‘Tis the season for customer service. From that turkey hotline to downloadable instruction manuals to that grumpy overworked support tech on the other end of the phone, more than ever, we are aware of how good a company is by their ability to communicate their services and product.

Why do we need customer service? What is good and what is bad? How can we tell?

I often laugh when I am engaged with a representative who tells me their company has 24/7 customer support as a selling point for their product. The humor I feel is, if the product is so good, why the need for extensive support? I understand the need for a supportive subsystem that is available at all times. However, I believe in a more upfront, offensive strategy of communication.

Often times in our technology, keeping the advantage results in a closed system of information. That can be detrimental to your clients’ understanding of the process and, often, the request for deliverables. Learning how to manage project owner expectations is crucial to building a mutually beneficial venture. In order to address owner expectations, it is important to first understand how expectations are defined.

One struggle the mobile mapping industry faces is addressing owner expectations within an industry that is not fully defined or understood. Innovative technologies often take time to mature and gain acceptance. The accuracy of the technology is still being defined by the accuracy of traditional survey control, which may or may not be as accurate as the accuracy standard of the project. The Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovations Curve explores the much-hyped tipping point of new innovation, to set it apart from being a trend to acceptance.

There are five important areas of communication that serve offensive customer service:

  • Knowledge: The client must be aware of the technology or innovation and understand how it functions. In my industry, mobile mapping is just getting through the early phases of adoption. Therefore, a multitude of expectations are being communicated, but they tend to lack context. The good news is many more of the people I speak with have at least heard about the technology. 
  • Persuasion: A favorable or unfavorable attitude toward the innovation needs to be addressed before the project or the sale. Change is never widely accepted and any pre-conceived ideas, good or bad, need to be addressed up front. Typically, technology and innovation are presented in two classifications: evangelical and technical. Beware of the implication of smoke and mirrors. No technology is a complete solve-all. Sometimes it is better to walk away from a bad fit project for the technology than to try and fit a square peg in a round hole. 
  • Decision: Deal with the person who will be engaging in the final choice to adopt or reject the technology or innovation. Emotional dissonance can create a conflict between what a decision maker actually feels and what the company is used to dealing with.
  • Implementation: The person who puts an innovation into use — the end user — will have expectations. There are most likely systems in place within their current workflow that are an underlying cause for concern or, more importantly, a process that is automatic. It is important to know when the atmosphere of the company is not acceptable to change of any kind. In this case, persuasion will lead to increased bad customer support no matter how good the technology or innovation (you need to find the champion within their team). Teaching a dog new tricks comes with a steep learning curve.
  • Confirmation: Often times, the person who evaluates the results of a technology or innovation will have many questions. It is important when you deliver the final product that it comes with an evaluation by both parties. It is more productive to circumvent pre-conceived expectations to avoid conflict resolution. Once the bell is rung about ill performing technology or innovation, it is difficult to un-ring the negative misinformation.

So, as we absorb the trappings of the seasons, take a lesson from the folks at the Butter Ball turkey hotline. Provide a good product that everyone can relate to. Make available an informed staff that can address up front issues. Accept the fact that it can be a daunting task to even the most experienced. And finally, be aware that a reputation for great product doesn’t leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth.