Although there are certainly more stressful days to endure, like climbing Everest, brokering a major peace treaty in the Middle East or launching a new business, yesterday was frustrating, draining and generally unpleasant.
My blog went down out of the blue, after functioning perfectly well for nearly two years. I was clued in by some generous and aware readers who sent me emails alerting me about the situation (thanks for being the first Tim, and for troubleshooting and commiserating with me).
And so began my journey with the Typepad technical support system. Notice that I am saying "system," not "people," since, as I will explain in a bit, the people are perfectly capable and helpful.
For context, I am probably the kind of customer that tech support people groan at when they receive my help tickets. As much as I try to explain my problem objectively and descriptively, the best I can do sometimes is "my blog isn’t working – please fix it!" So a typical technical support interaction with me requires some diagnosis and problem-solving. I know a few things just to make me dangerous, but generally live in the realm of "clueless end user."
So here was the sequence of events from yesterday:
- 9:35am: Realized there was a big problem with my blog which needed to be fixed, but I didn’t know what it was. So I sent a help ticket to Typepad technical support
- 10:08am: Added some more relevant information to the help ticket, as I discovered more problems, based on reader emails
- 12:05pm: Was beginning to get ants in my pants and begged for a response from technical support, also on the help ticket
- 12:15pm: Looked up the Six Apart company phone number on their web, with hopes of talking to human who could help me. Received automated voice mail system which directed me to "technical support," which informed me that all help is handled via the web-based system. Like I didn’t know that!
- 3:09pm: Added critical information to the help ticket, based on some analysis from one of my clients. I had passed begging for help, and let them know I was very frustrated with lack of support
- 3:15pm: Sent a new, differently-titled help notice to see if someone, anyone, could get back to me.
- 3:39pm: Finally received a response from Typepad, which let me know the source of the problem was with my domain mapping with Network Solutions, which holds my escapefromcubiclenation domain. They also added:
"We answer tickets as quickly as possible in the order the arrive. Although we appreciate you adding relevant information to the existing ticket, each time you reply moves the ticket back to the end of the queue. We will get to your tickets as soon as we can, and we appreciate your patience."
- 3:40pm: Now I realize that I was actually contributing to my lack of response time by adding new messages to the help ticket! The problem is, that fact is not highlighted anywhere on the help ticket system. Or if it is, it didn’t jump out at me. I wonder how many others have had a similar experience?
- 3:41pm: Responded to Typepad response, with a further set of questions.
- 7:14pm: Received response from Typepad with the final set of instructions I needed to resolve the issue.
- 7:15pm: Called Network Solutions technical support. Got a human being on the phone and within 5 minutes had the problem diagnosed and fixed.
- 12:15am: It took a few hours to get the necessary changes spinning through the Ethernet, (plus I fell asleep because I was exhausted) so I finally made the final tweaks to my blog and was back online.
So what was my biggest takeaway from this experience?
My formerly strong and enthusiastic support of the Typepad platform, built over two years of good and stable service, was radically diminished because their support system failed when I needed it most.
How can we apply this learning to all of our businesses? Take into consideration the following things:
- What are the different levels of support needed by your customers? Does your support system include a way of distinguishing between general questions, which can take a few hours or days to reply to, and critical-path issues which need to be resolved immediately? This can apply to any kind of business. If you sell tee-shirts online, a customer may not mind if a personal purchase arrives one day late. But he will care if the custom tee-shirt for his 16-year old doesn’t arrive in time for his birthday. If you are an accountant, your clients may be able to wait two days to learn the difference between a debit and a credit. But if they are meeting with an IRS agent for an audit in an hour, they will need to hear from you right away.
- How clear are you with instructions and guidelines for your technical support? Do you clearly outline critical things (like moving the help ticket to the back of the queue if more information is added by the user) in your web and written communications?
- If you can not afford to offer extensive technical support for your product or service, do you have a trusted network of people who can for a fee? I didn’t learn until this morning that there is a Six Apart Professional Network. I would have gladly paid someone to help me figure this problem out yesterday at 9:30am.
- Do you have a way for your customers to get in touch with a live human being by phone in case of emergency? I realize that it can be very expensive and unwieldy to deal with technical support on the phone. But there are times when your frustrated customer can be helped in five minutes or less if they talk to someone on the phone. I can’t believe that it was much more expensive to pay the Network Solutions tech support guy than the Typepad tech support folks who typed their responses. But the difference to me was huge — I got resolution in 5 minutes from one, and in nearly 16 hours with the other.
- Do you think holistically about what your customers need and balance your business model accordingly? In the case of Typepad, they are building more and more features to make your blog a website-and-blog-in-one. This is great, as it allows entrepreneurs to consolidate their online presence and save money with web design and hosting. But it also means higher stakes for customers, who may suffer great financial consequences if their business blog goes down.
- Do you support your excellent technical support people with a system that works? I really can’t say anything bad about the people that work in Typepad technical support. They are always very courteous, knowledgeable and professional when they respond to questions. The problem is that the system they work in is radically insufficient for the needs of their customers. So they probably take unfair heat from grumpy pregnant (and non-pregnant) customers like me all the time. Good people will tire of this and leave to go elsewhere where their skills are allowed to be applied very effectively.
I realize that I may be a tad dramatic in going into so much detail about my blog being down for one day. No one was hurt, the stock markets survived and no rain forests were cleared as a result.
But the impact to the trust I have in a company I have been doing business with for a long time was pretty major. And this makes me stand up and take note. A strong brand and trusting customers are very precious and fleeting things indeed. It doesn’t take much to erode years of goodwill. So I will be taking note of how this applies to my business, and I encourage you to do the same.