Just like in the article “When Does It Start?”, the “It” in this title is Customer Service. The answer to this title question is that it never ends. As long as there are customers, customer service needs to be available to support them. Customer service is the primary vehicle to ensure that the first word of Principle Four: “Continuously Delight Each Customer” is fulfilled. The commitment to customers’ needs must extended well beyond the point at which companies consider the product obsolete. Except for service companies, SaaS companies, and product companies that heavily rely on maintenance revenues, support for past generation products is often viewed as a burden or necessary evil that they must tolerate. However, to customers that have purchased products or services in the past, their needs for support never end. We all experience this. We have no intention of replacing last year’s new state of the art flat screen TV, last year’s new car, or even last year’s purchased PC. The list goes on and on. Mattress companies tell us that we should replace our mattress every eight years. How many of us actually follow that advice? Most products remain in use long after the manufacturer’s warranty has expired or they deem the product to be “ready” for replacement with their new and improved version.
All companies count on a certain segment of the market being compelled to want the newest, “latest and greatest” product offering and purchasing long before the useful life of their current or their competitor’s current product ends. However, the “Power of Incumbency” is hard to overcome. It is almost always painful to change out a product when it is not absolutely necessary. Anyone who has wall-mounted a large flat screen TV remembers the challenge they faced. A proposed new TV had better have enough features to overcome the perceived new obstacles.
Microsoft faced a long, drawn out dilemma when it phased out support for Windows XP™. Introduced in 2001, it became the defacto standard for almost ten years. Finally, after replacing it with a number of operating systems (one of which was very problematic), Microsoft stopped supporting it in 2014, much to the dismay of many customers. Those customers, including many large enterprises, found it stable and faced the daunting task of re-training millions of users. It was a solid business decision on Microsoft’s part, probably made with much consternation, but necessary nonetheless. They gave ample warning and carefully managed the process. Although rational people understood the need, many responded emotionally and resented the burden placed on them. All companies need to carefully think through their new product announcements and past product support plans as thoroughly as Microsoft did with Windows XP. If not, many customers, forced to make a change, may resent the company’s “insensitivity” and look elsewhere for an alternative.
A trap that many companies fall into is taking the attitude that “We do not support that product anymore” when, in fact, they still have experienced individuals and databases that contain valuable information that could still be accessed and useful to users. Dropping support does not have to be a black and white issue. After providing ample notice, no longer fixing defects or repairing “obsolete” products is acceptable. However, refusing to answer user questions is another matter. Customers will understand the former situation, but will have a hard time accepting the latter, knowing that answers are probably readily available. Companies should encourage customer service reps to use common sense instead of following rigid support/non-support rules when dealing with older products. It is just another way of showing sensitivity and caring to customers.
The support issue does not have to necessarily end with the resolution to a customer raised issue when the call is over. Instead, a follow up call or email, a few days later, initiated by the customer service rep extends the “ending”. If the customer is still satisfied, the call or email will reinforce the positive outcome. If it is discovered that the issue still exists, the interaction may allow further involvement toward resolution and avoid customer frustration and their solidifying negative feelings. The process involves the notion that “continue even when you are finished” and is a key element in the goal of continuously delighting each customer.
For larger accounts with “many-to-many” potential interactions between their company and yours, it is easy for issue resolution to get out of sync or slip through the cracks. One method to help avoid this is to periodically send a message to all potentially involved individuals with a simple status list of open issues. Adding the phrase: “If your issue is not on the list or was not resolved, please contact us”. Send the communication even if there are currently no open issues. This “continuous” process shows your on-going commitment to them. Continue it until they say “stop”! Think about this process for a moment: Do you ever receive this type of caring message from anyone? Probably not. As discussed in the article in this collection, “The Indirect Force”, this simple technique is a way of selling without selling. Aside from addressing any missed issues, it shows that you care; something that seems to be occurring less frequently today. Caring should never end.