If you view technical support vendors mostly based on price, do you think that technical support is a commodity?
Wikipedia: “The exact definition of the term commodity is specifically used to describe a class of goods for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market. …The market treats [commodity] instances as equivalent or nearly so with no regard to who produced them. “…From the taste of wheat, it is not possible to tell who produced it, a Russian serf, a French peasant or an English capitalist.”
So is one “tech support unit” qualitatively equivalent to any other tech support? Is tech support like petroleum and copper, commodities that are bought and sold based on price, availability and delivery? If all vendors answer the phone, talk to the customer, try to solve the problem and report what happened, does that mean that technical support is a commodity?
Suppose there are two tech support companies, vendors A and Z. Vendor A has highly experienced reps, who are experienced at solving all kinds of problems, and who solve over 90% of problems on the first contact with the user. Vendor Z has tiered reps, with the less experienced (and less expensive) Tier 1 reps mostly operating from a script, and with a database of frequently asked questions. You can’t get to the more experienced Tier 2 reps without going through a Tier 1 rep, failing to solve the problem, and then being “escalated” to the Tier 2 rep. Let’s be charitable and say that the Tier I reps solve 70% of the problems on first contact. (More in another post on why statistics about this are usually wrong and biased).
A user of your software calls in, upset, and says “Your software isn’t working.”
The Vendor A rep solves the problem quickly, as the rep has seen this problem before and knows how to handle it. That rep spends an additional few minutes of the call making sure the user has no other problems, and understands how to do the related things they need to do.
The Vendor B rep eventually solves the problem, but doesn’t sound confident, and can’t answer the follow-up questions that the user has.
From the user’s perspective, these two service levels are not in any way equivalent. Even though your CFO may prefer Company B, because they are inevitably less expensive, your customers are going to strongly favor Vendor A.
Now take it a step further. Suppose Vendor Z can’t solve the problem on the first call, but eventually solves it when the Tier 2 (more experienced) rep takes up the escalation and calls the customer back. Both companies solved the problem, and the cost may still favor Vendor Z. But the customer has a strong opinion in favor of the service provided by Vendor A. Being called back a day or more later, at a time that may not be very convenient at all, isn’t equivalent to getting the right answer when you needed it, when you called.
Even if you were transferred to Tier 2, and so got the solution on the same call from the senior person, your customers will wonder “Why couldn’t we talk to that (senior) person in the first place?”
If you are buying copper wire of a certain quality, everyone can agree that as long as the quality is equivalent, it doesn’t matter who you buy it from. (Maybe you work with a vendor you like, with good service and deliveries, as long as their price is competitive.)
But when you are buying a service, a vendor can meet your specification and still produce a very different quality result for your end-user.
In this post, we talked about “first call resolution” and “time to resolution”; what percentage of calls are resolved on the first contact with the customer, and how quickly do they do it. These are difficult to assess ahead of time, before choosing a vendor. But picking a vendor based mostly on price will almost certainly assure mediocre results in these areas.
Also, be aware that numbers don’t capture the whole customer experience. In posts to come, we will talk about other aspects of the customer experience in calling tech support, and how they affect customer satisfaction.
Your customers know the difference between high quality technical support and mediocre tech support. They will let you know if you treat tech support as a commodity. Problems resolved quickly and well means higher customer satisfaction, and higher satisfaction means repeat business and better referrals.