Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Can I Get Some Support?: The Challenges and Solutions of Being an Enterprise Level Customer

How do we solve for the mid-level support problem that is prevalent today? We don't have all the answers but we have some insight.....




The Gripe: Support services don’t meet the needs of the mid-level consumer who is probably an evangelist for your brand or product and you probably don’t know who that person or company is.

We have all probably had the terrible 1-800-SUPPORT experience.  Long wait times, no real answers, get shuffled until some hangs up on you by "mistake" are a favorite of no man or woman.  If you have been around a bit you may have an experience with tech support or account services where you know more than the person on the other end of the phone because you are a professional who has done business with that company for a decade and support-guy has been there for 5 minutes.  For over 15 years I've dealt with all kinds of support help.  After a decade, the frequency of which I may know more than the new guy on the phone reading from a prompt in their computer increases significantly.  "Yes, I have restarted my computer" has been said many a time.  All-in-all I often end up wasting my time with people that can’t actually help me.  The first person you speak with on the phone is never the most experienced, most knowledgeable, and sometimes no matter how much they would like to be not the most helpful. If I am the apex of a pyramid of 55 -100 of your users and I’m calling I NEED a great answer, real help, and I probably need it quickly.

The Challenges: Who do I give better service to? How do I find them?  Why would I spend the $$.

The new kids coming along, developing their applications and software are everywhere and we want to do business with them and be at the edge of what our industry has to offer.  New products and services tend to have bugs, challenges, and things to solve for they never saw coming.  This is when support is most crucial.  Hanging onto your consumers as you evolve and solve is important especially when the pool of potential consumers is not infinite.  I've been an early adopter any number of times and probably left as quickly as I tried the new thing when the operation couldn't hold up their end of the sales pitch over time.  This cycle happens often when a new business (or an existing business’s new product team) is not listening to its users and its numbers.  
Most sales teams have enterprise level teams that focus on specific markets, but we don’t usually structure support that way.  It’s a hard sell. Support is dollars exiting the building and it doesn’t generate revenue in most cases.  However, support as anyone who has built a business knows is crucial.  If you don’t support your product and its users 1. They can’t get solutions and leave and then revenue dries up 2. You are missing out on critical feedback and measurement of your product cycle.  In a Build, measure, adjust cycle support falls squarely in the measure segment.
Defining who to court and service with a mid -level service program can also be a challenge.  Many businesses face two prime challenges time and money and service take both.  Me, I'm an enterprise level user who resells a handful of products and has a healthy but not enormous account.  What I am also am though is an educator and evangelist.  I sell the products I believe in day in and day out indirectly without participating in the transaction.  While I love helping small business find the right solutions for them this leaves me invisible in many transactions so therefore from a service standpoint I'm small potatoes because my vendor may not see the whole picture.  However, when I have a question or need help it's not your average consumer calling.  

The Solution and Some Examples of Who Is Doing It Right

Enter enterprise support associates stage left.  I'm in love, in love with support from a big company.  I know it's shocking, right?!  
Intuit, the makers of Quickbooks and Turbo Taxfigured this out early on and created a Pro-Advisor program.  Enterprise level support for anyone that will pay for it.  Trust me when you need it this was worth every penny.   I pay every year for a few reasons.  1. I get a bat-phone support number that lets me skip go and collect a qualified answer from someone not reading the help menu who can assume my computer is plugged in and that I’ve tried the basics. 2. Great communication.  Okay it’s not perfect but I get a lot of good information early and often.  Last year I sat in with the Intuit development team and developers from integrated solutions in a conference session to find out what’s coming next.  Information is king in my world.  I don’t need perfection if I can get information to educate my customers and adapt accordingly.  The huge upside for Intuit is that since I get the support I need (most of the time) I sell more of their software because I know I can support users better.  They have converted a support issue into a sales agent and a source of data for them to continue to grow and change. 

Another great example of support at an enterprise level is Tsheets time tracking app that is quickly gaining market share.   Tsheets offers the level of support required for a reseller or technical person when you dial their 1800 number to everyone.  I’ve never had a bad experience.  My concern is that with the growth they are bound to have ahead will they be able to sustain that quality?  That has yet to be seen but based on what I’ve experienced so far if there is a company that will be able to scale their support as quickly as they scale their brand it might be them.

Right Networks, a cloud hosting service focused on the accounting industry, has also recently begun to offer a special level of enterprise support to the mid-level professionals like myself.  Their take is different than that of Intuit and Tsheets. Right Networks has a tier 1 support team that recently got a large bump in numbers.  In addition, Right Networks assigned us an Enterprise account manager.  While this is hardly new to big business it is fairly uncommon in the accounting technology world for the mid-level professional like me.  We have had a 10-year relationship with the company as our preferred host and were considering finding another solution as the support deteriorated and we found account services increasingly difficult to navigate with our increase in account volume.  It would appear that it just hadn’t made sense for them to offer this kind of resource in the past.  A few months ago, things turned a corner.  We were assigned a designated professional who could escalate things as needed to other levels of support, help move requests along quickly, and who could give us the information we needed at a level we needed it to be at to properly support our customers.  This hybrid of a tier one service department and a dedicated enterprise level agent has been a game changer and seems from the outside to work well for them.  We are back to recommending them as a cloud host now that we are confident in their ability to service the needs of clients and their ability to keep up with us as we grow.

Overall, I hope to see these kinds of support paradigms become more prevalent in the tech industry.  The tools now available to us make it less expensive to offer these services to a larger segment of customers.  It should be a win-win because offering those support services to your savvy customers has a return on investment as they are the evangelists, mid-level resellers and often time users of your product that have valuable feedback.

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