Startups needn’t worry about customer support until they get big, right? Wrong ! You really need to start thinking about it as part of your business planning process.Read More
A recent Washington Post article about the lack of growth in VR got me thinking....
JARGON ALERT ! “Complex Ecosystems”. Sounds like something that a nature documentary would talk about, so what has it got to do with customer experience ?
Well, this is another one of those lessons that we learned from over 20 years of figuring out how to look after customers with Smart (and not-so-smart) phones. Back in the dim-distant past, phones were meant for voice communications. They didn’t connect to the internet, or do email, or social media, or VR. When data was first introduced as a concept, you would plug a PCMCIA data card into your laptop, connect the phone with a cable, and then essentially make it act like a dial-up modem.
And here’s where the complex ecosystem comes about.
Think about it. Customers back then had:
- Laptop PC
- PCMCIA data card
- Mobile phone
- Cable to connect the phone to the laptop
- Airtime contract
- An Operating System on their PC
- An Operating System on their phone
- Some device drivers
- Some software that needed to communicate
Each and every piece of the puzzle could be a potential failure point. The trouble was the laptop might be Toshiba, phone by Motorola, data card by Communicate, Laptop OS by Microsoft, and software by Lotus. So as a poor, confused consumer, who simply wants it to work, where do you turn ? Who do you talk to ?
This is where the problem comes for the brands that are serving the customer. If the customer phones you, their expectation is that the problem is yours – even if it is not. Take our example – the customer has purchased a new PCMCIA data card from Communicate. He plugs it in, and nothing works. He phones the helpline and Communicate tells him that it’s not their problem, there must be something wrong with Windows. He then phones Microsoft, and they know nothing about this PCMCIA card, so ask him to phone his hardware provider. You get the picture. You’ve probably personally experienced something similar.
Each brand in the ecosystem has a decision to make. Do they support only their component of the ecosystem ? Why should they go to the expense of supporting someone else’s problem ? BUT what does it do to customer loyalty if they turn away their customers that are in need of assistance ? Really it’s an impossible equation to balance, especially as each brand in the ecosystem acts differently.
Now, fast-forward to today. Isn’t this a problem of the past ? Hasn’t this been resolved by now ?
Well, in Smartphones the answer is – kinda.
A lot of the problems have moved on, because Smartphones are primarily self-contained. You might plug in to a computer to synchronize and back up your data, but a lot of people connect to the Cloud and do it that way. There are still issues with connecting to Bluetooth, with syncing to applications like email, with configuring the device to use the apps or services that you want. A lot less issues, but they still exist.
How about VR / AR ?
Here’s the thing. Computer-based VR / AR is still a complex ecosystem.
- One or more GPUs
- GPU drivers
- GPU add-ins
- Other devices that may conflict
- PC Operating System
- Steam or similar for application purchase and distribution
- Other software that may conflict (firewall, anti-malware, etc)
- VR Kit
- Head Mounted Display
- Breakout box
- Tracking components
- VR control/communication application
So when a consumer buys their $800 VR headset, plugs it into their $1500 ultra fast gaming system with a 2 x SLI GPU configuration, and their Steam library brim-full of VR experiences, and it doesn’t work – where do they turn ? Most likely to their VR vendor, as that’s the newest piece of equipment introduced to their rig, and their immediate perspective will likely be that’s the problem.
And even worse – the scale of the investment is proportional to the expectation from the consumer. “This is an expensive piece of equipment, and therefore I expect it to work.”
So – a call to arms. To all vendors of really cool kit, that plugs into other kit to make it work. Have you thought about this ? It’s something you really need to have answers to, before you see a tidal wave of consumers wielding their social-media pitchforks in your direction.
A thread on LinkedIn recently inspired me to put finger-to-keyboard and set down my thoughts and experience on outsourcing customer service in Startups.
As with all internet discussions, there were completely opposing thoughts on the subject.
Should Startups, and early-stage businesses outsource their customer service to a vendor ?
School of Thought #1 - The "NO's"
Product Management 101 states that you need to be as close to the customer as is humanly possible. This will give invaluable insights into how your product or service performs, what tweaks are necessary to improve it, and how you can alter your sales and marketing strategies accordingly. Pro "NO's" focus on the argument of that feedback loop being the single most important source of insight for an early-stage business.
School of Thought #2 - The "YES's"
Startups need to focus on what they are good at. They are often small, passionate teams, technically adept, but without the knowledge about what good customer service is all about. This leads to coders, founders, and other members of the core team dealing with routine customer service and tech support queries. Pro "YES's" focus on the need for good quality customer service as an absolute must for a growing business - therefore outsource it to an expert.
So, where am I ?
ThreeDotZero Studios is built on the principle that there should be a third school. The school of insight. A school that ensures that core competencies are at the heart of the decision. An outsourcer that cares as much about the feedback loop as the brand does.
Startups are competent at building their product/service. In most cases they are competent at marketing their brand and selling to a global audience.
Outsourcers are competent at customer service. All that softskill stuff. If you get the right one, they also deal with the Omni-channel conundrum. If you are REALLY lucky, they know about Knowledge Management.
"BUT WHAT ABOUT THE SLAs" I hear the Outsourced community shout. "An outsourcer couldn't possibly manage the 80/20/FCR/AHT/BLAH BLAH metrics AND spend time gathering and communicating feedback.". Disagree. We've done it.
Simply, the SLA should be the mutually agreed set of metrics that demonstrates a service's success. Why is the focus on time, volume, quality ? If the single most important thing (as cited by the Pro "NOs") is feedback, then why on earth is that not the focus of the service ?
Yes, you need an outsourcer that "gets it" when it comes to product management. They need to understand the organization they are working for. The growing pains, the launch cycles, the organizational design, the market you are serving. They need to nail the customer service part of the equation (happy customers, served well, on the channel they prefer). They need to manage and report on the basics. BUT fundamentally, they should be geared up to gather and communicate this feedback - treating it with as much importance as the brand does.
Fundamentally, the Outsource industry is governed by the wrong metrics. We say rip up the SLA rulebook, and do stuff that is really, truly valued by your customer.
Craig Rich - Oct 16