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Don't make it hard for your customers

© December 2005 Tony Lawrence

I recently was a reseller for a software product that was produced by a fairly large company. I'm not going to mention their name here because my purpose isn't to criticize them specifically.

I first got involved with this software before it was bought up by this larger company. The product was good, service was good, margins were good: no problems at all. But then their success caused their buy out, and things went down hill from there.

The first thing the large company did was cut the margins for resellers. Not a lot, but enough to notice. They then stopped offering any physical product - all downloads, which is not unusual nowadays so no real complaint there.

But then things got worse. Invoices were often incorrect, and took months to get credited. No real reason, they just had an incredibly inefficient billing department. They also stopped notifying me of customer license expirations. Oh, they said they intended to, but they had problems integrating the old company's database into theirs. Result: I had to track expirations myself. Not so difficult, and something I do anyway, but it had been nice having that double check from them.

The "database problems" carried over into support. When I called for support, if I hadn't called about this particular customer before, they wouldn't have any information in their database. Interestingly, I could still access the "old" database on-line and would read the information to the customer service rep, who would type it in to the new database. How bad do their programmers need to be that they couldn't have done this automatically in seconds?

Then we started having more problems with support. I was supposed to be "certified" by taking a class on how to sell this product. I'd been selling it successfully for years, but if they wanted me to go to a foolish class, I'd go. But they weren't scheduling the class, so I couldn't, and as a result, sometimes the front line support people (really they just put the call in the database and then transferred me to an engineer) would refuse to take my call - I wasn't "certified". This could always get straightened out with a call to someone higher up, but sometimes the higher ups were hard to reach, so I and my customer had to wait. By the way, the customer was never allowed to call directly: no matter how serious their problem, they had to go through me.

The support itself was still very good, though there were signs of things to come as people were laid off or quit and were not replaced. Sometimes the wait time for a support engineer was very, very long.

But we had email. I could send a support incident in by email and they'd either respond in kind or call me if it was more difficult. This was efficient and good for them and me. But then they cut it off.

Unbelievably, they announced that resellers could no longer open support cases by email. We had to call so that all information could be logged in the database. I guess no one thought that they might read the email and log it in the database. So, no more email. Now I had to call, and hang on hold, sometimes for an hour, waiting for someone to be available. Could I leave a message? Why yes, but only if the support incident was already open. If it was a new incident, no, I had to speak to the database people first.

I'd had enough. Screwed up billing, deteriorating product quality (the new company virtually halted any development work on this product) and now extreme difficulty getting support. I cut the ties, and moved on to a better product, and a company that does allow email, does allow my customer to call directly, and doesn't generate much support necessity anyway.

The lesson is not to make it hard for your customers to do business with you. I'm sure all these barriers weren't designed by the support department at that company; no doubt it was some upper manager who had little clue at all about how things really work. You need to be aware of how things look from your customer's perspective. Are you hard to reach? Do you ignore voice mail or email? Is your invoicing accurate? These things can cause customers to go elsewhere.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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Inexpensive and informative Apple related e-books:

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