The FT Word – December 2007

By Technical Support

The FT Word

The FT Word is a free monthly newsletter with support management tips. To subscribe, send us email with your email address. The subscription list is absolutely confidential; we never sell, rent, or give information about our subscribers. Here’s a sample.

Welcome

Welcome to the December 2007 edition of the FT Word. Please forward it to colleagues you feel would enjoy it.

This month’s topics

  • Customer satisfaction surveys: which ones work best?
  • Selling support in Asia – can it be done?
  • Articles on managing global organizations and more

Customer Satisfaction Surveys

Thank you to Bob Greenberg for suggesting this topic.

What’s better for measuring customer satisfaction, a quick survey after each case, or a periodic survey with more detailed questions? Well, both are good – in different ways. Let’s explore both approaches.

  • A transactional (or case-based) survey is performed after a case is resolved (closed) and specifically requests feedback about the particular case. You can perform a transactional survey on every case or a sample. Typically low-volume, high-complexity support centers survey on each case while high-volume centers use sampling techniques.
  • A periodic survey, on the other hand, is performed at some point in time. It’s very useful to watch for trends so most companies perform surveys every six months or every year. Periodic surveys often cover a wide range of topics, from the buying cycle, to support, to training, to whether the customer would recommend the product to others.

So which one is better? It depends on what you’d like to do with the survey.

Transactional Surveys

I tend to prefer transactional surveys because they encourage customers to think of a specific event, avoiding some of the problems with halo effects, and from your perspective they allow you to trace the feedback back to a specific event or individual so you can take corrective action. Periodic surveys suffer from the halo effect: if a customer had a particularly wonderful experience with a support case, the tendency is to rate support high, even if the other interactions were not so hot (and especially if the wonderful experience is more recent) – and that works in reverse as well with poor experiences. With a transactional surveys the halo effect is diminished.

To get the most out of transactional surveys:

  • Keep them very, very short to boost the response rate, hence the validity of the instrument. Asking just one question (which would be something like “Rate your satisfaction level with the way case 1234 was handled”) yields results that are amazingly similar to longer surveys that ask about satisfaction with response time, professionalism, technical knowledge, etc. – and the response rate could be quadrupled!
  • Automate the gathering of the answers. You don’t want to waste resources on what’s pretty much a clerical task. Also the less manual intervention the less risk of polluting the results (or, consider outsourcing.) By the way, most support organizations use email surveys because they are cheaper and unobtrusive – but they also yield much lower response rate than a phone survey.
  • Send them immediately after the event. People’s memories fade quickly. Immediate surveys are more likely to be acted upon.
  • Respond to the bad ones. It’s your opportunity to save the day – and customers will be more likely to respond to surveys if they know someone’s reading them. In the same vein, posting your average survey results on your web site will show customers you really care.
  • Tie individual performance ratings to the survey results. Yes, some customers will always give low ratings but if you measure over a period of time it will average out. Wouldn’t you prefer to reward and promote team members who get outstanding ratings?
  • Realize that there are regional differences. Europeans are tough graders (no “easy A” in their education systems) and New Yorkers, I’m told, are pretty blunt too. The differences are not huge, however.
  • There may also be differences between support tiers. Customers who had to go to level 2 to get something resolved may be less satisfied than the ones who got an immediate answer. Be mindful of that when using the ratings for individual performance management.

Periodic Surveys

Periodic surveys can’t be beat when you need complex feedback. To get the most out of periodic surveys:

  • Periodic surveys can include dozens of questions. Make it a company initiative if you can.
  • Take great care in creating the survey questions. Slight differences in wording may yield very different answers.
  • Target the right contacts. If you are asking detailed questions about support to someone who is not a support contact, you are wasting your time (and the customer’s…) Make sure you pitch the survey to the right audience.
  • Because of their length periodic surveys are often done over the phone, but they can be administered in other ways. Think of a reasonable incentive for customers to respond. Perhaps a small gift or a drawing of some kind if they have to invest a big chunk of time.
  • Try to reuse the same questions over time so you can have an idea of trends.
  • Be realistic over what you can do with the results of a periodic survey: if customers say they are dissatisfied with support it won’t necessarily be clear why they are dissatisfied. Allowing the interviewers to collect free-form comments is useful but you will have to wade through the comments, which is very time-consuming and won’t provide a rational, across-the-board analysis.
  • Work with someone who specializes in surveys: they will understand the nuances of wording and help you devise cost-effective sampling methods. Some companies will also allow you to compare your results to other, similar vendors for meaningful benchmarking. It’s typically not a good idea to conduct periodic surveys in-house.

If you can, use both types of surveys as they fill different niches. If you do, accept that the ratings won’t match exactly between the two, although trends should go in the same direction. If you must choose one or the other, I would vote for transactional because it’s cheaper and allows you to close the loop. In any case: perform and act on a survey, whichever type you choose.

Selling Support in Asia

Thank you to Tony Vasquez for suggesting this topic.

The concept of charging for support is well established in North America and in Europe. In some Asian countries, however, support executives are encountering stiff resistance from the sales team: the culture is different, they are told. Customers just expect free support. It’s not possible to sell support. What’s a support executive to do? Here are 10 actionable points about selling support in Asia.

1. Yes, there are regional differences between Asia and the rest of the world when it comes to support fees. In other words, you’re not alone!

2. It is possible to turn the tide and sell support in Asia. This will likely take time and persistence, since you will need to change the mindset of the sales team. Don’t expect success overnight.

3. Do some research on your competitors and providers of complementary products: chances are that they do provide fee-based support, including in Asia. Use that as a basis to inspire the change. You are not the bad guy trying to gouge customers: the majority of vendors charge for support, even in Asia.

4. Try the basic/plus approach, that is, provide “basic” support for free while introducing fee-based “premium” offerings. If you design the basic support offerings with very loose SLAs (say, 24-hour response time), customers will quickly wise up to the fact that paying for support and getting 1-hour response on P1 issues (e.g.) is worthwhile. You can design a special “basic” support offering for Asia with slow response targets as a give-away. The other, premium offerings can be identical to what you offer elsewhere in the world, with similar pricing.

5. Try charging for support after the first year, bundling the first year support fee into the license price. It’s often better accepted to charge for subsequent years rather than right from the purchase date. (Note that this particularly strategy could actually make it harder to sell support: customers may wonder why you are charging for something that used to be free! It’s best if you can convince the sales team to prepare the way for the future support charges right at the time of the sale.

6. Emphasize the product updates. Since paying for support may be a tough sell at first, both internally and externally, it may be easier to point to a clear and tangible benefit of support packages, namely the maintenance and update releases. After a few years a customer who is getting updates will get to enjoy a very different, richer, and more stable product. There should be little discussion that updates are valuable and can be fee-based.

7. You don’t need to use special pricing for the Asian market. Just like you can use the same support offerings worldwide you can use the same pricing scheme, be it a percentage of license or a flat fee.

8. Clearly all this is a lot easier if the global support team reports to a central point, but it’s possible to make the change even with a local support organization, as long as you can convince the executive in charge that it’s much easier to manage a profit-and-loss team than a cost-based team. So don’t neglect to include the local support management in your effort.

9. Use the right influencers for the sales team. The main argument you will hear is “we are different and unique, you just don’t understand.” One good avenue (for a US-based company) is to have the Asian Sales VP talk with the Europeans. They are different and unique too, so they may have more credibility than you have. And after all, everyone’s after making quota and large commissions, so selling support magically increases the size of each deal.

10. Don’t skimp on the quality of support delivery. Since customers are not accustomed to paying for support (for your company’s products, again many vendors successfully charge for support in Asia) they need to have a good support experience, especially at the beginning.

FT Works in the News

SSPA News published an article I wrote entitled Expanding Globally: A Roadmap for Support. You can read it at http://www.thesspa.com/sspanews/November07/article4.asp.

I was a guest speaker on AFSMI’s webcast – Employee Loyalty: Pillar or Pitfall for Generating Growth? on 11/27/2007. The presentation and recording will be posted on AFSMI’s web site shortly and I will share the URL with you.

Time to sign up for ASP’s Best Support Web Sites of 2008. Yes, I will once again be a judge and I look forward to great entries. To learn more, visit http://www.asponline.com/whyenter.html

Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics and your name will appear in future newsletters. I’m thinking of doing a compilation of “tips and tricks about support metrics” in the coming months so if you have favorites, horror stories, or questions about metrics, please don’t be shy.

Regards,
Françoise Tourniaire
FT Works
www.ftworks.com
650 559 9826

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