After Hours

Customer vs. support: How can we end the blame game?

Derek Schauland looks for a path beyond the often adversarial relationship between customers and suppport pros. How do you stop the blame game?

When working with external companies for support -- either resellers or consultants -- it's easy to get caught up in the blame game. When your support provider starts pointing the finger at a software developer or shuffling you off to another support group, you know you're headed for a frustrating experience. In my opinion, it is often the case that when this happens, both parties are somewhat at fault.

This post was inspired by my recent experience with a support organization. The blame game was in full swing, and it was constantly some other application outside of their realm of support that was supposedly causing the trouble.

In some respects, I can sympathize with the support group's perspective. I was in a phone support role for a few years, and I had to refer customers to other companies sometimes when the issue seemed to be outside our direct responsibility, even if it was common knowledge and not difficult to fix. At the time, I knew that the reason for this was to limit our responsibility and liability for things outside our scope. Still, I wasn't comfortable with the fact that we weren't helping more with some of those issues with the overall goal being to give the best service to the customer.

I think that rather than being immediately referred to someone else to solve a problem, it would be beneficial to both sides if a real conversation could take place first, even if the end result remains that you have to go elsewhere for final resolution.

Sharing all the related information about other applications and your environment could result in an insight into the problem that would be discovered only by hashing it out together. Not only could it help the customer get to a quicker resolution at the next stop along the way, but it could also result in more efficient call handling in future for the support person. From their perspective, they might learn something new about a particular environment that would help them deduce a root cause more quickly. From the customer's perspecive, a little extra effort on the part of support is always appreciated (see my post about a similar situation with Microsoft support).

My solution to the blame-game scenario is for the customer to be willing to fully explain the difficulty and be ready to provide all the relevant information that support person might need. Likewise, support pros shouldn't automatically push the problem off on someone else, but they should provide as much information as they know about it -- even if they can't fix the problem directly -- and be willing to follow up if anything new comes to light. Remember, we are all in the IT business together, and helping each other is what we do everyday. Taking a little extra time is better for eveyone in the end.

Have you been involved in a particularly combative support situation recently?

About

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

9 comments
TUFOP
TUFOP

I have a very simple form that is asking for some very basic information about the computer the customer is emailing about. When the customer clicks on email tech support the form opens and clicking on send sends it off to our support department. The customer is then shown a copy of what they have sent. It is rare when 1 in 100 actually fills in more than their name and account number. Then the complaint follows when the additional information is requested. Customers do have a responsibility to provide basic information if they expect any kind of valid answer.

adakar_sg
adakar_sg

I'm often in the support role and found myself having to support the employees normally working support for a rather large computer firm.. First thing i noticed was that they had very lacking knowledge of the system.. they had not read the manual we sendt with the software and they had not prepped the server as described in the manual. Not only that they kept focusing and asking me if one of the parts were not working as it should, regardless of i'm beeng able to document it working infront of their eyes.. So the next time you call support in india and you think "god this guy is slow".. he just might be slow and its not your fault.. they are kinda like telemarketers that got a script they go trough without actually knowing what they are telling you to do actually does.. My first hand experience from wasting 3 days of my life giving support to tech support to lazy to read the manual themselves..

santeewelding
santeewelding

Consult the I Ching. It's called, "no blame". Which no doubt you already know, but stir up among undirected youth in order to capitalize on turmoil. Wait. Maybe you are youth.

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

How often do you wind up working with support and getting nowhere fast?

dogknees
dogknees

I call support for a product from a vendor. The fact that the vendor chooses to support it from India shouldn't effect the level of support I can expect. It's a bit like automated call routing systems. They stink! No matter how many times companies say that their customers like it, it's still rubbish. It doesn't matter how many calls are routed in how many minutes if half of them will never call you again because they'd rather kill themselves than go through your system again. If I call you, it's because I've decided I'd rather speak to a person than send an email or lodge a request online. Or, perhaps because I've already done these things and had no response. Vendors, please respect this desire!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Whether you were born in Memphis or Mumbai, Kandahar or Kalamazoo, people are people.

salim
salim

As a IT person, we should keep one thing in mind. In Dictionary there is a word called" customer" there is also a word called"satisfication" But there is no word called" customer satisfaction" You try your best, put 100% and then still it does not work, you know what to say????

ole.ronberg
ole.ronberg

Well the conflict between customers and it-supporters is a classic conflict that has been going on since "forever". Often I find that customers / end-users underestimate the complexity of their problems and expect results to quickly. However, on the other hand I find that many supporters forget that they are here to service the customers. I see the same conflict when a non-IT proficient client inquires about web development work. They don't understand the complexity of web development and thus don't understand estimates etc., and again on the other hand the IT professionals are not always very good in explaining to the client what the work really entails.

nyashawm
nyashawm

but customer is king at the end of day. was accused of creating viruses for clients by one.thats the way it is.