As a software vendor, we make a point of asking for client testimonials and feedback on how our clients are using their intranet sites. Where is the ROI and perceived value? We did get some good responses on key features, but something different caught our attention and became a bit of a trend. Virtually every testimonial ended with praise on our customer service and support. In a world where vendors compete on features and brand, is anyone considering the amount of ROI that great customer service can provide? We decided to share our philosophy and what we do that has our customers talking.

Product support can be an undervalued factor in evaluating software. In the evaluation and deployment process there are bound to be setup issues, hardware considerations, integration, and deployment questions. It’s a fair expectation that during the sales process you will receive the best service there is to offer, but what happens after the sale? For us, support and service actually increases after purchase and we focus on relationship building with our customers. This produces quicker responses, immediate fixes, unique knowledge of a client’s history and technology, and in turn provides huge savings in time and resources for our customers.

The first key issue when evaluating the type of support you’ll be dealing with is time of response. When you send in an email, how long does it take for someone to get back to you? If you place a call, is it answered by an automated routing system, or by a person within the company who has intimate knowledge of the software? Our corporate goals include providing that “wow” factor for our customers, but all of us on the support desk set a personal goal of quick responses and with a personalized approach to all issues and questions. We want our clients to get as much value out of their intranets as possible. In a recent chat with Paul Collopy at the Mayo Health Administration, he mentioned “I know that if I email you guys and I don’t hear back within 2 hours, something is wrong”. It’s a weight on the support desk to ensure these expectations are met, but this is the type of security and trust that a customer should have when contacting a vendor. The knowledge that their intranet, their needs, and their time is taken seriously.

Response time is only one component of a successful support relationship. Anyone who has spent hours on the phone being ‘escalated’ or transferred back and forth between representatives recognizes that the quality of response is even more critical. Having intimate knowledge of the software is key. Offering individual, one-on-one support with each client builds that relationship and community, plus you are intimate with that customer’s past issues, what they are doing with their intranet, how they might feel about changes to their site upon upgrade, and their servers and network.

All software vendors and customers run into compromises during product growth. Clients often come up with specific needs that they want the intranet to address. This is where good support can step in and find a fit for the client’s changing needs. When you have a support department that listens and is actively involved in the development and growth of the software, your needs can be taken directly to the development group and used to shape future product features. Our development is centered on client requests, which is possible because the support team has direct access and communication with not only the development team and product managers, but also the CEO. This ensures we know the development roadmap, we can help to shape features based on client feedback, and we work towards ensuring that the product will fit your needs now and in the future. This means less cost in changing products, adding additional products, services or consulting fees.

For those of you with the daunting task of a lengthy evaluation don’t forget to find out about the quality of support. Ask to speak with a support representative during your evaluation process and gauge the response and their knowledge of the product. Make sure to contact existing clients who are using the product and question them on their experience with post-sales assistance. The amount of time, effort, and future costs that a solid support team can save your company is immeasurable.

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