Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sometimes, the Answer Come From The Wrong Question

The September 14th issue of InformationWeek magazine, their 21st annual "InformationWeek500" issue, arrived at my home a couple of days ago, and as I got around to reading it, I came across one of their "Quicktake" news items on Page 15. Entitled "The Web Has Ears," the news article points out that:

Customers are increasingly going to the Web to air gripes and get questions
answered, rather than call a customer support center.
The story, integrated into other items at this page, then talks about offerings from and from another company, RightNow (using a service from another company it acquired, HighLive). These offerings provide, as the story puts it:

making it easier for companies to track chatter about their products on social networking sites and on their own sites, and offer to help frustrated customers
But I'm finding myself troubled by this story. Don't get me wrong. If companies adopt a more proactive approach to finding and resolving customer issues, that's a good thing.


Well... to be blunt about it don't these products involve asking the WRONG questions? I mean, if customers are being driven away from your existing support model, isn't the *real* problem the support model, not the ability to sort of "chase" your customers around the Web to take in what they're saying? If you have to go "out there" to find these customers, what was it what made the customers go "out there" in the first place?

I'm really worried that businesses that turn to services like this are going to ignore the truly fundamental question that underlies the need for these services: a support system that is running these customers away. If a car is failing, do you think the answer is to enter it into the Daytona 500 auto race? Likewise, if your existing customer support system isn't meeting the needs of customers, the answer is NOT to expand its presence, but to fix the problems that drove your customers away in the first place.

I'm all in favor of companies embracing customer feedback, seeking it out. But only if those same companies actually use what they find to discover the real nature of the problems this brings to light. And I just don't see that happening. While RightNow and Salesforce may convince cellular carriers (for example) to "follow me" out to Howardforums, to CellPhoneForums, or to, they also enable the very problems that send customers to third party sites to find answers and resolutions: the inability of the existing support structure to provide these resolutions.

These may be good services. But they're convincing support managers to ask the wrong questions. Extending bad support to third party sites isn't the answer that will really fix the problems that led to this customer migration in the first place.


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