Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Technical support is mechanical nowadays.

This was posted on Ambie's Blog on Thursday 31 December 2009

I was reading the much talked about book of former IBM Chief Louis Gerstner. It was like a reference material for management students. Once Mr. Gerstner was referring to an incident with IBM tech support that happened when he was with Amex. The Amex technology people had installed a non IBM server in their department, and the IBM tech support representative refused to support the existing infracture of which 99% were IBM products. The reason behind that was one 3rd party product in the whole lot.

As a tech support guy, I could understand the reason behind the IBM stand at that time. It was early 1980s and technology at that time was not as people savvy as it is now. Even products from the same manufacturer would not be compatible with a different model of machine from the same company. So, a 3rd party server in the network would cause constraints in the support process. The way of expression of that IBM techie and the apathetic reaction to Mr.Gerstner's complaint on that were a cause of concern.

But this attitude of the tech support continue even today. We have an industry standard architecture for any hardware product. We have the most common Operating System, Windows, that occupies 95% of the computers nowadays. Even in cases of Linux or other Operating Systems , we have applications those enable cross platform compatibility. Well, the issue I'm here to discuss is that of the hardware part. Wehad an issue when one of the customers of the company I work with, had called us for.

He had a computer purchased from us which had a network adapter integrated to the motherboard. His internet was working fine for two years. Once he had an issue with the internet. He called us and asked for help. We checked it and found that the network adapter had to be replaced, but in this case the entire motherboard and offered to send a technician to his home to replace it. He said he could not wait for 2-3 days for our technician to go and replace the board. He said he would call us when he was convenient for this arrangement. Someone at his office gave an alternate solution also, that was to purchase a network card and install it. He opted to purchase the network card from a local store and called us for support.

Our tech support refused to help him with that card. That was a 3rd party card, so we should not support, was the reason given by our team. The customer had contacted the card manufacturer and they told that they are not sure about installing parts in this computer and asked him to contact the computer manufacturer. We in turn, referred him to the card manufacturer. After couple of hours of shunting back and forth he decided to hire a local computer technician to get the job done for a cost of a couple of hundred dollars.

Then came the mammoth trouble. The customer then called us asking for refund of the warranty money. His argument was that we didn't support him during a critical time. He was running a business and was in need of internet connection to work on his orders. He could not wait for 2-3 days, our tech support had asked him to wait for. For getting crucial orders processed he had purchased a network card, but we refused to support him citing policy and procedure.

Interestingly during these days, I had gone through a session (online, of course) on customer service. There they had mentioned an incident about a bank taking up a customer's personal request to inform his wife about a flight delay. That bank customer was overseas and called his bank's toll free number, asking them to inform his wife about the flight delay, since he didn't have enough money to make an international call. The bank could have given him some credit and asked him to call his wife and charged him later. Nobody would complain as it was not the bank's job to take up personal requests. But the bank's customer support did take up that request and promptly called the customer's wife and informed about the delay. Then that customer had started recommending this bank to anyone who asked him for any banking needs.

Where did we miss in our case? He was our customer. He had some emergency and had purchased a part from local store. He asked us for help. That part was compatible with our computer and the OS in that. We knew what to do to make that work. I think we should have helped the customer, after giving him the mandatory caveat that we're not trained in the product he had purchased, but we were help him trusting that the product is in compliance with the prevalent industry standards. We could have gained the customer's confidence, and might have got the "word of mouth" in a positive sense.

Our people were cursing the customer stating that he had asked for a warranty refund after violating policy agreement. We're not running any Government that could penalize anyone for violation of its policy and regulations. We're running a business. To sustain customer base and grow it, we have to be customer centric. We have to get rid of the rigid mindset of following policies and losing the customers, and start thinking rather issue centric and focus on resolving customer's problems. Customer support or technical support should have a dash of humanity to survive by serving humans. People who run the service industry must understand the basic tenets of service. Policies are for customers; but customers are not for policies. Would the metric breathing and number crunching corporate czars have time to listen to my voice, that echo most of our customers'?

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