Pay for Response Times?

300px-Wall_clock I was talking to a client of mine who wanted to let customers pay for faster response times. The CEO of a company with about 100 employees, he had drawn up a chart that looked basically like this:

  • 5 Minutes: $5
  • 1 Hour: $1
  • 3 Hours: $0.50
  • 24 Hours: Free

The way the chart worked was that a customer could pay $5 and their ticket would get be guaranteed to get a response in 5 minutes. If it took longer than 5 minutes for them to get a response, they would get double what they originally paid back ($10). So, they could buy the 1 hour option for $1.00 and would be guaranteed to get a reply within 1 hour or they would get $2 back.

He had a way to get it to work on his backend without too much trouble. Employees would know how much time was left on tickets. Rules would be in place about what constituted a reply depending upon the amount of time purchased (“hello” within 5 minutes doesn’t cut it for $5). The system seemed pretty simple to me. There was little I could find to complain about from a purely operations point of view.

What the CEO missed, though, was the significance of the issue as a whole. Whenever the issue of premium support is discussed, customers inevitably ask the question of “why can’t you do that for free to everyone?” Most companies want to tell the customers the real answer (because it isn’t doable based on the cost of the product or service), but that doesn’t sound very nice. The question, and to a larger extent, the overall idea, puts companies in a stick situation.

I’ve discussed this notion of premium support before as well as its various relatives (the idea of charging for certain types of support). It is a popular think among companies today – especially because the cost of the products and services are going down while other costs go up.

I asked my client about this and he said he thought it would be okay because the 24 hour service level would be free to all customers. Therefore, it wasn’t mandatory to pay for response times.

I told him if he made the 24 hour time period an actual service guarantee (backed by $1 in credits for each time missed), he could do it. If that wasn’t there, though, customers would get upset. In those cases, customers usually feel they have to pay or they won’t get a response for a week. While that usually isn’t the intention of companies in the beginning, after about a year, it becomes the case.

I thought this way of looking at premium support might interest some companies. As long as your lowest level is backed by a real guarantee and gives customers a reasonable option for either an extremely low price (if your service is already for pay) or free, customers should find themselves accepting the change.