The nature of my work gives me the opportunity engage with integrators all over the country on a regular basis. One of the topics that comes up most often during these conversations is the growing importance of, and challenges associated with, providing quick, reliable support for clients, especially after hours.
Given the growing importance of effective service strategies in our industry, guaranteeing that your clients can receive quick and consistent support at exactly the moment they need it has never been more critical. Although this general idea is widely agreed upon, I am surprised at the number of professionals that I speak with who have a fundamental misunderstanding about what it means to provide “quality, reliable support.”
The Problem with Halfway Solutions
The most common response I receive when I ask integrators if they endeavor to provide this kind of support goes something like this: “Yes, of course. If an urgent issue comes up, my clients can call my cell phone anytime, and they always get taken care of.” Others reply along the lines of, “We have a dedicated cell phone that one of our team members carries, but clients rarely use it.” While I respect the effort and dedication that both of these approaches require, I am concerned that our industry continues to rely on “halfway” solutions to what are, in fact, mission-critical problems.
In a service-based industry like ours, there should be zero gray areas surrounding how and when clients can expect to receive support. In contrast, the approaches mentioned above often lead to an unpredictable and generally subpar service experience. Owners/employees rarely go out of their way to encourage the use of their personal numbers for support requests. When clients do resort to these personal modes of communication on their own accord, response times, and consistency vary greatly. And what about the dedicated support line that rarely gets used? Typically, hardly anyone uses it because hardly anyone knows about it. All of this combines to create an unpredictable service environment, with each client left to decide how best to request assistance given circumstances and urgency of their need in the moment.
Creating the Wrong Perception
This unpredictability creates a perception with clients that, far from being something you pride your company on, ongoing service is little more than a necessary evil that your company inherits with each project. This results in many clients not wanting to call after hours, letting their frustration brew until they can unleash it on Monday morning. Or even worse, some of these clients will try to troubleshoot the problem themselves, succeeding only in making it worse. Other clients may call, but feel guilty about being a burden (incidentally, many of these clients would readily pay for a premium support plan offering after-hours care if presented with one).
Putting Service Front and Center
At OneVision, many of the integrators we partner with don’t realize these problems exist. However, they quickly appreciate the difference when they come to see all that is involved with converting your business into a truly service-led organization. A true service program serves as a shining example of your company’s dedication to ongoing support. It is a well-defined offering that is actively promoted to your clients as a benefit of doing business with you. A formal terms-of-service (ToS) should spell out critical factors such as hours of availability, and guaranteed response times remove all guesswork from the equation. Dedicated support lines (phone and email) are actively promoted to clients, who are instructed to use them for any and all issues if they want to receive the quickest possible support, even after hours. Support responsibilities are divided into a rotating on-call schedule, ensuring clients can always reach someone and that clear accountability exists. And every issue is documented using a ticketing system to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
Perhaps most importantly, a true service program sends an important message to your clients that you plan to be there for them whenever they need support. The client experience created by this well-crafted approach to service will allow you to stand head and shoulders above your competition, differentiating your company and paving the way for the sale of premium support services.