spends, then they can account those costs in a more accurate way. Such a level of understanding of your costs per customer is a tremendously powerful profit-maximizing tool. Upper management and product planning can use this data to target products to more profitable segments of customers. You can use it to argue for raising the support billings on the least profitable segments of customers.

Your accounting people might not see it at first, but the data about how much time you spend on each customer also helps them get the invoices paid. Customers who are using a lot of support time are clearly using the service, meaning they have no choice but to pay the full invoice price. The few who do not pay on time can be influenced by collection calls that threaten to cut off their technical support. Customers who are not using much technical support time, however, will likely need additional marketing about the benefits it. You can also consider giving them discounts.

4.       Development

You will need to engage the development team if you plan to hire your own developer. The development manager might react skeptically, so buy him/her lunch and pitch the idea. You can prepare for your conversation beforehand by gathering some data about how much time the developers spend working on bug fixes and how frustrating that is for them. Make notes, and take those notes to lunch with you. You need to sell this to the manager in terms of fewer interruptions and fewer headaches.

It is important to get the development manager on board with your plan because you will need his/her help. The manager must be willing to interview your candidates, train your new support developer on the code base and the source code control tools and invite your developer to meetings. You can’t force that, so gently suggest it after outlining how having a developer in support will benefit the development team and the company at large.

External Marketing

The sales and marketing teams will do most of the work for you on this. They may not run a full marketing campaign about how support is no longer terrible, but they do have a ton of automated messages and informal scripts that they can insert little announcements into.

The most important script is the one mentioned above for the salespeople to use when a customer confronts them with a problem. That personal recommendation is worth more than all of the rest of this marketing combined. You won’t get that personal recommendation very often though, and certainly not to all of the contacts at every customer, so you have to do the rest of these announcements to fill in the gaps.

Your company probably already has all of these customer communications going:
•       newsletter
•       automated emails to website visitors and new customers
•       cover letters with invoices

Ask the sales and marketing teams to include a recommendation of the new technical support system in some or all of those communications. Trust them to find the right locations and messaging.

You communicate with customers too, so take advantage of that. When someone opens a case in your helpdesk they should get an automatic email confirmation. Personalize it. Here is what I wrote for the Journyx helpdesk:

“Dear ________,

We have received your cry for help. We have logged it in our helpdesk under this case number: #########

Our support ninjas monitor the helpdesk from 7am to 6pm (Central US time), Monday through Friday. They sneak in some other times, but we can't make any promises about that.

A real person will read this case within two hours (during the times listed above). We triage and deal with critical issues first. So if your payroll is threatened or your site is down you should expect to hear from us soon. And we try to reply to all problems that get to us before 4:00pm on the same business day.

You can reply to this email to update your case. Or you can call us at 800-755-9878 ext 2 (US) or 512-834-8888 ext 2 (everywhere else).”

The internal response to that message was near mutiny from the salespeople, and yes, we have had a handful of negative reactions from customers. On the other hand, we have had hundreds of positive reactions from customers:

“I love it. I’m glad I’m getting help from a real person instead of some software system.”

“Ninjas save the day again. You guys rock!”

Clearly I won. I take great personal pride from that, even though I am planning on rewriting it. I’m thinking that the next version will be in free verse.

Feedback

Technical support staff don’t get compliments very often, but it is very important that they do. Train your people to ask for compliments. The happier the customer is with the work you did, the bolder you should be in asking for the compliment.

There are three great reasons to go the extra mile and ask for the compliments. Firstly, it really does help the technical support staff to hear it. You can’t keep good technical support staff for long if they aren’t getting some validation. Secondly, the act of saying something nice about you will reinforce the customer’s good feelings about you. They are significantly more likely to say something nice about you to someone else if they have already said it once. That word-of-mouth recommendation marketing cannot be bought. Finally, someone who is willing to compliment you directly is more willing to serve as a reference or provide a quote for your marketing.

When you have transformed your technical support team, you will have done something truly spectacular. Good luck with it. Drop me a note and share your success stories.

About Curt Finch
Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx. Founded in 1996, Journyx automates payroll, billing and cost accounting while easing management of employee time and expenses, and provides confidence that all resources are utilized correctly and completely. Curt can be found on Twitter at @CurtFinch and on Google+ at +CurtFinch.




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