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"I have to tell you, this report is great. We have made it mandatory reading for all our support engineers and management. It's become our 'best practices' document and we'll be implementing initiatives to improve our services based on items in the report."
—Kim Seserman, Saba
    ASPonline.com  >  Reports  >  The Great Customer Experience
 

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The Great Customer Experience
Publication date: 11/08


Executive summary

Not long ago, the common working definition of “great support” was something like “the best we can do in the cheapest way possible.” That’s classic cost-center thinking, and for a lot of service businesses—think WalMart and discount airlines—it can be a pretty successful strategy. But for many technology companies, the growth of fee-based services and loyalty-based marketing have radically transformed this cost-focused approach. Increasingly, the goal now is to stand out from the crowd, to deliver a knock-their-socks-off experience, to be “world class.”

Being proud of your service quality is always more fun than nickle-and-diming the customer, of course. And there are lots of examples in daily life that show high payoffs from extraordinary service quality. The fanatical helpfulness of a Nordstrom’s or a Ritz-Carlton, the legendary Avis “We Try Harder” campaign, FedEx’s near-perfect on-time delivery record, and the top-to-bottom friendliness of Southwest Airlines—have all helped turn commodity, cost-centric businesses into market leaders.

Despite these examples, however, when we look at the support world, it’s surprisingly hard to figure out who’s really offering “great” service. In fact, support managers themselves seem a little fuzzy about what it takes to be outstanding. We recently asked ASP members and other support professionals, “What makes your users feel they’ve encountered a ‘great customer experience’?” The answers were often fascinating and insightful, but the most common answer was a variation on this response:

“Someone who listens, gives a complete and accurate answer, in a timely fashion.”

In other words, exceptional support consists of answering the phone without too much delay, listening politely, and providing a correct answer. Ouch: If this is the standard for great support, it’s chilling to think what average support is like.

To be fair, average support these days tends to be pretty good and is often excellent, especially by comparison with the standards that prevailed 10-20 years ago. But a rise in standards is a two-edged sword: When most companies are delivering a reasonably high level of service, it becomes far harder to be truly distinctive. As customers begin to encounter good support everywhere, they ratchet up their own expectations. And they become far harder to impress.

That’s probably where we are now. Judging from our survey data, for example, a large percentage of support managers now feel they’re delivering “world class” support. If that’s a realistic assessment, then being world-class has become pretty ordinary; for all practical purposes, world class now means little more than “above average.”

But there’s always an opportunity to dramatically exceed market standards and customer expectations. For that reason, we’ve assembled a series of short essays by support experts and in-the-trenches practitioners on the general theme of how to achieve a genuine Wow! experience in support delivery. We hope these essays inspire some of our readers to look for new ways to delight and amaze their customers—and ultimately to move overall industry standards even higher.



Copies of the survey are free to ASP members in the members-only area.

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