A negative reviewSome products and services come with a fixed warranty or support period followed by paid support options. This is particularly well known in the computer software industry.  Customers can become very irate when they call in with a problem and are told they have to pay for support.


When I worked at IBM in Software, we had (and I believe IBM still has) an entitlement process when someone calls in for support. We did entitlement by product. Sometimes the customer had entitlement to support for one software product but the defect or problem turned out to be in a different product or a non IBM product for which they might not have paid support.

Here are some of IBM’s preventive and reactive programs.

Prevention:

1. At IBM we offered many elements of support free on the web, that customers could look up. It is wise to set up some element of free information, known problems already fixed, availability of fixes, problem determination techniques that a customer could check themselves, etc..

2. Ensure the customer knows how your support structure works and what is paid support and what, if any, is free. Make the explanation of support part of the implementation process. As a general rule, personalized, and customized service (geared to the customer’s situation) were fee based products.

3. Document the service process and make it available to the customer either in hard copy and/ or on the web.

4. Have an escalation process in place for customers who complain about entitlement..

Reactive Techniques:

1. Quickly escalate to the complaint department if the customer thinks they are entitled and the internal systems show they are not. We often allowed the customer through ONCE while we did our investigation of whether or not the customer had a support contract in place that we were unaware of.

2. Offer support for a fee (or allow the customer to upgrade to a paid subscription if it is determine that they do not have a support agreement in place. Don’t make them wait around. Customers problems could negatively affect their business severely so provide a quick method to sign up immediately and get the support needed.

3. Allow the sales organization to ‘pay’ for a customer service call if they feel it is needed due to a pending new order. Customer service gets their ‘payment’ but the sales branch gets a charge. The customer perceives they got support for ‘free’ but it is explained to them why and what will happen the next time they need support.. You need a tight communication structure with your sales team to execute this kind of offering.

4. Ensure that there is good communication with the customer during all aspects of fixing up the entitlement process. Be courteous and helpful while being firm. Recognize the soft skills of empathy and helping with difficult emotions during the discussion.

5. Advise the customer of any free support available or user forums where they could find help if they refuse to pay for support.

6. For Non IBM products, we directed the customer to the supplier’s support structure.

Share your techniques below.

How does your organization handle escalations on fee support? Leave your 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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