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My rant on customer support for web apps

Written by Justin on September 23, 2011

This is me with customer support rage

This is me with customer support rage

Update: I’ve created a follow-up to this post here.

I am employed by a software company.  Offering great customer support is baked into our culture. So when I go out and purchase other software services, I (foolishly) expect to receive the same level of service that we offer our customers.  And then reality slaps me in the face. This is the story of  my yesterday.

It all started with a note from our bookkeeper: “Please get the August invoice for this software you use.”  It’s a web application based on the subscription model. Every month our credit card is charged automatically. So I log in to find the invoice. I can’t find it anywhere. I hunt for about 15 minutes, before thinking: “I’ll just contact the company and ask them.”

Contacting the company is nearly impossible. I look for a contact page. None. I click the “Help” link looking for an email address, email form, or phone number that I can use to contact support. Nothing. Instead it takes me to page that looks an awful lot like an online forum, with a button that says: Start a discussion. Does that mean my support request will be public?  No thank you.

I decided to search Twitter to see if the company had an account. Yes! I sent a tweet: “How do I view the invoices (bills) for my account? #frustrated” And then I waited.  Hours of waiting later, and no response, I decided to go back to their website.

I found a toll-free number hidden on their Billing Setup page. It was like winning the lottery. I triumphantly lifted  my handset and dialed the number. An automated lady voice told me I could push “1 for Sales and 2 for Support.” I hit 2, thinking I would finally speak to a real person. I got a voicemail box. Unbelievable.

I waited another 30 minutes before finally succumbing to using their “Start a discussion” option on their support page. Thankfully, my request is not made public, as I’d feared it might.  Immediately, I get sent this email:

Hi Justin,

This is a robot response from [company name redacted].

We try and respond to our support requests within 24 hours on business days.

We’ll send an email to you when we update your support request.

Robot response? We’ll get back to you within 24 hours?  Is this company for real? Do they realize how badly they look? Do they realize how they’re making me feel as a customer?

Mercifully, a fellow named Jason emails me 8 minutes later. Yes, he had seen my tweet 3 hours earlier, received my phone call message, and was just now able to follow-up with me.  He emails me the invoice. Thank you Jason.

What support should look like on the web

This company failed. I love the product, but contacting support was so frustrating that I’m thinking about cancelling my subscription. Here’s what web based companies should be doing:

  1. Take support seriously. This company has a beautifully crafted app; they’ve clearly spent a lot of time thinking through the UI and functionality of their product. But they haven’t spent time thinking about the user experience of contacting and receiving support. 
  2. Easy to find phone number and email: This is mandatory. Don’t try to avoid it. I’d prefer if this was visible on every single page of their site. Give me, the customer, an easy way to contact you. Don’t hide your contact information. I’m giving you cash every month; please have the decency to give me your number.
  3. Don’t rely on a contact form: Do you know when a form is a good idea? Only when it makes the customer experience better. If you’re using a form because it came with your support software, or because it makes filtering emails on your side easier, but it doesn’t give the customer a better experience… then stop using it.
  4. Sending me an automatic robot response doesn’t make me feel better: “Oh great!  A computer program knows that I logged a support request! I feel much better.”
  5. Put your best people on support: At our company, everyone does support: the CEO, developers, designers, business people. You want the people that can bring their “A-game” to the customer.