Telerik is well known for the high quality of its support organization and customers are overall quite happy from our responsiveness and helpfulness. Nonetheless, from time to time we’d get inquiries why we are not offering phone support, chat or GoToMeeting as part of our regular support services. After answering several inquiries over the last few months, I decided to blog about it and let everyone know why technical phone support is not offered (at least at present).
I’d first like to make a distinction – there is a huge difference between general/pre-sales phone/IM support and technical IM/phone support. We do offer general and pre-sales phone support and it’s working out pretty well. But it’s a different story with phone support for technical issues. As I told one customer, it would be tough for Telerik to offer this type of service when I and many of the other senior people at Telerik are not believers in it. It’s not that we are against it altogether or that we are absolutely happy with the way things are at the moment– it’s just a matter of being unable to see it working in an environment like ours. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a staffing issue – it’s our view that phone/IM support does not deliver and that we can do more harm than good by introducing it (even if customers pay premium for it).
So what kind of technical issues does phone support solve well? Few things that come to mind based on our experience:
4. Basic issues
My strong opinion on this one is that these types of issues simply should not exist! They are killing the customer experience at a very early stage and they should be tackled with super high priority and dedication from the product teams. No kind of phone support can offset the customer frustration when it comes at such an early stage. That’s why we have always tried to fix things that into those 4 categories and in a way not give customers reasons to pick up the phone for such issues (not that we haven’t failed in some cases like the installation process of Sitefinity but it’s all valuable learning lessons).
All other issues related to programming errors, exceptions, browser issues, etc cannot be solved by phone support efficiently in my opinion. While phone support might work out very well for cable TV or the phone company where there's a limited set of things that can go wrong, that's hardly the case with dev tools. In our case you have lots of OS systems, lots of .NET variations, different browsers, controls that can get used in myriads of ways, other non-Telerik packages in the project and ... customer code. How can you troubleshoot an "Object expected" error over the phone? Phone support is good for escalation and for toning down an aggravated customer who wants to hear a human voice but it doesn't go beyond that point. I actually think this is the greatest benefit of phone support, not the ability to solve tech problems (and that type of support we offer even if we don’t advertise it or charge for it).
Just as we are producers of software, we are heavy buyers of software and, as usual, we face problems with pretty much everything we purchase. So far, for nearly 10 years I have not been able to talk to a knowledgeable person on the phone, even for installation issues. Every time I had to spend a lot of time on the phone, and then follow up with an e-mail AND screenshots AND the same explanations I gave over the phone and I would never receive timely help. I'd be very lucky to have a solution on the same day. My experience as a user had led me to distrust phone support. There is also one really big problem with IM and phone support - what kind of people do you put on the other end of the line? Do you put a non-experienced person who needs to search through resources and get help from others to find an answer or you put an experienced person who knows the products inside out and can help immediately? The first option is ineffective - that's what most companies do and that's why they fail. The second doesn't make business sense most of the time - that would mean putting your best people to do phone support and not putting them to work in creating new products and improving old ones.
The above applies for chat as well – you either put really good people to answer questions, or you don’t do it at all. I’ve had numerous occasions when the people on the other end knew less than me and it wasn’t really inspiring to educate the other person rather than do the opposite.
Customers also ask why we don’t offer GoToMeeting as a standard service? GTM is much better for solving customer problems and we occasionally use it when we need to see the local environment of the customer and it's some obscure problem that's hard to reproduce. The problem with GTM is that it takes a lot more time than the answering of a ticket and in 90% of the cases the ticket solves the problem. Time is of essence for us as we get a lot of customer mails each day. If we have to hold GoToMeeting sessions with every customer, explain basics, fix non-Telerik related issues, provide general dev guidance and so on, we would have to charge a lot more for our services and for the greater population of our customers that would be a problem. It's also much harder to link to a GTM session and the ticket allows you to more easily create written material that can help other customers too.
We believe that our current approach works best for us and for customers despite the deficiencies it might have. With all the resources we offer our goal is to teach you how to fish and in case you can't do something, you can rely on us for further help. In more than 80% of the cases we provide a reply within 7 hours and in the majority of those cases, the first reply solves the issue at hand. Moreover, having customers in over 100 countries, it will be really hard to arrange GTM sessions which are convenient for everyone.
For those interested, we do offer extended support services. If customers are stuck with a problem and are keen on having GoToMeeting support for their respective issue, they can take advantage of the Telerik Consulting Express (http://www.telerik.com/consulting/consulting-express.aspx). It’s an on-demand service offered through one of our partners Falafel Software. It’s a very good option when you need expert advice on best practices, architectural guidance or you simply need an expert by your side to solve an issue. The folks at Falafel have lots of high-end dev experience with Telerik tools and they are on top of their game so you can be sure it’s money well spent.
I hope my notes will help customers understand our reasoning for leaving things the way they are. And I do want to stress that we keep thinking all the time how to make our support services better, how to to cut down our turnaround time, reduce the number of posts it takes to resolve an issue, etc. It's just that we haven't found (yet) an economical way to offer GTM for all customers. And for chat and phone support - we have not found a good example of a technology company with high support load that offers great phone support.
What’s your take? Do you have any success stories for phone support that you’d like to share? In what cases has phone support and instant messaging been really helpful?
As Chief Innovation Officer at Progress, Vassil Terziev is responsible for identifying growth strategies and new market opportunities, as well as promoting internal innovation.