While post-sale technical support is one of the key services the channel can provide to clients, sometimes it’s one of those services you wish you’d never heard of: The wrong product, a sloppy upgrade or an unsophisticated user can quickly consume all of the profit that the support center generates.
Whether you have a sophisticated help desk or rely on your installing engineers to play double duty and assist customers with problems, there are some key steps to take to cut down on support calls.
The primary goal of these steps is to eliminate the support call before it ever happens; the secondary goal is to make sure the customer is prepared for the call prior to making it.
How do you achieve these goals? First, educate your customers. The knowledge transfer or training phase of installation should conclude with a “what can go wrong and how to handle it” section. Walk the customer through the typical problems and then show them how to resolve them. This almost always results in a more confident customer and fewer support calls.
Then, close the loop between support and installation. At the end of each week, have the install teams and support teams sit down and review both the installations and support calls for the week. Have them focus primarily on the week’s inbound calls, both the easy ones and the hard ones. Look for ways to eliminate these calls during the knowledge transfer phase of the initial installation.
Easy inbound calls are especially important to focus on; they might make the support person feel good because he was able to easily resolve an issue, but they also waste time. Even if the problem itself only takes 5 minutes to resolve, the time it takes for the whole process — for the customer to dial and for you to pick up, log it into a support tracking system and then resolve the issue — isn’t negligible and could be avoided. Since the easy calls are typically are also the simplest ones to provide training on, they’re the easiest to eliminate and represent a good area for productivity gains.
The final step is to prepare the customer to call you. Write scripts that can collect the logs and configuration files that you are going to need to troubleshoot the problem. If possible, have the script automatically email those files to you. Train the customer to run this script prior to calling you.
I know of some organizations that have their customers do this on a routine basis even without a support problem. This allows them to proactively, on their timeframe, review the customer configurations and resolve issues before they become a major ordeal.
Support is an ideal service for the channel; it can increase account understanding and customer satisfaction. But managing support to make sure it is profitable takes time and discipline to drive unneeded calls out of the process. Following these best practices will help in that initiative.
George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation’s largest storage integrators.