Category Archives: Support Channels

Support Channels: 3 reasons why you don’t like forums (but Companies do)

Forums are an incredibly powerful tool.. and I don’t like them.
I never liked them as a customer, I don’t like them as an agent.. and you know why? Because nobody seems to get them right and I have no power over it.

If you ever used them, you probably know that is really hard to find the information you were looking for unless you have a lot of patience and you really know what to search and how [].

So what are the real goals behind forums and on-line communities?
What are Companies trying to achieve?


Goal #1: create a community

Forums are made so that communities can spark around the products, but people know better than companies that having something in common does not make a herd of strangers a community.

People usually lands on forums because they want a problem solved, not because they want to make new friends.
Their problem is always bigger than yours, there must be somebody else out there that has found a solution and it must be in the first page.


Goal #2: create a knowledge base

Another goal pursued by companies is the creation of a Knowledge Base, a place where all the solutions might be stored like books in the Library of Alexandria.
Nevertheless, the era of Internet brought us a bad habit: impatience.
If something is not in the first three search results, we don’t even bother scrolling down and there is no such a thing as a second page of results.
Accessibility matters: if what a person is looking for does not stand up the moment we walk into the library, is simply “not there”, like when a child says “Moooom, where is my jacket?” without even looking for it: I want it all, I want it now.

It is only when you think about customer service and satisfaction, looking at the bigger picture, that you start to see the real raison d’etre of forums.



Spending energies driven by a discomfort only increases the original negative feeling, affecting the perception of the Company, of the product and of the support.

The fact that forums are public, manually tagged and coded (yes, by real people), lets customers know that the Company is reading. Customers want the Company to know how pissed off they are, impacting on the public image.

A mainstream forum is no more than a rant box, a room of pain: it lets every customer blow off the rage making it public, but at the same time inaccessible; relying on the simple inability of the average person to find what they were looking for. In this sense, forums are the real ancestor of Twitter as a media channel: Company gets visibility, but only the last comments are the ones that will really be seen (most of the time). Mood is usually not monitored.

Thanks to forums, Companies have marketing black holes that allow them to do whatever they want: gather information about issues with their products, get in touch selectively with customers and ignore all the background noise.

On top of that, there is another good reason why forums are a great resource to every Company that knows how to use them, and I call it “Evangelization”.


Extra bonus: additional workforce

When a community reaches a critical mass, be it because of a great Company or a great product, it will be easy to find customers really different from Joe Sixpack; customers willing to defend the line of the Company beyond the extra mile: fanboys, most valuable professionals, technology evangelists.

This people is the most valuable resource a Company can nurture through forums, having them working as customer service agents without them really realizing it.

This kind of customer wants to feel part of the Company more than everything else, but did not had the chance. Some of them hope to be noticed by the Company.
They will get more productive with time, not just because they will have more experience, but because the Company will award them, fueling the sense of belonging with a processes similar to gamification.
Small gifts, prizes, tokens of gratitude will increase the product and brand loyalty, creating business agents out of ordinary users but with three added benefits:
– The Company does not pay them
– The Company is not responsible for them
– The Company gets free positive marketing

Since the “evangelists” are third parties and not employees, they are not paid of their work and their actions can never be associated to the Company. This protects Companies from every downside, letting them hold the whip hand.
Their condition of “wanna-be part of the family”, triggers psychological mechanisms that let the marketing reach places and moments that are normally private: social occasions, for instance.
Fanboys, more than everybody else, will never lose a chance to show how much they know about the product, trying to attract everybody else to their cult.
Their reputation is publicly fueled by every single token and recognition that the company is willing to give: a digital badge, a real medal, a phone that costs 100 € to manufacture.. you name it.


So.. how do you like forums now?




Support Channels: “who ya gonna call?”

Old but gold, phone support is now considered a “safe channel” by the most, but.. is it? Why do people and companies want phone support?

When thinking about phone support we have to consider the following:
– When do companies and customers want it?

– What are the downsides?

When and Why

The common denominator for companies usually lies in the kind of information handled: if you want to talk about money, phone is usually the only or the premium support channel.

The reason for this is both cultural and technological.
People believe that phone calls are more secure than other means of communication, such as chat or e-mail, because hiding somewhere or lowering the tone of the voice makes them feel “safe”.

This is only partially true, since phone calls can still be tapped as other communications, especially since more telecommunication companies are gradually moving from the classic phone lines (POTS/PSTN) to internet telephony (VoIP) in a seamless, transparent way.
Phone calls are “safer” mostly because fewer people is equipped and interested in spying on them.

Anyway, what does the phone support really mean for the customer and for the companies?
Customers usually consider phone support valuable according to two factors:

– How urgent the matter is
– How technologically skilled they are

If you care about settling a matter immediately, especially when money at stake, you want the communication to be as fast and clear as possible: technology must stop being on your way.

This is especially true when the customer wants you to know how pissed off (s)he is, maybe threatening lawsuits. Customers can sometimes be interested and focused only on what they do NOT want (like those “unauthorized charges” on the bank account) and deliberately ignore what happened and why (like the parents of the previous article on in-app purchases).
Ironically, this is what makes phone support both valuable and potentially useless at the same time.

What are the downsides?

Support calls usually implicate an high level of distress both for the customer and the agents, who are automatically considered “the culprit”.

Companies can easily ditch phone support even because the issue resolution rate dramatically fluctuates according to the nature of the product or service (flight ticketing VS troubleshooting that annoying buzz that comes from your PC).

One of the most negative aspects of phone support, however, is the waiting time: one agent can only serve one customer at the time, and customers need to focus exclusively on the call if they want to have any hope of solving their issue.

The average waiting time spent on hold will skyrocket every time there is an outage or a problem that is affecting a significant part of the customer base.

This increases the stress on both sides, and with emerging issues, a solution might just not be available yet. Lack of solutions is exactly what drives customer satisfaction down, failing completely the only purpose of every support channel.

Problems, however, are not over yet.
Two side effects of globalization jeopardize phone supports badly: the audio quality and the cultural and linguistic barriers.

I recently had a chat with one of those rare “enlightened” customers, and he made references to an American banking institution: there was a really high chance that another agent would have never understood what he was talking about just because it is not fair to assume that whoever is picking our call is from our home state.

Among the biggest fears scattering from phone support, we can still mention costs and the risk of the dropped calls. Not every company offers a toll-free number and what can you possibly do if the call drops? The answer is “start again from scratch”, also called “frustration at its best”.

There is, finally, one good thing about phone support if you compare it with the front desk, and it is the fact that you deal with trained support agents, not salesmen.

The agents that answer your calls should sometimes be vetted for a degree in psychology honoris causa, and they are constantly trained to solve your problem in the most efficient way while keeping your personal information safe. Something that, fortunately, is true also for other support channels, as we will see soon. 

Talking about you, what do you think is the worst aspect of phone support?
Share your thoughts, and gift yourself with a smile by reading the 23 secrets call centre employees won’t tell you!






Support Channels: the secret behind the front desk

The first support channel mentioned in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Customer Service is the “front desk support”, but does such a thing really exist?

Support is often seen as an inherited right after purchasing a product or a service, at least for some time. Truth, as a matter of fact, can be different.

I started repairing computers in my small town in Sardinia when I was around 8. The Commodore 64 was being left behind by the first 286s and its successors; computers were becoming familiar.
I started repairing them for free, then I started doing it for pocket money. The key concept, is that I did not sell those computers; I only offered support as a third-party. Customers knew it and were willing to pay.

In 2014, when Joe Sixpack purchases a new phone with a SIM card included, he will come up with a question about the phone or the services. From his point of view, he does not need to know who offers what: he feels entitled to support by both companies. This is something every Joe and every customer service agent knows, but companies, usually, do not.
Whoever Joe will find behind the desk will not be a customer service agent, but a trained seller.

Customer service operations are always run at a loss when they are not the revenue stream for who offers them: that’s the difference between the 8 years old me and whoever helps Joe in the store.
If you do the math, things could not be any different.
Commercial leases, salaries and marketing expenses require a constant effort that is a far cry from the profits generated by front desks: they can be considered as part of the customer acquisition cost.

Every seller, at the end of the day, can easily serve as an entry-level customer service agent, while the opposite is both less probable and less valuable to the Company. This is, again, because, customer service operations are not expected to be profitable. Every lead generated by a customer service agent is only a side effect.

Now let’s go back to the most important part of the equation: Joe.
Is the front desk really useful to him or is just fool’s gold?
You can find the truth by thinking on your experience as a customer; think about phone companies, utilities, post offices and Apple Stores: what makes a support worth being used?

The first things that will come to your mind are:

– How much of my time and energies did I spend?
– Was the issue resolved?
– Am I satisfied with the solution?

Needing a real, physical store, Joe needs to invest a considerable amount of time.
Time to look for the store, to spend queuing, explaining and waiting for a solution. Maybe Joe’s inquiry was a quick one, maybe it was a technical issue and the phone was sent for repairs, replaced.. you call it. What is certain, is that Joe is sacrificing a lot for the cause, and this is a huge cost both for him and for the Company which keeps a salesman busy with an unproductive task.

Will a salesman be able to face the majority of the scenarios of Joe and his likes?
This depends on the market. For an average salesman, it easy to provide answers to customers’ questions based on the features of the sponsored products.
Nevertheless, today’s world is more complicated and a P-Mobile salesman has all the right in the world to ignore how to configure a feature X in the new superDuperPhone 5s. After all, it is not what he is really paid for.
This is the result of “noun-oriented product training” as described [] by Bosworth, Holland and Visgatis in the book CustomerCentric Selling []; showing the remarkable difference between knowing the features of a product and using it in day-to-day applications.

The customer satisfaction, as a result, depends on different factors. The issue resolution is not as paramount as it seems (we will talk more about it in the next posts), but there is a psycological aspect that needs to be considered and that works as driver for future sales and customer retention: did the customer feel good after the support?
That is where you start to see a bigger picture.
Time spent standing, queuing, maybe in an unpleasant environment (post offices, banks, offices), focusing on explaining what is annoying you to a complete stranger.. That is why there is no such a thing as a “front desk support”.
Front desks are sales channels and they merely give customers a fake sense of accountability when dealing with an issue, a valve to blow off some steam.

Is that really what you want as a customer?
Is it really the customer experience you want to offer?

Share your thoughts and report the best and the worst stories you have on the topic; it will be interesting to see the reactions.

Oh, and speaking about the devil.. a friend of mine can tell you a thing or two about Joe Sixpacks coming to a front desk: that’s the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Customer!