In the Software business at IBM, some customers would expect Support to handle every issue they had, especially when they were paying for a support contract. Sometimes, the customer’s support request went beyond support issues.

IBM software support classified customer support problems as ‘defect’ or ‘how to’ problems. Defect problems related to bugs in the code which needed to be fixed. Non defect problems could be classified as ‘how to problems’ or ‘working as designed’.

A ‘How to Problem’ was one where there was no defect but the customer couldn’t use the product the way they wanted to. In short, they needed to know ‘how to’ take advantage of some feature promised in the product literature. Sometimes the problem turned out to be the lack of training of the staff, despite being warned that users needed to get trained.

Here’s how we handled these kinds of problems.

Feature requested is not part of the product offering.

At IBM, we noted if the customer wanted the product to do something it wasn’t intended to do, after full investigation, support told the user that the product was ‘working as designed’. That might not make the customer happy but at least they knew that support was no longer going to work on the issue.

Customer alternatives that the support organization could suggest:

  • The customer could put in a request for a new feature to be added to the next release.
  • The customer could engage services to add the feature for a fee but also be prepared to pay for those services.
  • Another product might do the features the customer wanted, so it might be suggested, even if it was another company’s product. (given as a service so customer would be happy with IBM)

Training Needed

When the level of support the customer requested went beyond support and indicated that training was needed, a standard template for a response to the customer was created and provided to the support team for them to use with the customer. In that way, the delicate situation of advising the customer that extra training or personalized services were needed was handled delicately.

Often, the sales team handling the account was also notified that the customer needed additional training or professional services.

What organizations should do to avoid Training issues:

1. If you get repeated questions about how to do something complicated, training might be required. Offer it.

a. For Free (Manual, instructions, Youtube video)
b. For a Fee – customized training to the customer’s organization or professional services.

2. If your product is hard to use, you need to look at the product and see if there are ways to reduce complexity and usability.

3. If there is no way to reduce complexity or usability, then before the product is sold, offer education to customers as part of the sale. Ensure they know they have to educate the staff BEFORE they buy or if the staff will need on going training on updates, ensure this is included in the sales proposal. Set expectations correctly. Embed the training costs and course as part of the cost or the maintenance.

4.  Also provide training for ‘new people’ that might be hired by the business to replace someone who leaves or retires.

5. Provide “Just in Time” bite sized videos, or FAQ’s on the web to handle common questions.

6. Provide services offerings for those customers who want to pick and choose what services they need in modular offerings.

If the customer needs training to use your product, set expectations and make it easy for them to get the training, either fee or free. Or fix up the product so the customer can use it with training or complexity.


How do you handle customer support situations where the customer wants new features or needs education? Leave comments below.


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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

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