Many software companies have the aspiration to become successful, but some fail to map out the most important things that have to be in place for successful execution. In this case, I will be giving an example of failed support process by a software vendor. My intention is not to be negative, but to educate our readers of how NOT to organize the support in an international setting. I have said it many times and I will say it once more. Your support organization can either kill or make your software business successful. Poor support, poor sales, poor references and unpredictable business.
Many of the issues that we have seen throughout the years has to do with the mindset of what it really means to become successful. The company I used to run here in the US had its product development in Europe and large enterprise sales in the US, so I had to organize the support in a way that the US customer never felt the “Atlantic syndrome” to be an issue. The customer does not want to feel that time difference becomes the obstacle for support and frankly, why should they? My way of teaching is to provide real examples that I have accumulated along the way. This example is something that I personally had to deal with and I will give the highlights and my recommendations going forward.
I decided to test a software component to be applied in our SharePoint 2013 and Microsoft CRM 2011 Online environment and was very happy to find something that might work for us. I downloaded the solution and was eager to get going. This was a wonderful Wednesday night when the sun had already set here in Dallas, Texas. I went to the vendors web-site to look at instructions on how to install the software and with my luck, their example was from Dynamics CRM 4.0 which was a bit odd to me considering how long Dynamics CRM 2011 had been out there. Oh well, having run a software company, I knew it would be difficult to maintain documentation and examples so I did not think too much of it when I started installing.
I did not get far. I could not get the authentication to work so I decided to send a request to the software company in Europe. The software vendor site did not have email address or support address, but they did have the address for the sales manager. I decided to be a good citizen and send the error message as attachment to the sales manager so they would see the problem. 10 minutes later I found a form on the web-site to fill in (not support, just generic) and decided to re-enter my information to make sure I get help following day (Europe was sleeping). The form did not have the capability to add attachments, so my only hope was that the sales manager would pass my attachment to the support organization.
Next morning (Thursday) I got an email from “support” that had obviously not read and looked at the attachment, and when I responded to the person, I did not hear back from him that day (Thursday). He responded on Friday that he had already left on Thursday when he got my email. On Friday we exchanged a few emails, but nothing came out of it and later on Friday I realized that my plans to work on this during the weekend was gone. On Monday I got an email from him that he has acknowledged that I had an issue and he asked me to test something else in the software and send the error message to me. I did and now it is Tuesday evening and nothing from him. It is almost a week since we started this exchange of emails, and from my perspective a bunch of useless emails.
TREAT SUPPORT QUESTIONS AS IF THERE WERE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN YOUR COMPANY
From the perspective of international software business, this incident is exactly what should never happen. It does not matter if we get this problem solved now, what matters is what kind of impression I have in my head of the support I can expect from this company going forward when I really need it. What many organizations fail to realize is that it is not always really about a buggy software, but it is how the software vendor is going to give you support in the matter.
CLOUD AND APP BUSINESS WILL NOT WORK WITH WEAK SUPPORT
In the age of the cloud, the experience needs to be something that you can almost “touch and feel” that your issues can be solved if you ever run into issues. When I was running a software company from the US with product development in Finland, my teams knew how I felt about customer support and the importance of it. We even had our own “code system” where I was able to escalate things to a level where engineers would take the phone and sort out the problem. Every person in the organization knew that if the Atlantic became an obstacle, we would never do any business in the US and become successful.
PROSPECTS WILL FORGIVE YOU FOR YOUR FAULTS IF YOU ARE RESPONSIVE
What should have happened in this case is that the support person would have requested a quick web-session to review the issue. Even if the issue would remain, the software organization would have bought time to get it fixed. What people do not tolerate is ignorance and this is what I had to experience in this case. I am sure that the company has good intentions, but you are as good as your weakest link and in this case, the support process is broken and it does not matter how fast the sales manager runs, the support will kill the process. I am wondering what the sales manager is thinking about this case as of now. Will I get an email next week asking how my testing is going? This is about testing the solution before buying it. Do you think I will buy it now based on my experiences?
I also think that the support is undervalued by many software organizations, but my view is that it is the opposite. It either wins or kills business. During this same period I have dealt with Microsoft Office 365 support and have been blown away with the responsiveness and eagerness to get things solved. Many of you might think that only a large organization can make it work, but I disagree and I have done it many times with smaller organizations. It is almost always about mindset. If you want to be a winner in your domain, act like it regardless of the size of the company!