Small is sometimes best

software problems cartoonSometimes the big boys can learn something from the little fish in the software world, especially as regards customer service. Recently I experienced two rather different sides of this coin – one from a small developer called Crossloop and the other from Microsoft.

Crossloop produce an application that allows you to access another desktop remotely and help someone with technical problems. After using the program, I used an automatic form to report the only problem I had with it: a painfully slow time lag on mouse movements when sharing the other person’s desktop. Crossloop responded with a friendly personal e-mail from one of their developers saying:

I will have tech support look into your environment and maybe help you speed it up a little.

Compare this to a problem I had with accessing my MSN Live Mail. A customer service agent at Microsoft sent me a generic list of standard instructions (make sure your cache is clear, cookies enabled etc.) I replied explaining that it still didn’t work. The agent responded with:

Nicholas, I suggest that you try to access your Windows Live Mail account using a different Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Despite the fact I knew it would make absolutely no difference, I tried to access my Live Mail via a friend’s ISP. The problem persisted and I informed the agent. I never heard back from him.

There’s a lesson to be learnt here for small and big developers alike. The response I received from Microsoft confirmed my preconceptions about them being a software behemoth that enjoys such market dominance, it cares little about customer satisfaction. The response from Crossloop guaranteed my loyalty to that product despite there being various alternatives to the service out there.

For those interested, developer Joel Spolsky gives some great tips on how to provide quality customer care in the software field. He perceptively points out that:

Almost every tech support problem has two solutions. The superficial and immediate solution is just to solve the customer’s problem. But when you think a little harder you can usually find a deeper solution: a way to prevent this particular problem from ever happening again.

The problem, he continues, has much to do with outsourcing product support:

It’s crucial that tech support have access to the development team. This means that you can’t outsource tech support: they have to be right there at the same street address as the developers, with a way to get things fixed.

I got the distinct impression that the customer service agent at Microsoft was operating completely anonymously from the developers at Live Mail while it was obvious that the Crossloop developer was part of the team. The moral of the story? Expand your company with care and remember who your customers are!

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