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 [books.google.com] by Bosworth, Holland and Visgatis in the book CustomerCentric Selling [amazon.com]; 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!