The Value of good Support

by , February 20, 2009
One of Steve Kayser's latest articles, The End of Marketing and PR isn't exactly about the end of PR (rather, it's about the new approach businesses must take to marketing and PR), but the title of the article got me to thinking. To start with, FileCatalyst has been ramping up our use of the technologies Mr. Kayser talks about. The newness of this blog and actually starting to use our Twitter account being two examples. But more importantly, as I spun through the concept of "new PR," I realized that I have been engaging in daily PR for the entire time I have worked here. Until recently, my primary role at Unlimi-Tech and FileCatalyst has been in the support department. Yet, not a day went by that I didn't recognize that the core of that position is really Public Relations. Anyone can eventually provide technical information (ie. what you would think is the basic requirement of a tech support role), but not everyone takes the time to build relationships while doing so. Dictionary.com lists out the definition of Public Relations as:
  1. the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.
  2. the art, technique, or profession of promoting such goodwill.
I'm sure I'm not the first person to have noticed that the definition rings true with the perception of what customer support should be. Why then, have so many of us had negative experiences when contacting various companies for support? Here are just a few of the things I think anyone in support should do in order to help live up to the "PR" side of the job:
  • Begin positively. Recognize that each phone call, email, chat request, or trouble ticket is a new opportunity. In my personal experience, I've found that only a very small percentage of requests start off as "complaints"; the majority of people are simply looking for more information, and a surprising number want to bounce their creative ideas off an expert ("I'm thinking of doing ____ with your product. What do you think the best approach is?") What a fantastic source of inspiration and a perfect chance to build relationships.
  • Pay attention. How can you provide the best possible experience if you're not paying attention? Impossible. Carefully addressing a query is the core requirement of good support, and your attentiveness creates initial feelings of goodwill.
  • Be humble. When you are being asked for your help it is because you (ideally) know more about your company's product than the end user. But you don't know everything. Don't assume the client didn't read the manual; begin with the mindset that the manual might need rewriting. Your business and product can grow organically, meeting or (better still) anticipating the needs of your clients, but this is only possible with humble listening.
  • Be respectful. Whether requesting technical support or requesting pricing information, nobody likes to be kept waiting. If you promise to get right back to somebody, do your utmost to fulfill that promise. If you know that there may be a delay before you can provide a proper response, give a reasonable ETA. It's the old rule of treating others as you would have them treat you. Doing so results in the "goodwill" from our PR definition, and opens the door to more opportunities (see #1)!
  • Be honest. It sometimes takes more courage to say, "I will find that information for you" than give a shaky answer in order to maintain appearances. I have never had a client annoyed at me for not knowing an instant answer, because I can confidently propose next steps for getting them a solution.
  • Become a stakeholder. You are not just an arbitrary voice on the other end of the phone, regardless of how many support staff your company might employ. You, as an individual, have the chance to directly and positively impact how your company is perceived. And if you make the effort to OWN the support you provide, you will be recognized for it, particularly by the clients you deal with.
PR, according to the definition, is not all about relationships with customers, though. By providing good support, you are creating "goodwill" between departments and employees, as you are making life easier for sales, marketing, and product development. You are creating a positive public perception. And you are building relationships. In short, give people reasons to talk about you. Give them reasons to remember you. If a client ends the conversation with, "Thank you so much; I can't believe how helpful you've been," you know that you're doing your job where so many companies have failed. You have added value to your product or service in a way that not every company is able to, and you have begun building a relationship. This strikes me as basic good business, and can't be anything but good PR.

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