One of the biggest challenges small ‘B2B’ businesses in the point of sale or business equipment industry face is the provision of ongoing support. There is no doubt that providing ‘help-desk’ support for software or systems you sell comes at a cost to you – particularly of your time. And in the case of a small business, this is a commodity that can be very hard to come by! With over 15 years of experience in the POS support industry, I thought I’d share with you some thoughts and observations that can help small technology-based businesses to be more effective and efficient in their providing ongoing support to clients, without placing unnecessary strain on your resources. First, let’s consider the purpose of providing ongoing support to your clients. If you are selling business equipment or technology products, one of the key questions you’ll be asked during your sales presentation will be along the lines of ‘what kind of backup do you provide?’ or ‘how easily can I get help if I need it?’ Your potential client is not just interested in the ‘bells and whistles’ of the product you are selling, but also the support provisions that come with it.
This is a critical point: Ongoing support is an integral part of what you are selling.
So for your business to provide good support, you will need to understand what it is you are trying to achieve when giving it.
3 goals of good software system support:
- To fix the problem / answer the question
Yes, logically the first priority of the support provider is to fix the issue that has been raised. The end-user has called with a question or problem, and the initial measure of success will be whether they feel that the query has been resolved as promptly and accurately as possible.
- To enable the end-user to help themselves in future
This is a very important secondary goal. While providing a quick answer to a question might tick box number one, will the end-user be able to remember it for next time? Is the explanation that the support provider has given sufficient so as to encourage the end-user not to get into the same predicament again, or if the situation does arise again, have the wherewithal to fix the problem themselves?
- For the end-user to feel positive about the support they have received
Why is this relevant? Because the ongoing relationship between the end-user and their support provider is critical if the site is to be ultimately considered a success. Make no mistake – your service / support department is as important to your business reputation as your sales and marketing department. While a sales spiel will be forgotten in time, a negative experience in receiving help at a time of crisis will not. And its not just the reputation of the business providing the support that is affected, but also that of the products they are supplying. In niche industries, word-of-mouth recommendation is a key to ongoing business success. So if someone says about a product ‘oh yes – great when it works, but you can’t get good help when you need it’, that kind of criticism can do damage to future sales that the most brilliant sales demonstration can’t repair.
OK. In considering these three important goals of your support provisions, we are trying to establish that the support mechanisms you put in place need to be taken very seriously. Failure to understand the importance of these issues from your clientele’s point of view could result in a loss business – either because you fail to convince them that you understand their need for backup at the time of marketing a system, or your support provisions could fail to meet their expectations after a sale and damage your ability to get good word-of-mouth recommendations. So now let’s discuss 3 key things to think about when providing ongoing support so that the effort you put in meets these support goals we’ve considered.
3 important keys to providing good support:
- Provide simple explanations
This would have to be one of the key complaints we hear from many that receive support from an IT professional – ‘He spoke too fast, and I didn’t really get what he was saying’ or ‘They speak their own language’. And yes, it’s true that when dealing with computers and software, there is a considerable amount that a typical end-user might not understand. However, it’s important to remember that fixing the problem is only one goal – you also want the end-user to be able to help themselves later, and be happy with the support you’ve provided. So taking a little extra time to simplify explanations and leave out the ‘techno-babble’ goes a long way to helping your client to benefit from what you say. A bit of patience may be required, and in the end you won’t be able to explain all the really technical aspects of the issue you are dealing with – but that won’t matter to the end-user as long as they understand the key points relevant to them.
- There is an important side point on this issue: If you don’t know the answer to your client’s question, don’t guess! No one expects support providers to know everything, and any reasonable client would be more than happy for you to go away and verify the answer before coming back to them. The last thing the client wants is to receive inaccurate advice that they subsequently act on, and make a bigger mess than they started with.
- Provide written procedures or follow up documentation by email
Another suggestion for giving good support is to follow up a support query with some brief instructions on an email, or a summary of what you’ve assisted your client with. Why is this helpful? Firstly, because if your discussion has included some procedures for the end-user to follow, giving them those procedures in writing will ensure that there are no misunderstandings as to what you have suggested that they need to do. Secondly, a follow-up email can also act as ‘minutes’ to your previous phone-call. In other words it provides some evidence of what you’ve discussed and the instructions you’ve given. Then in the future, if there are any doubts about the help you’ve given on the matter, your follow-up email acts as your witness. And thirdly, providing follow up procedures in this way ticks box number two – it gives the end-user the wherewithal to fix the problem themselves, without needing to contact you, if they should come across it again.
- While it will cost you a little more in time to follow this suggestion and write a brief follow-up email, the long-term benefits outweigh that ‘cost’. The email may not need to be long at all, just a few bullet points. Additionally, you might not need to send the email immediately after the phone call – perhaps it can be done later in the day when you have a few moments to spare.
- Put systems in place to make providing support easier
Once you ‘buy in’ to the need to provide this kind of support for your clients, you will greatly benefit from putting in place some systems that make your job easier. Here are a couple of examples:
- Prepare standardised procedures for yourself for more complex processes like performing new software installations, or performing software upgrades. This will help you to remember all the steps you need to take and ensure you don’t miss anything. Then once you’ve followed the checklist once, you can be more confident in doing it the next time, and you’ll be able to train other support staff to follow the same process. Having a standardised approach for handling support issues also makes it far easier for someone else to come in and pick up on your work if you can’t be there to do so.
- Set up email templates for common support responses. While some sites will have one-off problems to deal with, it must be said that there are common sets of instructions that many of your clients will need at some stage (eg. how to email you a data backup for troubleshooting purposes). If they do, just bring out the template and adjust it to suit the specific situation – saving you valuable time rethinking how best to word the email.
- If you do have reason to document a specific set of technical instructions, once you have written the procedure, save it as a tutorial document that you can send off to others when required. Again, it might seem like doing this will take up more of your time than you can afford. But it will save you time in the long run in that once you’ve thought a procedure through thoroughly and documented it, you can be confident that you’ve got the best process in place and won’t have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ the next time the issue comes up. There is nothing worse than having to start from scratch rather than benefiting from your previous experience. And if, in time, you do decide to refine a process, its simply a matter of bringing up your procedure document and making the necessary adjustments.
Providing good software support is critical to the success of point of sale and business equipment suppliers
I hope these suggestions have given you some food for thought about how you can successfully provide effective and efficient end-user support. It really is a matter of focusing the effort you put in to your support processes on these basic goals. Your time isn’t limitless, but you can take some of the simple steps that we’ve discussed to ensure that whatever time you do spend providing support is of benefit, not only to your clients, but also to your business. If your clients are happier, your word-of-mouth recommendations will increase, and the reputation of the products you sell will be enhanced, meaning that you will benefit from the efforts you put in now for years to come. So don’t underestimate the benefits of making the provision of good software support a key component to your business.