Customer Service: Timing is Everything

In an ideal world, you'd all be delivering software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions so simple to learn and easy to use that customers would require no help. And you'd be so flawlessly reliable that users would never experience any service downtime or performance flaws.

The fact is, though, most of us live in the real world, not the ideal world. And in the real world, bad stuff sometimes happens: Customers get confused, a feature doesn't work, service goes down.

How you respond to these inevitable events matters especially in a SaaS business. Success depends on existing customers renewing their subscriptions. One quick way to lose existing customers is to deliver poor customer service.

When it comes to customer service, timing is everything, or at least it's really important. Two recent experiences will help illustrate my point.

Get out in front of the problem

I use an on-line service from Carbonite to back-up my files. The process happens automatically in the background, and unless I need help restoring data (not yet, fortunately), I have no reason to contact them for support.

Apparently, though, as the company upgraded its software, some customers did have reason to call, and they experienced delays in getting through to support people.

Carbonite's CEO, David Friend, addressed the issue publicly and proactively, sending this note to all customers.

Dear Peter,

In the past couple of weeks our response time to customer inquiries has been much too long. This is because a major upgrade to our software, which includes a wide array of improvements, generated much more demand than we anticipated. With that came a surge of questions that had to be fielded by our customer support team, which in turn lengthened our response times.

As the only online backup company that provides free chat, email and phone support, the quality of the support we provide is very important to us. So if you had to wait a long time for a response from us, we’re very sorry to have let you down. As of today customer support answer times have improved greatly and will soon be back to normal.

Thank you for your business, and again, we appreciate your patience and understanding.

David Friend, CEO

Carbonite, Inc.

P.S. If your Carbonite software hasn’t yet been upgraded to version 4.0, it will be upgraded automatically soon. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us or simply reply to this email.

I'm putting lots of trust in this company to protect my vital data and to help me restore it if I have a problem. I pay them for peace of mind. This kind of note - candid, reassuring, and proactive - bolsters my confidence in them. When it's time to re-subscribe, I'll have no reason to look elsewhere.

It's not always the right time to sell something

My web site, SaaS Marketing Strategy Advisors, is hosted by Network Solutions. I selected their service because it provided a complete package, including domain names, a web site builder, web hosting, and email addresses, plus 24-hour, 800# customer support.

With my limited HTML expertise, I usually call the customer support line at least once every month for help. I'd grade the support "barely satisfactory." Their agent usually gets me through a partial solution... and then I figure out the rest through trial & error on my own.

Though I can live with the mediocre service, at least for now, what I have an especially hard time with is the pivot into "sell mode" at the end of every single customer support call. No matter whether my problem has been completed resolved, or I'm more confused and frustrated than when I started, the agent invariably pitches, "Renew your subscription now, and I can save you money."

A bit of advice: This is not always the best time to try to sell something. Confused and frustrated customers just want to fix their web site and get on to running their business. They aren't really in the mood to pull out their credit card to re-up for another year.

I know it's in the script folks, but can you please make room for some common sense?