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The Welcome Email

The welcome email is important. It is the beginning of the actual customer experience.

What you say in your welcome email can have a lot to do with your customer experience. If it’s informative (and assuming people read it), it’ll drastically cut down on the number of support requests. If it’s vague (or people don’t read it), you’ll find yourself answering the same questions over and over again. While these questions are easy to answer, a lot of them add up to be a very big expense.

If you feel that you can do a good job, then it may be worth it to have a vague welcome email (see question #11 (part two) of this interview with Paul English). However, if your goal is to cut down on the number of support requests, then it is a good idea to have a welcome email that people will read and get use of.

Here are the four things I think are important to consider when writing welcome emails:

Is the email well written and informative? If it isn’t well written and informative, it isn’t even worth reading. I would highly suggest hiring a professional writer to write your welcome email or at the very least, reading up on some copy writing techniques and tips. I suggest Copyblogger.

Is it the right length? Super long emails won’t get read, but short emails may not be that useful. You have to find the right blend between short and useful (see clarity below).

In emails, this is important. Actually, it’s crucial. Divide the content well, use bullets, use lists, etc. Big long blobs of text accomplish nothing because no one reads them. If I ge tan email that is nicely formatted with lists and short paragraphs, I’m a lot more likely to read it than if I get one giant paragraph or three really long paragraphs of text.

Clarity and action.
The email needs to make it clear about what the customer needs to do now, what they need to do tomorrow, and what they need to do next week. It should focus on what they need to do now and tell them how to find the information about what they need to do tomorrow and next week. Don’t send too much information or customers will find themselves overwhelmed.

Here is an interesting perspective on the welcome email. 37signals is obsessed with design, simplicity, and clarity. They are good principles to live by and as you can see from their welcome email, it works out. It’s short, provides useful links and information, and is to the point.

A quick little challenge: write a welcome email like normal (or use your existing one). Then, hand it to someone else (ideally the professional writer you have hired) and ask them to write the welcome email in half the number of words that you used.

What does your welcome email contain? Post yours in the comments and I’ll feature them with some critiques.

Quick Post: Thank you notes and bad handwriting.

I was asked a question about what people with bad handwriting should do when it comes to writing handwritten thank you notes.

I can relate. My handwriting has always been terrible. It shows no sign of improvement and I have to write out a lot of thank you notes. This could present a serious problem, right? Actually, not really.

The big tip here? Print carefully and make your handwriting as legible as possible. Send out the card anyway. Even if your handwriting is bad, getting a handwritten thank you note from a company, colleague, etc. will impress the recipient.

If possible, ask someone else to write it. Everyone knows someone with good hand writing, so just ask them to write a few lines down (with text you provide, of course). That is probably the best solution.

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Support.com Experience

Support.com I recently gave Support.com’s $59 System TuneUp service a try. Basically, a support representative goes through your computer using remote connection software (very similar to how Webmail.us did it). They do some tuneups and fixes to make your computer faster and work more efficiently.

The service competes with extra services provided by computer manufactures (see this interview with Janice Liu from HP for details about their offerings) and of course the services that the Geek Squad provides (interviews here). Support.com is strictly phone / Internet based, so they can’t really fix hardware issues.

Support.com has technicians based in their Syracuse, NY call center. It is all US based and the company (SupportSoft) started offering consumer services in December of 2006 or so. Before that, they made remote help support. The company is relatively small and has about 15 technicians on the floor at any given time, depending on the time of the day, etc.

When you call Support.com’s 1-800 number, you are automatically connected to the person that will be helping you. There was no hold time and I was surprised at the lack of menus.

After the technician collects your billing information, etc., you download the software and get it setup. The download and installation process wasn’t quite as simple as the software that Webmail.us used (Fog Creek Copilot) and took a bit longer. It wasn’t complicated, but was slightly more involved. The software doesn’t work with Firefox, which is disappointing.

The agent who helped me (Ryan) was friendly and seemed to know what he was talking about. He took a conservative approach (as opposed to going in and deleting a whole bunch of stuff), which I personally prefer. Ryan did a good job at avoiding dead air during the conversation, which is one of the biggest challenges during technical support calls.

My computer is running faster and the only problem I had was with Mozilla Firefox. When we uninstalled an older version of Mozilla Firefox, it uninstalled both the old version and my current version. It was really easy to get Firefox working again – I just had to download it and reinstall it. I could have called Support.com to have done that, but didn’t need to.

Ryan told me that Support.com’s most popular services included Spyware Removal ($79), Comprehensive Problem Resolution Service (they fix a problem for $39 or $99, depending on the issue). All fees are flat rate and Support.com guarantees that the problem will be fixed.

I liked how Support.com has customer reviews and feedback posted at https://www.support.com/reviews. At https://www.support.com/incidents, they also show some of the most recent problems fixed. The transparency is a nice touch.
After the experience, I filled out a simple survey. For some reason, Support.com sent me 12 emails. No idea why I got an extra 11 emails, but that did happen.

I’m pretty good about keeping my computer clean and working well, so I’m not sure if I would use this service. Would I recommend it to someone who doesn’t know that much about computers? Definitely. Support.com is a wise choice for someone who wants to fix their computer up from the convenience of their home.

Disclosure: I received the System TuneUp service from Support.com for free. I have no experience with any of their other services.

Huge Ticket IDs

I contacted LL Bean the other day. They are a well known company and have a good reputation for providing quality customer service. The actual content of the response I got was great, I got the response quickly, and so on. Perfect customer service experience, but I do find it weird to see such long ticket / reference numbers.

Here is the reference number (with some numbers and letters changed) that was added to the subject of my email to LL Bean:


That is really long.  Separated with commas, it is this: Q,400,907,130,0N0,S01,0X3,471,544. I am not a math person, but I looked it up and 1 followed by 24 zeros is a septillion. A trillion only has 12 zeros. That isn’t even counting letters and how many additional possibilities there could be with the letters.

Is it really necessary to have a ticket or reference number where each person on the planet could contact LL Bean about 1.6 quadrillion times (not an exaggeration) and still have a unique ticket ID. If each person lives 80 years, to get the 1.6 quadrillion times number, they would have to contact LL Bean about 39 million times a second. That probably makes those Sprint customers look like low mantainence.

This is really nitpicking. I’m sure plenty of companies have really long ticket IDs. It really isn’t needed. Try to keep things simple. Your ticket number doesn’t have to be really long. A combination of 6 digits and letters is fine. There are still millions of possible combinations.

Take Dell’s service tags as an example. A sample service tag is 5RFDP01. It isn’t super long, but is still very effective. You should consider using something similar for your ticket or reference numbers.

Some other tips:

  • Don’t use both 0’s and O’s. Ideally, use neither. If you need to, just use one.
  • Before looking anything up, read the ticket or reference ID back to the customer.
  • If you break up long IDs with dashes, it makes them easier to read and say.
  • If your system is smart enough, it should be able to do partial matching. So, if I was off by one number, hopefully the system would be able to tell and come up with a match.
  • Use part of the ID to be something useful. For example, a customer who is a reseller may automatically have R added to the front of their ticket IDs.*

* Credit cards do this already. A credit card number that starts with a 3 is an American Express card, a 4 is a Visa card, and a 5 is a MasterCard.

Note: My math may very well be off. I think you get the point, though.

Community Powered Support

I’ve been thinking a lot about community powered support lately. Community powered support (for a lack of a better phrase) is support that is driven by a community of customers or users – not a typical customer service department or group. The community is not usually paid for their efforts – they volunteer their time and expertise to help others.

Community powered support really interests me. It has always been interesting, but as I’ve been talking about and learning more about it, it has gotten really interesting. The whole dynamic involved with people wanting to help out for free and doing a pretty good job is really fascinating (especially if you come from a “traditional” customer service background like me).

Community powered support is largely self-service.
Effective community powered support is largely based on self-service. You know – knowledge bases, FAQs, Flash tutorials, that type of thing. Troubleshooting guides and searchable knowledge bases are the bread and butter of self-service. Self-service makes sense for community support since it can be done whenever (and therefore doesn’t require “coverage” like a helpdesk does) and is better suited for checks and balances (i. e. editors review new KB topics, etc.).

Community powered support needs to be self-service orientated.
For a multitude of reasons, community powered support has to be self-service orientated. Volunteers can’t (and it isn’t fair to) be counted on to consistently staff a helpdesk 24/7 and get through what could be hundreds or thousands of tickets. It is hard to train them fully and it is tough to setup any formal procedures and such for how they should act. When you aren’t paying people, you don’t have as much control or influence. That is another reason why the self-service model works really well.

The people who work on community powered support are unique.
Contributors to community powered support sites/portals/etc. are unique, but in a good way. They aren’t your average customer or your average CSR. Good ones are a mix between super customer/evangelist and CSR.

  • They do work for free (evangelist and super customer).
  • They probably talk about your product or service to others (evangelist).
  • They help other customers and help to write documentation, etc. (CSR).
  • The volunteers are often very technical / advanced users of the product or service. (all three).

I think the fact that many of the volunteers are very technical is extremely interesting. They probably know more than half of the CSRs at the company and as such, are great candidates to write the self-service documentation and get all of that into place. It also allows the helpdesk staff to focus on other things.

Community powered support is resource intensive.
It really does take a lot of work and effort to organize an effective community powered support team / group. It is well worth it in the end, but requires a lot of work to get it right. Volunteers can be touchy – they are doing what they’re doing because they want to, not because they have to. As such, if they aren’t happy, they’ll leave. You have no control over them. It takes some good people skills and a bit of politicing to make everyone happy, but again, it’s well worth it.

Here are some tools you should make available to encourage community powered support:

  • Community forums
  • A functional and public wiki
  • A feedback form
  • A blog that is updated relatively often
  • Someone that is in charge of community powered support (a liason between the community and the company)

Have you ever done any work with community powered support? What have your experiences been like?

Spirit Airlines doesn’t care about your call.

We already know that United Airlines doesn’t care about Tom from QAQNA, but maybe Spirit Airlines would care about me? Hardly! Apparently, the airlines don’t care about any of their customers/passengers. There are more important things to focus on, like cost saving.

I recently booked a ticket on Spirit Airlines. My various family members fly Spirit a lot. I have flown them a lot. Overall, I’ve had fairly good experiences. The details of trip were slightly complicated so I wanted to call someone from Spirit to confirm some details about my reservations. When I had called Spirit a few days earlier, I had to wait on hold for 25 minutes to talk to someone. The person I spoke to was relatively knowledgeable, but the experience was not notable.

This experience was notable, but in a different way. It was terrible. It was a very short experience, too. Here is how it went:

  1. I call the Spirit Airlines reservations number.
  2. Simple menu. I push 3 for existing reservations, 2 because I didn’t book online.
  3. Message says something along the lines of “We are experiencing high call volume  now. Check out our web site and get your answers there. Good bye!”

I didn’t even have an option to stay on hold or to leave a message. I was just hung up on. It was even worse than having to leave a message and get a call back in four hours or leaving my phone number for a call back later. I called back a lot later and got the same message. There was the same message this morning as well.

This is unacceptable for so many reasons.

  • What if my issue was urgent?
  • If their offices are closed on the weekends, why not just say so?
  • If that message is up all the time, what callers do get through? I tried a few other departments and had no luck.
  • Why if I actually wanted to call Spirit and make a reservation over the telephone? (Most airlines charge you a telephone reservation fee, by the way.)

My guess is that Spirit doesn’t staff their call center on weekends. I have no idea about why they would try to cover that up with a message about high call volume. Why not say they are closed on weekends and to call back at 7:00 AM on Monday or whenever they open?

Apparently, Spirit is looking to become an ultra low-cost airline. They are going to start charging for sodas, to bring carry-on luggage, and the like. That will boost the ticket price down, but everything will be extra. Basically, they are going to nickel and dime you. Does that include removing customer service?

I used to say that banks had the worse customer service. I think it is safe to promote the banks and demote the airlines. I’ll say it – airlines have the worst customer service of any industry. I’ve had fairly limited customer service experiences with my bank, but have never really had a bad experience. At least they answer the phone (usually quite quickly as well).

What are your thoughts about this? Does anyone in the airline industry read Service Untitled?

And while we are on the subject of weird/poor customer service, did you know that VistaPrint does not provide customer service over email? They only provide telephone support. I have a hunch about why they do it and will post about it later this week.

Saturday Laughs

A little change of pace from regular posting.

  • The “It Could Be Worse” problem for (de)motivating call center employees. [YouTube Video] (Thanks Tom!)
  • This is old, but it’s making fun of Microsoft’s outsourced technical support. [YouTube Video]
  • Funny spoofs about shopping online vs. shopping in a store. [Get Elastic Videos]


Turning down business.

One of the biggest challenges that smaller companies face is knowing when to turn down business. It is really tough for a startup to say no to new business. They have payroll to make, servers to pay for, etc. How can they even think about turning down a customer that wants to give them money and let them make payroll? And that is the problem.

I had an interesting conversation with an executive from a big company today. He was telling me about it hurts them to turn down business. This company, mind you, is large (1,000+ employees), has no trouble making payroll, and is still growing a lot every month. But they still have a hard time turning down business.

Knowing when to turn down business.
Hopefully you have an idea about how profitable it is to do your core service. You hopefully know that X number of users translates into $X. Or that $X in revenue translates into $X in profit. As much as I am not a numbers guy, when you are thinking about turning down business, crunch the numbers. See if it makes sense from a numbers perspective to do the business.

But what about cases where it is a big customer that can help build credibility? If Microsoft or Google wants to buy your software for every single one of their employees, it may be a good move. It may not be a good move as well.

It is also very important to get feedback from your advisors, team, and partners about whether a move is right or wrong. Ideally, they have experience dealing with similar situations and can tell you whether or not it is a good idea to accept that extra business or to turn it down.

Long term or short term?
Another important thing to consider is whether this extra business is just for that customer or something you can do in the future as well. If you had planned to offer the service in six months, but the customer wants it now, do it. If the service wasn’t even on the roadmap, hesitate some more.

You don’t want to invest a lot of resources into just one customer’s custom setup. What if they leave? Will you be able to sell the system or get a return on the investments you made? If the answer is no, it may not be a good idea.

This new customer might be great for your short term goals, but may not be what you need to achieve your long term goals. You don’t want to have a tremendous invest in a potentially volatile customer/account, because if they leave, you lose out.

How to turn down business.
The actual act of turning down the business is the customer service part. You want to say no, but you don’t want to burn any bridges for the future. Something like:

Hi John,

We’ve discussed your request a lot internally. Our CTO and I have had several meetings with our senior engineers and product development experts. Unfortunately, we’ve come to the conclusion that offering -service X- at this point isn’t right for our company.

We are still a startup and can’t dedicate a lot of resources to a project like -service X- at the current time. We still think it is a great idea and something we will be open to discussing later on, but at this time, we simply can’t make it work with our relatively limited resources.

Thanks so much for your interest in Company Y. We would love to work with you in the future and stay in touch. Should you need any further assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Thanks again,

Bob Bobsen
Chief Executive Offer
Company Y

That email/letter is simple. It doesn’t go into a ton of detail – it just says that at the moment, this isn’t right for us. You don’t have to explain anything further than that. The potential customer will ask if they want details.

More importantly, the email/letter leaves off on a good note. It wasn’t a “We can’t do this. See you later!” but an invitation to stay in touch and thanking the potential customer for their interest. That is what you need to do and keep in mind.

Your experience.
Have you had to turn down business before? Did it work out? Tell us about your experiences. 

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