Customer support or customer success?

Have you ever called a help desk line for a product or service and ended up feeling like the primary objective of the person on the other end of the phone was to get rid of you? Sure, they were helpful but there were just enough underlying behaviors to make you feel like the person truly did not care if you were successful with their product or service. While this particular topic is not directly related to Agile product development, I believe it to be relevant for anyone developing products with some form of customer. The problem runs deeper than telephone support. Face to face interaction with an individual often produces the same feelings – this individual does not really care if I am successful or satisfied. They simply would like the me to go away – successful or not.

Often times providers of service will do their best to generate a state of perceived success in order to satisfy a mis-used measurement system. My recent experience with a car dealership is the perfect way to demonstrate this. Here is the story. Again, it does not directly apply to Agile development but it does apply from the perspective that customer success is a key to the success of any product.

The Dropoff

It seems to me if a business has the objective of retaining long term customers, the primary focus must be making them successful with their products. I recently made a trip to Momentum Mini here in Houston, Texas to have my car serviced. The car did not have a major problem. I had noticed a few times the engine had died while it was running and wanted them to take a look at it. In addition, there were some other maintenance items to be completed. They were fairly simple requests. I dropped the car off on a Monday morning after making an appointment. They have a program where you can pick up a rental car from them. It took an hour and fifteen minutes to get the rental car. Additionally, the first place I needed to visit was the gas station as they had given me a car running almost out of fuel.

The Callback – Not

The service manager told me they would call me the next day. On Tuesday, I did not receive a call. Wednesday morning I left a message on the voice mail of the service representative. Still no answer or call back. Another day passes. This time its Thursday and I am furious. I leave another message for the service representative and the service manager. The message was fairly strong and asked them if they were having technical difficulties with outgoing calls. A few hours later after leaving the messages, I finally get a call back. Basically, there was nothing they could do about the problem and all they had done was rotate the tires.

Picking It Up

When I went to pick up the car, the service representative knew I was upset.  This particular service representative actually seemed to care that I was unhappy.  When they brought the car around to me she noticed there was tree sap all over it and offered to wash it for me.  I accepted the offer even though I was in a hurry.  While they were washing the car, she said the service manager (her boss) wanted to speak to me. She indicated they would be sending me some coupons for dinner at a local restaurant.  This helped a little.  When her manager came out, he apologized for the experience and asked me how they can improve.  When I was finished giving my feedback, I was actually becoming more satisfied.  Then as he left, he destroyed the experience for me.  He said “Now you know you will be getting a survey in the mail.  Feel free to write any comments regarding your experience but it only helps us if you rate us a five (the best rating) on all the questions.”  I told him he had some nerve asking me that and went on about my business.  By the way, I never received any dinner coupons.


By now you may be asking yourself, why is this relevant to either Agile development or management, hasn’t everyone had similar experiences?  The primary reason to discuss it here is simply to highlight the fact that measurement when implemented the way the dealership above has done can cause employee behaviors which actually harm the business.  My feeling as I left the dealership was that the only thing the service representatives and management cared about was getting a good score on their survey.  When it was clear they would not, they gave up.  This is why I believe the sales manager never followed up with the dinner coupons.

The lesson here is to carefully choose the mechanism you will use to measure your employees.  Make sure that it truly encourages them to achieve the results you desire.  In this example, having the service manager actually analyze and observe the experience of the customers would have been a much better approach. Or perhaps, reading the comments from the survey and using them to gain a qualitative understanding of how well the service department was doing would have been better.   Nonetheless, in this instance, I am not a successful or satisfied customer and I truly believe the measurement system used by the dealership greatly contributed to my dissatisfaction.


3 Responses to Customer support or customer success?

  1. Good Layout and design. I like your blog. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. .

    Jason Rakowski

  2. Dave Hardy says:

    This is a great post – it hits on something I’ve been passionate about my whole career. This message was hit home to me most recently when I was in a seminar about the fallacy of “pay for performance,” when we were shown a video and told in advance to count the number of completed passes by the white-shirted team. I dutifully watched the video and counted 17 completions. I felt strongly that I hadn’t missed anything. I won’t spoil the surprise, but it did prove to me that humans are capable of such laser beam focus, that sometimes it is to our detriment. That is why these survey cards and metrics like this are so dangerous – they cause us to take our eyes off the ball, so to speak, and look at the wrong thing instead of the big picture. If you’re interested in seeing the video, I found a copy at:

    The real world example of this type of behavior can be seen in any organization that uses software tools for anything – customer support, development, or anything else. I used to run a complaint department, and all of our active quality issues resulting in customer complaints were printed in a weekly report (this was 1989). I used that report as my working list for the week, so I could track which customers to call, and make sure nothing fell through the cracks.

    Well, senior management got ahold of that report and used the number of active cases as one metric, and looked at days open as another. I’d get a call, “why has this been open for four months?” Um, I left it open so I’d remember to call the customer to see how things were going. I knew they used our product just once per month, so I wanted to check after the next run to make sure they were happy. Well, after that call, my behavior changed and I closed these things out and had to come up with my own system to track customers I wanted to call back later without using the software tools at my disposal.

    The point is, we have all of these great software tools at our disposal to make us more effective in our jobs, and then management starts using these tools to see how we’re doing in our jobs. We dutifully adapt, so the metrics continually improve, but most likely, customer sat is not.


  3. pabeavers says:

    I was thinking about this a little bit today…about how certain metrics have great power in terms of helping leaders determine where they need to focus their energy. One area I believe managers should explore is finding the qualitative and quantitative tools for teams to use to measure themselves. In this case, the managers would not even see the results of the measurement. The teams would be encouraged to measure themselves and identify improvements they should make.

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