Open IT Forum: IT’s role in customer service

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One of ITKnowledgeExchange's bloggers is working on a series about customer service in the enterprise, and how it can be improved. From the IT side, do you have any experiences or suggestions for improving how companies do customer service? We'll take horror stories as well! Help a fellow IT Knowledge Exchanger out and we'll give you 50 Knowledge Points!

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A timely response is always encouraged and just good customer service of course. Nothing worse than asking for help and then waiting hours or even days for a response. If you say someone will be with the customer shortly, don’t keep them waiting forever please! I don’t mind giving a level of severity. If I feel something is of low customer impact on our side then a longer wait time for assistance is perfectly fine, but if it is URGENT, then please address my issue swiftly. I give high grades to support that gets back to me quickly on urgent issues. But even inside my organization that doesn’t happen. The worst nightmare recently was a backup issue we had. Our organization SAYS this is of ultra importance, yet I had to submit an approval form to send log files (with no customer data in them whatsoever) to support and it took me two WEEKS to get approval! Of course had we needed to so a restore from the failing server in the mean time MY team would have looked bad. Getting cooperation and timely response is the biggest headache I endure when it comes to IT support. I try my best to get back with my customers quickly on their issues.

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  • AndreaF
    Attitude is a large part of good customer service as well. I have seen far too many "techs" that treat non-technical persons like morons. The kind of technical support that graces you with their presence while they bash a few keys on the keyboard, muttering something that you can't make out (and aren't sure you want to) then finish up with an expression that leaves you no doubt they expect they will have to return to clean up this issue again - because you are a Moron! I also heard one unhappy co-worker who did his own muttering, about how he would like to see "that tech write up an insurance policy!"
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  • James Murray
    I think that the stupidest problem in IT support is when a problem that we spent 2 weeks troubleshooting comes back up to Tier III or Tier IV RCA again. Everyone was patting themselves on the back for solving the problem but nobody documented the problem or made the fix available to the Tier I and II support technicians. Then when it's back in RCA again, unless someone happens to remember this was solved once before, the problem goes back through the RCA process again and again. I've found some large networks where 30% of IT support time is spent working on known issues that nobody bothered to put into some type of known issues database. Two Fortune 500 company I worked with had no system for taking RCA results and making the fix information availble to the rest of the support team. My second suggestion is how support tickets are written. Imagine a Tier IV technician having to go down the line interviewing each technician that worked on the problem. Looking at the technicians tickets it obvious that the information wasn't completed. So each tier has to start from scratch on each ticket. It's a boring role, but Quality Control audits on tickets, training and documentation on how to fill out a ticket reduces tier III and RCA time dramatically.
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  • EAJewett
    While "managing expectations" sounds like you are starting out by making excuses, there are definitely times where what an individual regards as urgent is competing with what other individuals regarded as their urgent problem and maybe one that is impacting an entire location. We commonly see half of our requests submitted as urgent and some of it is clearly abuse, despite the "I cannot complete any work until this is resolved" tag. Probably the best we can do on that is to give a prompt response, as a confirmation that we received the request but that it is likely to not receive attention until this afternoon, or tomorrow, or whatever. I don't think you need to account for everything ahead of them in line, that would only start the elbowing like third graders waiting for gym class.
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  • Meandyou
    Another example of the problem identified by Ekardris of lack of thoroughness and documentation of the problem and solution ... I am aware of a business that bought, installed, and uses a trouble ticket system that has search capability so one can easily look up error messages and such. However, too often the problem is defined as "user has problem" and the resolution states "fixed problem"
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  • TomLiotta
    I had an issue a few years ago with a major credit card company. A change-of-address apparently wasn't recorded correctly, so I wasn't getting my monthly statements. When I called the 1-800 number to see what the problem was, an automated voice asked me to punch in my zip code and account number in order to be handled by the appropriate rep. It quickly became obvious that "zip code" was a part of whatever the address problem was because my entry kept getting refused. And there was no option that I could find to reach an actual human. One thing IT can do for customer service is ensure that there is always a route to a human, even if it's nothing but a way to leave a call-back number. We can be great at automation, but automation can be helpless when data is corrupted. Tom
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  • HMSSL2K
    TomLiotta nailed it on the head. Plus the person you reach India can't understand you or you cant' understand them.
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  • Chippy088
    Don't you hate it when the customer service number on your new piece of kit is to a general customer service line. I do a lot of work in the home office/SMB area, and they use the cheaper equipment. Often I I have been called to trouble shoot a connection that has stopped working, because of these lines having an acent that is not local, and some of the terms cannot be understood. You know (as a techie) you have already done all they tell you to do, but they will not/cannot pass it on to tech support until you have done what is on their check list. A classic example is a worldwide very well known company, who supply broadband/phone and television packages. The call would be answered by a call centre and a series of checks would be performed by reading off a list, on their computer screen, and subsequent questions would be asked until a solution was found, or it would be passed up the line because it is a fault in the equipment. I had already told them what the fault was. One of the instructions was to switch the router off and on. When it was done, the phone line was also disconnected, and the whole process had to be repeated when you redialled their help line. This was a feature that was a selling point, so why wasn't it taken into consideration when the check list was created? I do not have this problem with a business that has purchased more expensive kit, as there is tech support number to a proper human tech, not a plastic one reading things they don't even understand. The moral of the story, save money with these help lines, and you are guarranteed to annoy customers so they buy a competitors kit next time around.
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  • TomLiotta
    Don’t you hate it when... Great opening line. That's another thing IT might do -- provide a "Don’t you hate it when..." forum for customer comments. You don't know what should be done if customers can't tell you what they need. Tom
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  • OldSysAdmin
    The most important thing is to give a timely response indicating that the problem has been acknowledged and an approximately time until it will be addressed. Nothing like submitting a problem then hearing nothing concerning it for hours, or maybe even days. It's most important to let the customer know you've heard them, even though you don't have an answer right now.
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  • Thanks for all the replies so far for this topic. One of the main things I am trying to understand is the "hierarchy" of the customer service departments in the corporate world. I worked as customer service rep during the 90's, but I am not up to date on customer service strategies used today. Why does a caller must repeat the same issue "problem description" each time he calls regarding the same problem? Why there is no "follow up" or "steps taken up to now" approach to the problem.? Is like each time you call, the whole process must start again. If someone is currently working at a call center, can you please talk about how the incoming calls are directed and what methodology the company use to resolve the issue?
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  • Chippy088
    I would have thought that call centres and help lines would be very similar, but obviuosly not. It is interesting to see that it is not often a subject that comes up within our comminity, as we have a relationship of question and response, tied in by a thread which is great for following up without having listen to piped music and a voice reminding us our call is important to the company. Does anyone else see the irony here? Help desks seem to assume it is a 'user ignorance' thing causing their perfect kit not to do what the user bought it for. This is their downfall. We are the type of people who could man the phone and give a good, polite and clearly define answer. Because we have the knowledge and genuinely want to help. I like to think that is well appreciated by our client/customers. Call centres, are different, in my opinion, as they are mainly directly tied in with sales and billing, so they have to be polite, acurate, and more flexible in their responses, or the sale is lost. What a contrast to help desks.
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  • CharlieBrowne
    As I pondered this question and looked at myself as the customer, I realized one of the problems is the Customer himself. I'll speak for myself here. I can be impatient. I want instant gratification. I EXPECT that when I request Customer service, I will immediately talk with someone who sympathized with me and knows everything possible about how to resolve my issue. I get upset when I get passed around from one person to another. * When I think of great customer service, two of my vendors came to mind. And I realized they both did the same thing. If I report my problem via phone, all information is patiently gathered. Time is taken to understand exactly what my concern is at the time. I am assigned an issue number and told I will get a response with x time frame. If I report electronically, I get immediate verification and again told I will receive a response in x time frame. With both companies, I get a very quick response from someone that understands my issue and usually has the ability to resolve it. The rep that assists me gives me their name and number so I can call directly to them if I need something. I have developed relationship with them so sometime I call/email them directly without going through the "normal" channels * Now this does not work for all situations. When I do get upset with customer service it is because of only a few main problems. 1. I do not want to push buttons on a phone. I want to speak to someone and be able to understand them in English. 2. The CSR is not trained 3. The Support Centers are understaffed and I have to wait too long for my initial contact. 4. The companies do not have good software to record all the information so when I get passed to someone else, I do not have to repeat anything. 5. The software should have logic within it so my issue can get passed to the correct person. 6. I want follow-up. Even if it is just to tell me they are still working on my issue. * A little extra - I started in IT in the late 60's. Early in my career, I always felt that IBM provided better support than other companies. As I matured and thought about it, I realized it was not because IBM proved better and quicker answers. It was because they provided a relationship. My reps would be at my site. Not necessary because they would/could fix my problem, but to give me the confidence their company was going to fix my problem and I was important to them. Other vendors might send of a single person who would work in the issue, or tell me someone will be over "later today or tomorrow" with the part I needed or when they were available. I was just a number.
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  • James Murray
    I wanted to follow-up on Management Tips comments about repeating the same issue with each call and the Hierarchy of the process. Laying out an IT Incident department is a fairly well documented process. ITIL explains it very well. What the caller sees when calling in a problem should be just the tip of the iceberg. The caller should first talk to a someone who will triage the problem. This triage attempts to identify the problem well enough to get the caller into the right queue. From triage the caller is escalated through a tiered process of support. Each tier is numbered with 1 being first tier up through the tier system. Problem that are unknown issues go to problem manamgnet for Root Cause Analysis (RCA) Problem management first identifies unknown errors and records the fixes in the Incident Managmnet database. In your comment you mention that the caller keeps repeating the problem. Part of this is because each tier in the incident management process has a more expertienced technician trying to solve the problem. If the first tier technician doesn't explain the problem well enough in the ticket, the 2nd tier technician has to start the troubleshooting process all over again. The same thing happens for 3rd tier and for Problem Managment. Each tier reviews the ticket from the last tier. If the information needed isn't available then the tech needs to start the troubleshooting process over again. To deal with this problem another behind the scenes team call QA (quality assurance) reviews the tickets for quality. Definitions of each field for the ticket are created and the QA reviews tickets and follows up to train and re-enforce the quality of the entries. The QA team calls out when support processes doing work or when a technician refuses to enter the right information in the ticket. So the hierarchy goes something like this... Triage Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3 Problem Managment RCA With QA following up behind to enforce the quality of the tickets. There are more roles in the Customer Service process, but this is a quick down and dirty in the areas Managment tips was discussing.
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  • Thanks again for all the members who are still keeping up with this post. I think the first issue we need to understand is the difference between: 1- Customer service 2- Help desk 3- Technical support As member Chippy088 mentioned. For our discussion, I want a great service, regardless which department I am calling. And as member charliebrowne wrote about the great customer service he received, I hope this become the industry standard, but unfortunately, these 2 companies are the exception. And as member Ekardris wrote about the triage, it’s understood that there is some type of follow up and moving the issues to higher levels, but the problem is when the commutation breaks between tier 1 and tier 2, when the issue is not documented properly and it’s very common
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  • James Murray
    I think you are asking the right questions. Let me focus on these three areas. Let's look at these roles from a set theory standpoint. Of these three... 1- Customer service - 2- Help desk 3- Technical support Customer Services and Help desk are a subset of a Technical Support department. Customer Service - Is the liason between Technical Support and the customer. The primary role is to make sure the customer has a voice in the technical support process, while at the same time, allowing the technical support staff to focus on the technical issues. Help Desk - Is the first group that is contacted by the customer when an incident occurs. The help desk is made up of technical experts solving incident problems. A common situation in large environments. An incident is escalated to a point where an Incident "Bridge" is created. On the bridge are technicians, developers, 3rd party vendor technicians, technical architects all trying to understand and resolve a technical incident. The last place you want your customer would be on the technical bridge. So a seperate customer bridge is opened up but the Customer Services group. They liason with the technical bridge to keep the customer aprised on the progress of the indicent. Customer services job is to make sure the customer is kept aprised and all questions from the customer are answered as quickly as possible. After the incident is resolved, Customer Service continues to follow-up with the customer with updates on the root cause analsys that might help the customer.
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