Tag Archives: CRM

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 [xkcd.com].

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!






The hitchhiker’s guide to Customer Service

Hey there!
This will be the first proper post of this blog, so it is the right time to say “Welcome”.


Okay, that was easy, we can get down to business.

We are all customers and we all had to call a customer care or a support line, be it yesterday or a long time ago. No matter how much skilled you are, there will always be a something that you cannot solve by yourself (billing issues, anyone?).

Some of us, might be the ones on the other side of the screen, of the phone, of the desk.
The ones that will deal not only with the issue or the inquiry you might have, but also with the frustration that brought you to contact us. That is something that nobody ever takes into account.

You might as well be one of the guys behind the development and sales of a product or service. You might soon find this blog an invaluable resource of insights on how you can improve your business thanks to such a simple yet chaotic keystone as your customer service department.

I want to dedicate this first post to the point out different channels used by companies all over the world to get in touch with their customers, and explain what are we going to look into.

Based on our everyday’s experience, we know we can reach companies through several channels:

1. Front desk: don’t you love the post office?
2. Phone: “an agent will be with you shortly”.. but when?!
3. Forums: shall I really search for the previous posts?
4. E-mails: they feel handy.. but are they?
5. Chat: we all do a lot of chatting today, don’t we?
6. Social networks: oh, just let me get there!

Every channel has its pros, cons, costs.. but, most important, they have a purpose, a mission they need to fulfill. What nobody usually thinks about, is that the mission might not always be “to serve and protect”. If you think it is, just ask yourself who is going to protect who.
Sometimes, a support channel is just a deceiving cover, the shiny wrapping around the hardest candy our Grandma ever gave us (I am sure the over 30 can easily remember).

Now, this is the time for me to ask: which channel do you think it is the least effective? Maybe I can start talking about that in the next post.