Since I run a part-time business that is essentially customer support, I’m always interested in the quality and methods used to deliver it. For me, this is very personal. I am either on a contract or a by-call basis for small businesses that are not large enough to have their own IT deparment, but are too large to go completely without.
While I have other people who work with me in the text and web publishing side of our business, I’m all there is for the support end. I don’t sell hardware, I don’t sell software, I just provide support for people who feel the need for it. Sometimes I get called in just to handle the phone call to someone else’s customer support.
What this has taught me is that we are quick to complain about, but slow to pay for the type of customer support that we want. For example, I provided an estimate to a company a few years back. These folks liked the testimonials of my existing customers, some of whom they knew personally. They liked my prices. But they couldn’t work with my schedule and response times. As a one man operation I have to let people know up front that there is little flexibility–if I’m already working at another office, I may not get to your office within an hour or so of your call. I also do go out of town from time to time.
In this case, while I provided them an estimate I told them that it was my opinion that I would not be able to provide the service they required. (As an aside, some companies need to learn this lesson–if you can’t provide the service needed, the first rule is to say so up front.) These folks wanted me badly enough that they asked if perhaps their business wouldn’t allow me to expand and hire someone to make the whole thing work.
There were several problems with that, the first being that this is a part-time business for a reason. But the interesting thing was that they made the assumption that I could improve the service at the same price. I set my existing prices based on the fact that I don’t have the overhead of employees, and giving due consideration to the hardship of needing some support when I’m out of town. I do have a number of options to help people out under those circumstances, such as a ready to go replacement machine, remote control for stations so I can do some work, and so forth, but still I can’t charge what I would if those weaknesses didn’t exist. But this company wanted the better service at the lower price.
Now this isn’t a matter of complaining about my customers. I have a loyal customer base, and I’m loyal to them. What I’m talking about is our attitudes. When I look for web hosting, for example, I want the very lowest price possible for the features I need. I should consider “good service” to be a needed feature, and check that out when I choose the host.
I was thinking about this when flying recently. I obviously wanted the lowest possible price on a ticket that was possible, but I also wanted good service. There are a certain number of things that simply go with being a decent airline. In my case, flying Delta, I was cared for quite well. But there are many perks that one might want that were unavailable. The question is, would I be willing to pay the price?
Whether it’s an airline, your cell phone, your hosting provider, or the support division of your computer’s manufacturer, customer service does cost money, and if we want to be treated well we should expect that it will cost something more. If we always buy the cheapest product, we will likely find that customer service will continue to deteriorate.