The pace of support

A story

A while back my Google Apps email broke. I could still send and receive email through the web interface but all application-specific passwords were not functioning. I spent most of a Monday trying various steps. Nothing worked.

I remembered that Google offers phone support to its Apps for Business users. I only have one user account so this was $5 a month. Five dollars for dedicated phone and email support? I will take that deal every time.

I called Google and after a relatively painless phone tree I got a wonderfully helpful Googler on the line. He immediately spent 55 minutes on the phone with me. It totally blew me away. Phenomenal experience.

A problem

After 55 minutes, though, the Googler could not fix things. I had the luck of running in to an IMAP authentication error that was not supposed to happen. No worries, I told the Googler, some things take time and I will be patient. We ended the call and that evening he sent me a follow-up email with some steps to try. I gave them a shot (no luck) and replied the next morning. Then I waited. For 3 days.

I followed up via email to see what the status was. Shortly after that message my email was back up and running. Despite fixing my original issue, it left me with a bad experience. This showed me that sometimes the pacing of support is the most important aspect.

A lesson

First impressions matter. While that is no secret, I think last impressions are just as crucial. My first interaction with Google was brilliant. Fifty-five minutes of 1-to-1 help. That is unheard of and I was ecstatic.

Then, I waited. Three days. With no word on what was happening. Did someone forget? Did my email get lost? Do I have to contact them again? Will I have to start at square one with a new support engineer? As a company, those are not questions you want your customers asking. They cause thoughts of doubt. They make it harder to believe you care. When your customers wonder where you went it means you have paced your support poorly.

There are benefits to offering support across multiple channels. Phone support and live chat provide immediate gratification. Email allows for the delay in troubleshooting that can be necessary for more complex issues. The trick is in handling people who start in one medium and end in another. A support team must prepare to handle the inevitable follow-up emails from phone calls and live chats quickly. It is not because the questions are any more important. It is because your first contact with those users set certain expectations. Your job is to see things through.

A phone call sets certain expectations for the pacing of support. That call was my first experience with Google. It was great. The Googler was responsive, caring, and quick to help. All of that was lost after we moved to email. I went from feeling like I had that Googler’s full attention to feeling forgotten.

The medium of support is not important. Consistency and follow through are. The standard you set in phone support should follow every user through every interaction with your support team. First experiences set expectations. Proper pacing ensures they are met. Allowing for each mode of support to move at its own pace irrespective of where the user has been before creates a terribly disjointed and unsatisfying experience. Google may have fixed my issue but they left me far from happy.