The Never-Ending Customer
How Much Support Is Too Much?
By Ron Goldberg
Simple. Friendly. Easy to use. Satisfaction guaranteed. These descriptions and others like them are probably the critical selling points in any custom CE transaction. Consumers expect to receive exactly the experience they've contracted and paid for, and flawless operation is expected to be a given. On occasion, a bug will get by even an expert programmer's eye, and a component, wire or connection might sometimes fail. But in most cases, system difficulties can be traced to the end user. A customer might accidentally mess up a macro. Another can't figure out how to access a special feature that they know is buried somewhere in the equipment. Another hears or sees strange things that nobody else does.
In these situations, it's customer support that makes or breaks a C-tailer or integrator's reputation. But once any flaws that clearly represent the seller's responsibilities — installation reliability, hardware or software glitches, programming errors, etc. — are taken care of, how much responsibility is there for ongoing customer support? How many phone calls to the dealer or installer are acceptable? How many times can a customer expect a house call? And is extended customer support an option, or "standard equipment"?
CR asked several C-tailers and designer/installers their views on what constitutes genuine customer satisfaction, and what they believe is a reasonable approach to providing it.
One integrator from South Carolina, who preferred anonymity, came up with an iterative process that not only brings seller and buyer together, but establishes a clear time frame for free versus billable support. He says that, "We give the home owner basic training when they move in, and tell them that we will be back in two weeks. In those two weeks we ask the homeowner to write down everything they hate about the system's current setup. When we come back, we reconfigure the little tweaks they want, and tell them we will be back in two weeks again. We then do the same thing. We do this twice for each client. All service calls dealing with user error are handled in the first month free of charge. After that, we charge our hourly rate." The strategy is not only admirably customer-focused, but establishes mutually understood expectations up front.