Thursday, January 05, 2012

It's Software-as-a-SERVICE!

Customer Service is the new marketing. A marketing mantra itself of course. Particularly useful for those punting customer service/support solutions! But like all true marketing it's founded in truth. This truth is the rise of the web and latterly, social media. Where the vociferous lurk.

Nowhere is this more true than in the SaaS world. Software delivered as a service is defined by the quality of its customer service. Think you can succeed and ignore this? You do so at your peril! 

Quality customer service is something that larger organisations particularly struggle with. Often this seems to be because of a cultural shift, whereby the customer is no longer deemed the most valuable commodity in the business.

There are anecdotal exceptions of course. And many more stories that confirm the fact. While there must be a good dollop of self-confidence and even arrogance to believe in the service you provide, often with commercial success, this bleeds over to total ignorance in the way companies treat their customers.

The first week of the new year has seen a few timely reminders of this. The most astonishing example has to be this email thread where a total ignoramus in the games accessories industry shows all the signs of believing his own hype. You have to read it to believe it! Thanks to Justin Pirie for initial pointer via Twitter. I did notice that Martijn Linssen drew attention to this tale over at CloudAve - making the point that working from home has fuelled a rudeness culture. I'm not so sure. 

Dennis Howlett brought attention to 2 more tales over at AccMan. Firstly his ongoing issue with Skype is a classic tale of corporate arrogance morphing into total ignorance in how they treat their punters. Skype is now part of everyday language. From disruptive start-up to establishment in a decade or so. Not bad! But a blatant disregard for a small minority of the small minority who actually directly contribute to Skype's coffers, leaves a bad taste every time I skype a colleague/client. Some might say that with this attitude, it's entirely appropriate that they've been acquired by Microsoft. Make up your own mind.

The other tale relates to Dell. In particular the mess they made of a personal transaction with Stuart Lynn is a timely reminder that business customers are consumers too. Whether an honest mistake or systemic poor customer service, one transaction can have direct consequences even before it hits the Twitter-stream. In this case Stuart holds IT purse strings for the UK's largest software company, Sage. There is every chance that his poor experience when trying to buy a Xmas present for his 13 year-old son will influence later purchase decisions at work. What Stuart decides in the future is up to him of course; the point is that customer service is subject to the laws of cause and effect.

I could mention more, but they all present a common theme. That is very poor communication. Something that consumers hate and find unacceptable when there are so many direct and immediate communication channels available.

We all know that the customer isn't always right. And it's very important to know how to say no. The art of good customer service is to manage expectations. It is also a fantastic way for SaaS biz to differentiate and show its true colours. Just don't make promises you can't keep. 'Under promise, over deliver' anyone? 

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