#19 – Support forums, survey software, CX is “Fluffy nonsense”, outsourcing mistakes


Welcome to the 19th edition of my customer strategy newsletter. The five topics this week are:

  1. Customer support forums are a good idea only if you staff them
  2. The multiplicity of survey software vendors
  3. Latest blog posts
  4. Notable items from other sites
  5. Looking forward

Customer support forums are a good idea only if you staff them

A good customer support forum is a valuable asset for most companies. Users can share their experiences and help each other. My observation is that this seems to work best for small, and indeed tiny companies. I use various WordPress plug-ins, and their support forums all work well. The person who wrote the code is usually the one answering user questions. I generally get answers quickly, and leave the forum satisfied with my experience. If I think of it in terms of Customer Effort Score, my effort is low, so the score is high. (The best way to learn about Customer Effort Score is to read The Effortless Experience.) Like most types of support, it is unlikely I would talk about it if I were going to recommend a plug-in to a friend. However, it can make me really angry and disloyal when a support forum does not function. Enter Apple.

The first reason many support forums fail to deliver results is that a company gets too many very similar queries and does not staff up correctly to be able to answer them. Apple has this problem. I think the problem is obvious in a company with millions of customers and very few products. I do all my writing on an iMac. I have not been able to print anything to my HP DeskJet Pro 8600 printer since a recent Mac OS update. My daughter has the same problem with her MacBook. I have no problem printing from my fancy HP Windows notebook. I have tried various things and posted six times to the Apple support forum over the last nine days. No replies. I realize their support community is overwhelmed by requests for help, and still consider this to be appalling service. If you are interested in this specific case, the thread is here.

The second reason support forums / communities fail is that large companies outsource their call centers and support operations. The companies supplying the service are paid based on the number of calls they handle and the number of ‘service events’ they close. Your query in a support forum does not count as a service event or support call. This means that not only does the vendor not care about it, the support provider does not care either. The product vendor indirectly communicates a message to all employees that post-sales customer support is not a company priority. After all, if it were really important, they would do it themselves. Any intelligent employee should then realize that helping customers in the forum in their spare time is pointless, career-wise.

So yes, I am negative about the support forums provided by many large companies. I think the best that many could do would be to be clear at the top of every single forum web page that they do not monitor the forums and that people should look elsewhere for good answers.

 The multiplicity of survey software vendors

A Capterra link came up in my customer experience news feed earlier this week. It gave a list of 248 survey software products. Wow! I had no idea so many software companies had so many products, many with what seem to be identical features. Here are my views on the subject:

  1. If you are a small company and have no particular need to integrate survey software with a CRM or ERP system, standalone software like SurveyMonkey will work fine. While I am sure some of the other 247 products are at least as good, I have used SurveyMonkey for client projects in multiple languages with success. And it is not expensive.
  2. The most important single thing you can do to improve response rates via software is to embed at least the first survey question in your outbound email to customers. That will double to triple your response rate, based on my experience and that of companies that supply software to do this, such as Promoter.io. 86 of the 248 vendors seem to allow survey embedding.
  3. 125 of the 248 products do some form of data analysis. Capterra does not have a category for the subset of text analytics. Just producing a word cloud is not the same as text analysis. If you get large volumes of text responses, you will probably need another software tool to do competent analytics. I have written about how to evaluate such software here.

The Capterra site provides a useful list and has useful selection criteria. Use the ‘All Products’ tab to access the selection criteria and the ‘Most Popular’ tab to see a feature comparison for what they say are the 20 most popular products. The relevant Capterra page is here.

Our latest blog posts

The posts on the role of the customer experience leader or Chief Customer Officer have been very popular. This week’s post on business strategy has attracted comments on LinkedIn and elsewhere that come from a different audience than my usual one. Older posts are of course still available on the blog page.

image The starting point in any strategy: Situation Analysis

Whether in business, the military, government or indeed non-profit organizations, the the first step in generating a strategy is a comprehensive analysis of your current situation. Your destination and starting point are equally important. This article covers the six dimensions that should lead to powerful strategic insights. “You have to ask new questions to get new answers.”

image More thoughts on the role and team of the Chief Customer Officer or customer experience leader

Thank you for the feedback on my first post on how to think about the work of the Chief Customer Officer or customer experience leader. This week’s post concentrates on teams the leader should lead, as well as teams in which he or she should participate.

image Here is how to think about the work of the customer experience leader or Chief Customer Officer

I would like to propose a way of thinking about the work of the customer experience leader. It has four elements: Core work Supporting work Coordinating work Strategic work. I also cover the work for which the CX leader is not responsible.

Notable customer experience items from other sites

Forbes article: This is the worst customer service mistake you can make

Strongly related to what I wrote at the start of this newsletter, Brian Scudamore argues that outsourcing customer service is the worst mistake companies can make. He mentions that Microsoft, Apple and Disney all do so. I love what he has written about company culture in particular. He is realistic in that he recognizes that many companies cannot afford to ignore the cost-saving potential outsourcing can bring. It is a good read, especially if you are considering outsourcing. The article is here.

Ian Golding: Customer Experience – that’s all just fluffy nonsense, isn’t it?

I recognize a lot of Ian Golding writes about from my personal experience. In this article, he talks about professional reactions to customer experience discussions, customers and emotion, and the creation of ‘magical moments’ for customers. As many readers know, I regret not understanding behavioral economics much earlier in my career. Ian’s thoughts seem to align with this. The article is here.

Looking forward

I am thinking of doing some Podcasts and / or video clips. PowerPoint with audio commentary is another option. The subjects would continue to be related to customer experience. I don’t want to be boring, so the content, delivery and production all have to be good. Any advice you may have will be welcome.

Thanks to readers who have bought our books. The existing Amazon reviews have been fantastic. More are most welcome, no matter what you think about our books. And here is an idea: why not get them for your teams? That way you can establish a consistent language and way of thinking about customer strategy.

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You can also email me, Maurice FitzGerald, at mfg@customerstrategy.net.

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