Sales and Sales Management Blog

August 26, 2009

A Bad Customer Service Department Doesn’t Have to Kill Your Client Relationships

Filed under: Customer Service,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 8:42 am
Tags: , ,

We struggle to make a sale and then, after we finally succeed, our new customer runs into a problem and calls—oh, my God, they call Customer Service instead of us!  Panic.  Fear.  Our life flashes before our eyes.  Death would be a kinder fate than having a customer call Customer Service.

Hopefully your Customer Service department isn’t this bad.  If you’re really lucky, your company’s Customer Service department is great.  Unfortunately, if you’re selling anywhere in the tech industry, there’s a good possibility that your company’s Customer Service has a long way to go just to be adequate–and by no means is bad customer service only a problem with tech firms.

Two recent encounters have me thinking about how we as sellers must deal with the inevitable customer service issues that arise and especially how we must deal with them if our company’s Customer Service department is something to be avoided.

The first encounter was with a seller who has been through a couple of my training programs and is a subscriber to my newsletter.  He sent me an email asking my advice on how to deal with his clients when they have customer service issues. 

Dale sells for a well known company selling accounting and payroll software to small and mid-size businesses.  His complaint is that when clients have customer service issues they generally have a difficult time getting timely service.  Although the company has a phone number clients can call for customer service, the time on hold is excessive and few customers will stay on the line that long.  They then must go to the website and fill out a trouble ticket.

Response time for trouble tickets is typically 18 to 36 hours.  Typically the initial response from the support tech will not be an answer but more questions.  Once the client answers the questions the support tech has asked, they must wait another 8 to 16 hours for a response which may be an answer or possibly more questions.

Not surprisingly, clients aren’t impressed with this process.  Dale’s frustration is that no matter how much he complains, the company’s response is that they are no worse than most of their competitors and they can’t afford to invest more money in customer support.

The second encounter was with a software company that I was considering buying software from to build a new website for McCord Training.  Over the years we’ve used a number of programs and we’ve never been truly happy with any of the programs we’ve used.  I decided to search out another program for this build.  With a bit of research I found a program that I thought would work well and downloaded the 21 day trail version.

The trial version was touted as having all of the features of the purchased version as well as access to the Customer Support department.  I figured that we could quickly evaluate whether the program would meet our needs in terms of its capabilities and ease of use.

Over the course of a week or so we made significant progress in developing a new site—and invested a great many hours into the new site using the program.  Then a problem arose.  We had problems integrating one of the other programs we use within our website with the software.  We tried a number of solutions and nothing worked.  We had no choice but to turn in a Trouble Ticket to the manufacturer.  A day later we received the response—it was an unsupported question so we’d have to go to the forum and ask other users if they knew how to integrate the two programs.

Off to the forum we went only to find that there didn’t seem to be a way to ask a question.

Another Trouble Ticket inquiring as to how to ask a question in the forum.

A day later the answer—since we hadn’t purchased the software yet we weren’t allowed to ask a question because the technicians thought that opening the forum up to non-purchasers resulted in them having to spend too much time cleaning up SPAM in the forum.

So we can evaluate the software but if we have an issue the technicians won’t answer then we have no way to determine whether the software can work for us because the technicians have decided it takes too much time to clean up the forum if non-purchasers can have access to the forum.

Now, that may seem like a stupid stance for any company, but that’s the way this particular company’s Customer Support department works.  I sent them a Trouble Ticket letting them know that I thought that from a customer service stand point it was an idiotic position to take leaving me with no choice bot to make a decision to pay for the software because we had invested so much time and money building the site with it and hoping we could make it work or we’d just have to scrap everything and move on to another program.

The head of Customer Support for the company said he’d have a support person call me on my cell phone at a particular time.  At the appointed time I was on the phone with one of our clients.  I allowed voice mail to take the call knowing that I’d be off the phone within a minute or two.  Within a minute I was off the phone and retrieved the voice mail.  The technician from the software company informed me that I had committed to taking their call at X time, I didn’t answer so my appointment was cancelled, not to try to call him, and that if I needed further assistance to turn in another Trouble Ticket.  I then got a followup email from the tech letting me know that by not answering the phone I was being discourteous to him and other customers and that his time was far too valuable to be wasting on an unanswered phone call.  I could call and reschedule a phone appointment for a fee of $36.

This was just the beginning of my experience with the Customer Support department of this software vendor.  Although it continued to get worse, in many ways they were no worse than many other tech firms. 

The central issue with Dale’s customer service issues and the software company above is that the companies have no real concept of what customer service is.  Instead of service they view themselves as providing their customers a favor.  Some seem to view their customers as being much too stupid to use the product.  At the very least they view themselves as having the upper hand in the client/company relationship as demonstrated by one of Dale’s customer support techs who told him not to “worry about your customers, they need us too much so no matter how upset they get, they’ll always be back.”

In both instances above the Customer Support department is headed and staffed by technicians, not customer service professionals.  In many instances the technicians are individuals barely trained in the product themselves.  The focus of the department is on what makes life easy for them, not what makes life easy for the customer.  Case in point: preventing someone who is evaluating the software from asking questions in the forum because by allowing non-purchasers access to the forum, the technicians have to spend some time cleaning up SPAM entries.

So how do we as sellers deal with these situations?  How can we prevent these self-centered Customer Service departments from destroying our relationships with clients?

By being proactive and taking responsibility for being the go-between between our client and the support department.

I’ve had Dale redirect all of his client’s customer support issues directly to him.  He has found that if he gets the issue first he can often answer the question on the spot.  If he can’t, he can deal with Customer Support directly and usually get a resolution to the issue hours or days earlier than if the client had simply turned in a Trouble Ticket.  Most importantly, he saves his client aggravation.

Taking on the customer service issues of his clients is costing Dale time.  He has to become a better time manager in order to deal with clients and continue to bring in new business.  But a good bit of the time he is now devoting to helping clients resolve issues was previously spent listening to their complaints about the company’s lack of customer service.  Most importantly, his clients are happier.

The ideal is for your company to provide first class customer service.  But if they don’t—and there are a great many companies that don’t—take matters into your own hands.  These are your clients.  These are your future.  Be proactive in resolving their issues even if that means you have to become the go-between.  You’ll either spend your time fixing the problem upfront to insure a happy client or you’ll spend the time later getting chewed out by your client.  Take actions to fix your client’s issues—it’s the right thing for your client and for you.



  1. […] Go to the Article At: Sales and Sales Management Blog […]

    Pingback by A Bad Customer Service Department Doesn’t Have to Kill Your Client Relationships | Bizness Geek — August 26, 2009 @ 9:20 am | Reply

  2. In every country also in every company the will be problems with customer service. The people learn to get to know first the customers problems and react to them. It takes a little bit time they will do it the best they can. People understand we are only humans and can make mistakes.

    Comment by Tina — August 27, 2009 @ 2:49 am | Reply

    • I agree. We are all humans that need good refresher training for the sides of our job we may take for granted due to our expertise. Cops and Doctors need sensitivity exercises. Same with technical support, these departments need to put themselves in the shoes of a customer without knowledge of the product and show them that their questions do count toward building and maintaining a better system.

      Comment by Sales Training — September 1, 2009 @ 11:31 am | Reply

      • Yes, many times the customer service folks, especially in a technical situation, don’t have the level of people skills we’d like. Some have little patience and it shows, others don’t know how to translate the technical information into more understandable information, others frankly don’t care and believe if the customer wants to use the product or service, it is the customer’s obligation to learn the product and the language, not their obligation to come down to the customer’s level. All issues that ultimatel impact the salesperson whose client’s must interact with these customer support folks. They certainly need training but reality says that in most cases it isn’t going to happen so we as sellers must step in and find solutions to protect our relationship with our client.

        Comment by Paul McCord — September 5, 2009 @ 8:38 am

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