Raiders of the lost art of customer service

Take a moment and think about the experience you had today while dining at your favorite restaurant. The experience you had shopping at Home Depot or Walmart. When the waiter or the salesperson asked “How can I help you today?” did they truly listen to what your needs were? Did they understand how to best assist you? Did they take the time to see that what you needed was purchased?

The practice of listening and understanding is something that is not practiced every day. It is a simple thing that organizations need to enforce to their employees as it has such a domino effect to your business. It allows employees to sell the right solution, which results in customer satisfaction, which then allows for retention and recommendations, which finally leads to new business. It is such an easy art, which has been lost.

In an executive leadership role for an MSP, I find that providing customer service is as important as the technological solutions that my organization provides. Every day I find myself following the same key concepts in providing quality customer service.

  1. Active listening: Reiterate key terms or concepts to the client. Summarize the conversation, which shows the client that you understand what they are asking
  2. Knowledgeable: I have found that you do not have to know all the answers, especially in the IT field, but understand the concepts and the big picture of what needs to be achieved.
  3. Be patient & empathetic: Each person is unique and have different personalities. Some will be irate, grumpy, or pessimistic. Other will be upbeat, happy, and optimistic. You need to keep these in mind, while at the same time providing the same consistent level of service.
  4. Ownership: Seeing an issue or project through, no matter how hard or easy it may be.

No matter what industry you are in, customer service is key in ensuring success within your organization. Practicing this, will allow the retention of valued clients.

Is Built-In Customer Service the Future of Cloud Computing?

helpSalesforce’s recent announcement that it would add a built-in help button to its apps has launched speculation on the future of built-in help for apps. The announcement comes on the heels of Amazon’s “Mayday button,” which has become a popular part of the app since debuting last fall.

One-Click Help

As Salesforce pointed out, the feature addresses an unmet demand in mobile apps today. While websites are increasingly deploying live chat as an option for visitors, mobile software lacks this ability. From Amazon’s Mayday to Salesforce’s SOS, this feature allows customers to receive instant help at any time with just a click.

Salesforce will push its new feature out later this year, trying it out in beta before making it publicly available. In addition to being part of Salesforce’s suite of apps, the company will also provide platform APIs to allow businesses to incorporate the functionality into their own apps.

Video Support

Like Amazon’s Mayday button, SOS will give users the choice of help via live video chat or a one-way video request. This has been an interesting experience for Amazon, who has seen everything from marriage proposals to serenades. Callers also frequently request actress Amy Paffrath, who is the face of Mayday in Amazon’s TV commercials.

With Amazon’s Mayday calls, customers have the advantage of being hidden from view. While they can see the support rep who takes their calls, the reps can’t see the person at the other end. This gives customers the convenience of making calls in their PJs, before they’ve put on makeup or showered.

For the many businesses that regularly rely on the cloud for daily tasks, this technology is good news. As it migrates from Amazon to Salesforce and beyond, it will likely soon become part of the way users get help for the tasks they perform each day.

Meet Jobe Diagne, Tech Support Engineer

Jobe Diagne

Jobe Diagne

Jobe Diagne grew up in Cambridge. When he went to college, he thought he’d focus on marketing and communications. But then he took part in Year Up, an intensive training program for young people from the city. The experience introduced him to the technology field, and he’s never looked back.

“I just knew I wanted to be in IT,” he said. “I love what I do.”

Jobe is 32 now, and he’s worked in the field for eight years, largely in the IT departments of large corporations. He’s been at for just a few months, but he’s finding the environment a pleasant change.

“I just like the management style,” he said. “They’re open to suggestions and changes.”

Another aspect of the work that he likes is seeing how different areas of IT operate. His job mostly consists of dealing with client issues, from simple things like resetting passwords to responding when a server goes down. Eventually, though, Jobe wants to get into networking and systems administration. Since works as a team, he’s able to start getting involved in that area as well.

“This, to be honest, is the best stepping stone for me,” he said.

Jobe lives in Worcester, and when he’s not working he spends plenty of time with friends and family. In May, he became a first-time uncle when his twin brother had triplets.

“I don’t look at a computer when I’m out of work,” he said.

Meet Lane Smith, Technical Support Engineer

Lane Smith

Lane Smith

Lane Smith got his start in IT back when he was in elementary school in Arkansas. His father was a student at the time, and he had a job at a university IT department. He brought Lane with him sometimes, and the boy found the work didn’t look that difficult.

“At that point it was just kind of pushing ‘next,’ ‘next,’ ‘next,’” he said.

Lane discovered he could use even a little bit of technical expertise to his advantage. For school projects, he started building websites, and he found his teachers were impressed.

“In five minutes, I could have an A on a report,” he said.

These days, at 25, Lane has much more substantial expertise in technology. He needs to, because his job involves addressing all sorts of client issues, from minor hardware issues to server problems and email glitches.

“You have to be kind of proactive, staying up to date,” he said.

Lane has been with for a little over a year, and he said one of the things he likes about the job is that there aren’t any low-level employees who have to follow a script to respond to issues. “Everyone kind of knows what they’re doing,” he said.

That means when clients call in, their questions get answered quickly, and the work environment stays calm.

Aside from working with customers remotely, Lane does on-site work at various offices a few times a week. “It’s kind of nice to see how the buildings are set up,” he said. “Kind of put a face and a name together.”

Of course visiting outside offices isn’t always possible. With one client in Sweden, Lane uses a webcam setup to take a close look at their equipment so he can diagnose whatever issues they’re having.

Lane isn’t just a computer person. When he’s not in the office, he’s studying history at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. He’s especially interested in the beginnings of the Cold War after World War II.

And beyond being a student and a full-time IT pro, he finds time to brew his own beer. One of his favorites is a strong winter ale. On occasion, he’ll even bring a few into the office for everyone to enjoy after finishing up the work week.

Rackspace and the open cloud

OpenStack t-shirt

If Amazon Web Services represents the cloud computing establishment, Rackspace Hosting wants to be the cool alternative. A comparison based on data from 2010 shows AWS with by far the largest chunk of the infrastructure-as-a-service space, at $500 to $700 million. Rackspace came in a distant second with $100 million.

But Rackspace argues there’s good reason to choose it over its larger rival. The company’s CEO, Lew Moorman is fighting AWS by warning businesspeople of the dangers of being locked in to that company’s cloud. Once a company’s operations are tied up with a particular cloud infrastructure, he argues, it’s hard to disentangle them if you want to choose a different vendor.

Rackspace’s proposed solution lies in the world of open-source. The company joined with NASA two years ago to launch OpenStack, and Moorman says more than 180 companies are now participating in the development of the new structure. Rackspace plans to shift its public cloud to the OpenStack codebase this summer, and other companies can use the same code as they please, creating what many hope could be a more competitive cloud landscape.

Aside from the guts of its systems, Rackspace promotes its customer service as a major selling point. Its trademarked “Fanatical Support” includes a promise that you can speak to a live person round the clock and that staff actually know what they’re talking about instead of just reading from a script.

So far, Rackspace has done quite well for itself. Its net revenues rose from $781 million in 2010 to just over $1 billion in 2011, and its stock price skyrocketed from $10 a share at its 2008 IPO to nearly $60 this spring. (It’s since fallen but remains above $40.)

Photo credit: H. Michael Karshis/Flickr