Communication and Customer Service

Joel @ Joel On Software has a post up about Customer Service and how important it is that you have good customer service.

I have to agree with what he’s written, Customer Service is important, very important but it’s also important how you deliver that customer service. I get to deal with a lot of companies and it’s true that the ones I recommend to everyone else and the ones I constantly use are those that provide good customer service.

Let me tell you a true story about something that happened a few weeks ago that should illustrate my point.

This website is hosted with WebAfrica, and a few weeks ago they had some rather big problems with there US Linux servers, what exactly happened I’m not sure but my site and many others were down for at least a day and some even longer. The guys at Webafrica worked hard, going for 30hours+ without sleep to get the servers back up and running. While they did this they kept everyone informed of there progress, eventually they got everything up and running but my site wasn’t working properly the problem was that while everything had been restored the MySQL database for WordPress appeared to have gotten corrupted, so I opened a support ticket and waited… they came back with a reply quickly and said that the Linux guys they had sent home to get a bit of sleep but they would see what they could do… so I phoned them to actually tell them that they didn’t have to worry as I wasn’t loosing any money or anything… the guy on the phone was very helpful asked a bunch of questions, asked me what I had tried to fix it my self and then said he would get someone to look into it. It got resolved an hour or two later, but they had to restore it as a new database and went in and changed WordPress to use the new database for me.

Now at this point you’re probably saying.. “Yea, ok cool they fixed your problem but they were down for more than a day.”, what they did next was un-expected, they credited me for the month because they didn’t reach there 99% uptime, and they explained how they had learned from this and were working at ensuring that it wouldn’t happen again. Yes, thats right they gave me my money back for the month.

Having dealt with these guys before I know that they will look into how to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future and what I like is they will keep everyone informed about how far they are and what they’re considering doing to fix the problem.

Which brings me to something Joel didn’t explicitly mention, Communication. You can’t have good Customer Service if you don’t actually communicate with your customers, this includes those customers who have never contacted your support center. Yes, Notifying customers of new releases is important… but also tell them what was fixed, whats been added in the new release and tell them what you discover is still broken. Listen to your customers too, they’ll tell you what they want and what you’re doing wrong or right and how you can improve your business. Don’t hide information in dark corners of your website, I personally wouldn’t restrict access to knowledge bases and forums to paying customers only. I would throw the doors open and let my future customers see just how good or bad my companies support is, what goes wrong with our products and what we’ve added on each new version and what bugs we find and fix.

The reason for this openness is that I don’t think it scares off customers, not unless you’re really bad at supporting your products or have bad products. If you offer excellent support and have tons of tutorials, documentation and examples you might actually attract a few customers. When you’re shopping for software no matter how much the software cost you want to know if something goes wrong will someone be able to help me.

It’s not hard to have a web-based knowledge base that your customers can view, a simple wiki that is only editable by your staff is a rather good start. There’s tons of forum software out there which you could setup and use, although I don’t recommend that you have a forum with only 3 posts in because it looks stupid… and if you have a lot of people using he forums you may need dedicated people to manage the forum. A Blog is a great way to keep in touch with people about updates, new features, major bugs or ideas that you might have. And most bug tracking software now days can link to the web.

I would steer clear of mailing lists because they’re getting rather unpopular now days with all the spam. I personally like the idea of an RSS feed I can subscribe to, but if your customers are not the kind of people who know what a RSS field is (like my parents for example.) then maybe an email mailing list is not a bad idea.