Tag Archives: Customer Service

Learning from TaxACT 4 – I’d Rather be Consistent than Correct

This is my fifth posts in a series “Learning from TaxACT”. In my previous posts I discussed the problems with the usability of their software and I analyzed my email exchange with TaxACT:

Learning from TaxACT 1 – Step by Step Learning from TaxACT 2 – Find the Unasked Questions Learning from TaxACT 3 – The Dangerous Assumption Learning from TaxACT 4 – Leading Away From the Answer

After reading my previous posts you might understand why I got snippy here:

“The information you supplied is not specific enough to resolve my issue and it appears to me that you had enough information to know that before you sent the email if you had taken the time to check your answers.

Issue 1: Getting state tax witholding from royalities on 1099 to appear on the Oklahoma tax form

If you look at my account you can see that I aleady know all of the steps you supplied below. I ave filled out 4 “Federal Supplemental Income and Loss” forms in your system. My specific question is where do I enter the tax withheld from the 1099 Misc so that it will appear as withheld tax on the Oklahoma form. It is definitely royalty income so it should go under that section and not the miscilaneous income. The first item in my account has a royalty income of $20. I entered $10 in the taxes field on the screen “Royalty Income – Expenses – Insurance, Taxes, Utilities” yet this $10 does not appear on the Oklahoma form as witholding.  Please supply the exact steps to get to the screen and the field label for the location where I should enter this $10 that was withheld from my royalities so that that witholding appears on my Oklahoma tax form.

I did try the Misc income and that does have a specific state witholding field and I entered $7 and this does not appear on the Oklahoma form.  There is only 1 field and I need to fill this out for 4 royality companies. I have 4 1099s that I need to enter. So this option does not appear to work either.

Since you said below that I can do it specifically under roaylities section I would like to know how to do that specifically.

Issue 2: You still did not answer my question. The piece you failed to answer is specifically “prior to completing the billing process” I believe I can not view the document until i have paid. How can I report a problem with your service for a refund prior to printing if I can not see the problem until I have to initiate the printing to see if it is correct?”

My Mistakes

Ok, there is no excuse or benefit when you get this snippy. I again left the typos in so you can see what TaxACT had to deal with. In general though this email contains the relevant information. In issue 2 I neglected to mention that they assumed that all issues could be corrected after the printing. That point will have to be addressed later. Let’s see what they were able to do with this flawed email. I also said I entered $7 in a field where I probably entered $5. I also said that that $5 does not appear on the Oklahoma form when I meant to say that it did. Each inaccuracy can cause confusion which increases costs and frustration. It make it hoarded for the customer service person to quickly and accurately provide value. I do expect good customer service people to compensate for the lack of accuracy from customers. They are the professionals in this situation.

The Response

“It appears that you did not follow the instruction completely.  You would enter the total amount of OK withholding in this step.  You entered only $5 and that amount is showing on the OK return on line 42.

To enter state withholding: 1. Log into your TaxACT Online return or start your TaxACT Desktop program 2. Click on the ‘Federal Q&A’ tab 3. Click ‘Form 1099-MISC’ to expand the section and then Click ‘3-Other Income’ 4. Select ‘Form 1040’ and click ‘Continue’ 3 times

The state withholding will transfer to your state return, and this will not prevent you from electronically filing either the federal or state return.

***********************************************************************************************************

Following are instructions for printing the complete return in the TaxACT Online program:

COMPLETE RETURN (and instructions): 1. Click on the Print link at the top right side of the screen. 2. Click on ‘Print Return & Instructions’ 3. Click on ‘Print your Federal Return’ (or ‘Print your State Return)’ 4. Click on ‘Your Federal Return’ (or ‘Your State Return’) to view and/or print the return note: If you see the message “You will need to complete the filing step first” in Step 3 above, then you will need to return to the Filing tab and complete that process far enough to print the return (you do not need to go to the end of the filing steps and submit the return at this time) and then can return here if you need to print the return again. Alternatively you can Click on ‘Preview Federal 1040 (Non-Printable version)’.

Thank you for using TaxACT. Please let us know if you have any further questions.”

Issue #1: Getting state tax withholding from royalties on 1099 to appear on the Oklahoma tax form

They start off with “It appears that you did not follow the instruction completely”. I stated that I wouldn’t follow their instructions because “It is definitely royalty income so it should go under that section and not the miscellaneous income”. It appears to the customer that they are not reading the emails effectively. A better response would be to say “Even though you enter the state witholding under the royalties section which goes on form E, you also need to enter the state withholding under the 1099 Misc section under form 1040 under so it will transfer to the Oklahoma form correctly. Even better they could say “ We will request that this process be reviewed to see if it can be made easier for our customers in the future.” Then they can implement the changes suggested in my first post.

The importance of Consistency

When entering the 1099 information I received under royalties I was directed to add one document online for each form. In other areas where multiple sources exist they provide a button to add up the different sources. Both of these are different conventions to support the same basic need but implemented differently. They taught me these conventions while using their software. The customer service group now expects me to ignore those lessons by assuming that if I have multiple sources that it is obvious that I should add up all the number and put them in that field. If the field that I wan supposed to be entering that data into was under the correctly labeled Royalties section I might have been able to comfortable temporarily ignoring the conventions they taught me. Since the field was on the more generically named Misc form, I now was unsure of my understanding of a complex process and felt I needed direct confirmation. For a business who’s profitability is based on self service consistency is extremely important.  inconsistency increases the likelihood that people will desire costly personal assistance.

Issue #2: Making sure I will gain value before forfeiting the opportunity to get a refund

“Following are instructions for printing the complete return in the TaxACT Online program:” Really? I can not think of a reason why this representative would think I needed to have instructions on how to print a return unless they failed to thoroughly read my email. They had in a previous email told me that I already printer it so it is quit apparent that I have this information already.

They did say “Alternatively you can Click on ‘Preview Federal 1040 (Non-Printable version)” Which is interesting because the point is that I can not view the Oklahoma form. There is no way to view the Oklahoma form in a  non-Printable version. This appears to be another inconsistency without providing value. What are they teaching me about their company?

 

If you can see any other lessons we can learn from this exchange, please put them in the comments of this Blog.

Learning from TaxACT 4 – Leading Away From the Answer

This is my fourth posts in a series “Learning from TaxACT”. In my previous posts I discussed the problems with the usability of their software and I analyzed my email exchange with TaxACT:

Learning from TaxACT 1 – Step by Step Learning from TaxACT 2 – Find the Unasked Questions Learning from TaxACT 3 – The Dangerous Assumption

Here is my next email. Is is self explanatory after reading the previous posts:

“1)The state witholding was not on the retirement distribution. It was on the royalities. I entered information on the taxes for the royalities and nothing appeared on the Oklahoma document.

2) You did not answer the questions “How do I veiw that the field is correctly filled out prior to completing the billing process? ” Please answer all the questions on my email.”

Please continue to ignore the typos. I am copying the emails verbatim. I will try and remember to use spell check. I know how to spell those words. It comes down more to typing speed and quality.

I finally give them enough specific information to solve my problem.

The Response

“Dear TaxACT(R) Customer:

Question 1 For a video presentation of Correcting or Adding Forms W-2 and 1099, please click this link: http://www.taxact.com/tsupport/video/video-tax-topics.asp?sc=081604150409

To enter Royalty income with state withholding: 1. Log into your TaxACT Online return or start your TaxACT Desktop program 2. Click on the ‘Federal Q&A’ tab 3. Click ‘Form 1099-MISC’ to expand the section and then Click ‘2-Royalties’ 4. Make the appropriate selection and click ‘Continue’ 5. The program will proceed with the interview questions for you to enter or review the appropriate information

To enter state withholding: 1. Log into your TaxACT Online return or start your TaxACT Desktop program 2. Click on the ‘Federal Q&A’ tab 3. Click ‘Form 1099-MISC’ to expand the section and then Click ‘3-Other Income’ 4. Select ‘Form 1040’ and click ‘Continue’ 3 times

The state withholding will transfer to your state return, and this will not prevent you from electronically filing either the federal or state return.

Question 2 You will be prompted to print your returns in the ‘Filing’ steps so you can review them.  Then if any changes are necessary you will be able to go back and make the corrections before actually filing.

Thank you for using TaxACT. Please let us know if you have any further questions.”

A Video!

Wow, a video, that is cool. I go and watch the video and it tell me how to get to the forms. I had already filled out both forms so I obviously did not need to know how to get to them. The video does not mention anything about withholding or detail on filling out the forms. Why did they send this to me?

Analysis of this issue taught me a valuable customer service lesson. Any information that does not lead to the answer leads away from the answer. In other areas of customer interaction you are generally trying to impress upon the customer you abilities and depth. Videos can provide an appearance of capabilities beyond their actual value. In customer service about an issue this can backfire as you spent a lot of time you and my time not meeting my needs.

The Misleading Title

You will notice that the first title says “To enter Royalty income with state withholding:” and they state in that section “Click ‘2-Royalties’”. I went through the whole section under Royalties and there is a box for taxes but there is no way to indicate which state they are for no there is no way the data can reliable end up on the Oklahoma form. In actuality this whole section is just as wasteful as the video. It leads away from the answer.

In this case I specifically mentioned that I had already filled out the tax field under the royalty section. They had clear information that this section was useless. It is possible that they did not understand that in their own software that this section did not have state withholding in it at all.

The Hidden Answer

They way to actually accomplish my goal was to follow the third paragraph titles “To enter state withholding:” Which seems reasonable except that it appears to be a subset of the more specific section before “To enter Royalty income with state withholding”. My natural reaction is to avoid issues by entering data in the more specific section. Sure, if that does not work I should then check the less specific section.

I did in fact spend another hour looking through all the fields and found the elusive state withholding field where I can select which state it goes to. But that caused more concerns that I address in my next email

Think About the Worst Case Scenario

Me: “How do I veiw that the field is correctly filled out prior to completing the billing process?”

TaxACT:  “You will be prompted to print your returns in the ‘Filing’ steps so you can review them.  Then if any changes are necessary you will be able to go back and make the corrections before actually filing.”

The neglected to answer my question specifically. It some cases it is best to answer the needs of the customer instead directly answering the question posed. That can work as long as you aren’t making any unfounded assumptions.

It appears that the assumption they are making is that I will “be able to go back and make the corrections before actually filing”. they are neglecting the possibility that their system can not handle the necessary changes. I doubt they would make the changes prior to April 15th. They chose to focus on the best case scenario where a jaded customer will usually be focusing on the worst case scenario. It is possible that they customer service representative could think of even worst case scenarios than the customer did and you don’t want to give the customer even worse ideas. In this case your policies should already take into account the worst case scenarios so they customer never even has the opportunity to consider them.

It Aint over ‘till…

We learned a lot from this exchange. Too bad the problems were not resolved satisfactorily. There will need to be more emails and more money spent.

If you can see any other lessons we can learn from this exchange, Please put them in the comments of this Blog.

Learning from TaxACT 3 – The Dangerous Assumption

This is my third posts in a series “Learning from TaxACT”. In my previous posts I discussed a problem with the usability of TaxACT’s software and I analyzed my first email exchange with TaxACT:

Learning from TaxACT 1 – Step by Step

Learning from TaxACT 2 – Find the Unasked Questions

This post is looking at what else we can learn about how to successfully provide customer service  from the other email exchanges. In my previous post I mentioned that they did not answer some questions that could be derived from my email. This was the next day so I had rested (and received shock treatments for the depression caused by using the TaxACT software.) I chose to not be emotional in the emails and as clearly as i could state the questions I needed answered. I even put numbers next to them to ensure that they were seen as separate points.

I Wrote:

“1) Am I correct that there is no way in your system to enter the data that goes into line 43 (Oklahoma Witholding) of the Oklahoma non-resident form 511NR?

2) How do I veiw that the field is correctly filled out prior to completing the billing process? ”

Wow, I really need to remember to run spellchecking in Gmail. I’m spoiled by Outlook’s automatic spell checking. As mentioned in my previous post. Badly formed questions and bad spelling just discourages the support desk from taking my question seriously. I expect them and anyone working for me to rise above that even though it is the natural response.

Here is their reply:

“If you had state withholding on your retirement distribution, you would enter this information on Form 1099-R as it is shown on the document you received. This information will then flow to Oklahoma Form 511NR, line 42.

To enter state withholding on Form 1099-R:

1. Log into your TaxACT Online return or start your TaxACT Desktop program 2. Click on the ‘Federal Q&A’ tab 3. Click ‘Retirement Plan Income’ to expand the section and then Click ‘IRA, 401(k), and Pension Plan Distributions (Form 1099-R)’ 4. Click ‘Review’ to review a form already created 5. Click ‘Continue’ until you reach the screen titled ‘Retirement Plan Income – State Tax Withheld’

Thank you for using TaxACT. Please let us know if you have any further questions.”

The Assumption

Can you spot the assumption. It may not be apparent unless you work with taxes some. To the customer in the situation it is obvious because he has all the facts. In this case the withholding was not from retirement income but is from royalties. It appears that they were aware they were making an assumption because the began the sentence with “If you had”. They were looking at my documentation otherwise they would not have assume that it was retirement income instead of regular income. They had an opportunity to notice that it was Texas retirement for a Texas resident and I was referring to Oklahoma withholding.

I can not say how many documents in their system handle state withholding. It would be helpful if they could do a quick search on the system to see all the screen with the word withholding. They could then see which appear to apply to my friend. It is possible that there were so many that it would have been cumbersome to put them all in the email. Still, they could list them out just so that I know they are reading my emails intently. They could also say “If the withholding came from another source then let us know and we will assist you further.” Wow, wouldn’t that seem helpful.

They did provide the most likely information in general for this question but not specifically for this customer base on the information they had. They bought themselves another email exchange and risked angering the customer further by following an assumption dogmatically.

The unanswered question

In my previous email they missed an unasked questions. That is common and requires special insight and experience. In this case they neglected a question that was specifically numbered.

“2) How do I veiw that the field is correctly filled out prior to completing the billing process? ”

The typo might make it more visible also. In this case it was completely missed or ignored. Some of the things that anger customers to convince other people to boycott your company are having unfair business practices and ignoring or not reading correspondence. This is a double whammy. They ignored a question about their unfair business practice. I can understand the reluctance of getting into a philosophical debate with a customer over a piece of legal jargon the lawyers suggested to limit liability. End user agreements are generally biased towards the company. That is why it is unfortunate that they led off the last email with it. This also begs for the customer to continue the dialog with another email that will need time to answer.

The costs of this customer keep rising and the customer is encouraged to tell other people to not use your company. It doesn’t appear that TaxACT accomplished any potential cost saving or public relations goals with this email.

If you can see any other lessons we can learn from this exchange, Please put them in the comments of this Blog.

Learning from TaxACT 2 – Find the Unasked Questions

In a previous post ‘Learning from TaxACT 1 – Step by Step’ I discussed my difficulty with filling out the Oklahoma withholding using TaxACT Online. When I got fed up looking around I filled out their online form for support:

“We are using the Oklahoma non resident and there is no way to enter withholding at any point. I have entered data in every frield and each time I go to pront the form the witholding box 43 is always blank. I have paid my $8.00 and I want it back as your system can not perform the required work”

First let me explain. I was very tired after trying to figure out the website for a few hours.  Also, there is no spell check on their form. Here are the mistakes I made:

  • I did not mention that the withholding was from royalties so they did not have all the information to assist me from the start.
  • I demanded a refund without giving them the opportunity to correct my problem first.
  • I didn’t take the time to look over what I was writing and correct spelling and other issues.

It was a failure from the start.  No one wants to give service to an idiot. They get yelled at all day by people with unreasonable expectations. By spelling horribly and not providing sufficient information I led them to think that I am the stereotypical bad customer that can never be pleased. This encourages them to not try and solve my problem.

Here is their response:

“It appears that your federal and/or state returns have been printed. Since this is the case, we will be unable to issue a refund for the charge(s) you are requesting. At the time you created your return, you were asked to consent to our license agreement which did state:

“If the billing steps were completed when e-filing the return online or calling in to our support center and the return was rejected by the IRS and cannot be re-filed, it is the user’s responsibility to contact 2nd Story’s Customer Service Department within 30 days of the original billing date to request a full refund of the fees paid. If a return was printed, there would be no refund issued.”

For your convenience, we have included a link to our Satisfaction Guarantee which is posted on our website:

http://www.taxact.com/company/satisfaction-guarantee.asp?t=6”

Technically, this does answer the simplest interpretation of my request, but, does it meet all the needs of TaxACT or the customer.

Find the unasked questions

One of the principals I discovered by running a help desk was “Find the unasked questions”. The goal is to reduce support costs by looking for any potential reason for the customer to email back and heading it off now instead of later. This principle may have been more important on an internal help desk where most of the time the issue will eventually come back to haunt you.

In the model of TaxACT it is more likely that at this point the customer will give up and go to one of the other online tax preparers. The cost to the customer to change companies is small and email customer service is difficult. TaxACT, in similar, cases may  successfully have lower support costs by making it easier for their customer to go to another company then pursue all their needs. It does take more time to take a moment and read into the customers email for unasked questions. If you lower support costs by not pursuing the unasked questions then you are trading PR and future profits for the saving in support costs. It seems that in most cases the additional time spent in support looking for unanswered questions would be well invested in PR and increased customer retention. It may, on the other hand, increase the retention of high maintenance customers. In a smaller internal support desk looking for unanswered questions has a significant impact on reducing long email chains. In the end, it seems better to do what is right for the customer that use any tactics to weed out undesirables at then expense of public good will.

Here are the questions they missed:

  • How do I enter the Oklahoma withholding in your system
  • Why could I not find how to enter the Oklahoma withholding in your step by step process

They also generated a new questions

  • Why could I not get a refund if the system could not do build my tax form correctly just because I had printed it.

To be clear, viewing the completed form will indicate to TaxACT that I printed the form. There appears to be no way for me to verify that the system build the form correctly before I eliminate the possibility of the refund. Also the refund is not predicated on the providing a valid document. The could deliver garbage and the customer has no recourse.

This email also does one more thing. It enrages the customer. Throwing back a legal statement implies the me that they only want to perform the minimum limits to meet their requirements. They appear to have no desire to do what is logically correct for the customer or even what is best for their company. This type of response is likely to create people passionate about bringing your company down. Wit the extra energy they tend to tell all their friends and write nasty blogs posts (not like this one)

What could have have been done better

They could have simply provided the instruction on where to enter the Oklahoma withholding.

In most cases the customer would enter the data and use the resource and TaxACT might have converted a potential loss of several customers into a customer passionate about using TaxACT. They may gain a few customers.

Addressing the refund question could be handled by stating

“We desire to help you successfully use our product so that a refund will not be necessary.”

The lawyers may say that that does not adequately address the issue and implies that a refund is possible. If forced I might say “It is our current policy to not refund returns that have been printed.” Better yet, I would change the policy. It’s basically unfair to set an arbitrary limit to a refund that is not based on the accuracy or quality of the work provided.

Prevent the issue from reoccurring

Internally, they could track these emails by section and eventually realize that there is a gap in their step by step process. Some development could then reduce inquiries like this. Unfortunately, I did not provide enough information for them to find the actual location of the issue. Based on the quality of their response I find it doubtful that they have a process in place thoughtful enough to prevent this issue from happening again.

Learning from TaxACT 1 – Step by Step

Taxes are complicated. That being obvious said, I have been generally impressed with how in many areas the tax office and the tax software walks you through the process. It can be better though. Case in point, here is my experience with a particular part and how it might be corrected. I have a friend using TaxACT online Deluxe to do their 2009 taxes. She receives oil royalties from mineral rights in Oklahoma. The oil companies withholds taxes and sends them to the Oklahoma. She lives in Texas. I walked through the “Step by Step Guidance” and I found no place to enter the taxes that were withheld in Oklahoma. After several email exchanges with TaxACT Taxpayer Support Services I received the instructions below:

To enter state withholding: 1. Log into your TaxACT Online return or start your TaxACT Desktop program 2. Click on the ‘Federal Q&A’ tab 3. Click ‘Form 1099-MISC’ to expand the section and then Click ‘3-Other Income’ 4. Select ‘Form 1040’ and click ‘Continue’ 3 times

It appears that the Step by Step instructions left out several steps. The problem is actually a little bigger than leaving a step out. It looks like there is a conceptual problem here. In the tax act software the original questions are arranges based on what you want to (update royalty information) but at some point in the logic you choose the form that the data goes into . Because during the walk through I chose royalty income which led me to the federal form for royalty income  which had a section for taxes paid but did not have a place for state tax withholding. they don’t collect the data. I had to know to enter the remaining data not collected in the 1099-Misc for selecting the 1040. In effect the usability kept me from valuing their produce. They expected me to think in terms of where the data should end up in the final destination when they should be focused on how the customer thinks about the information. The step by step led me away from where to put in my data instead of to it. This is a tricky situation though as you have several levels of users. Experienced tax preparers know where they want to put the data. Even in a few cases I knew where I wanted the data to go but could not find where to put it because that section was by the source.

I would suggest:

Refactoring the interface to clearly separate the process into three different paths; by Destination, by Source, and by category. To do that you would need to have mapping between all the possible sources and destinations and categories. It might also be good to ensure that you can jump from one path to another. The current interface seems to switch back and forth assuming a certain path. For example I choose that I received the information on the 1099 form (Source) then I have to choose royalties from the list (category) then it asks me which form I am putting it on (destination) which is ‘Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Loss’. Some of the data from this source goes on several other forms including the Oklahoma tax form. There is no way to directly access the Oklahoma form (destination). You must fill out the state withholding on the 1040 (another destination) which you must access through the 1099-Misc (a source).  I have to understand all three (sources, categories, and destinations)  to navigate the step by step.

What did we learn?

The goal of this blog is not to be a tirade against bad companies. This blog is a too to convert real world failures to learning opportunities for everyone. In this case we really need to get into our customers shoes and not just one. You should create several identities and think about what they know and what they are looking for. From the side of a developer or a tax prepared the existing process may seem correct and reasonable. From what appears to be a large swath of customers it is down right frustrating. Do you have any other suggestions to making the customer experience better? You can try out the TaxACT website for free at TaxACT.com . I would like to see your opinions in the comments below.

Your Technical Blog’s Temporal Context is importantYour Technical Blog’s Temporal Context is important

As I have been reading blogs I have found some things that would have helped me so I thought I would write up some rules that I am planning on following to be polite to others. Temporal Context is Important Any coding problem can be solved with an additional internet search (which will probably suggest an abstraction). What is exceedingly frustrating is when I have to manually filter through hundreds of outdated technical articles on old technologies. I have heard people say that their blog is a snapshot in time and they don’t go back and update it. I would prefer some short edits to lead you reader to more relevant data when they happen on a historical page and they aren’t looking for history. Display a date prominently on the top of the post: Nothing is more frustrating than reading an article in depth and not realize until half way through that it is several years old when it refers to some outdated technology. I ran across a lot of windows 3 articles the other day while researching multiple monitors screen captures. They all greatly slowed down my progress. List your software versions at the beginning of the article: That will keep your reader from having to guess what version you are referring to then they can decide if they want to research the differences between what your version and theirs. With betas and RCs lasting longer and longer it’s difficult to know by date what version you were on. This was extremely difficult when researching silverlight and WPF code there were a lot of breaking changes during the beta’s and much of the code I found recently would not work and was completely wrong. I had no way of knowing they were referring to beta versions until I stumbles across the change logs for releases. Go ahead and update your post: Imagine a world where you are using a search engine and you get hundreds of documents on your topic and you don’t know when they refer to. You are happy though because at the top of each post you can quickly see if it has been superseded by new information or is no longer likely valid. Many of the posts link to newer information so you can quickly follow up the trail to see what you are looking for. I’m not saying you have to update every post every week. Consider this concept, blog posts are like code. As long as they are in production someone is responsible for them. If you can redirect your reader to someone else or a newer post then your post is not longer in production. A simple redirect. In this way instead of being an obstruction to your reader your old outdated post can live on providing value in perpetuity by being part of the past to success. Once you add a redirect to another resource or post with newer information then you can close the post from future updates. Reviewing each post around it’s anniversary would not take long. Many of them you do not need to review because you closed them with a redirect. Now that’s not too hard. Tell me what else bothers you when you are trying to use technical blogs posts so we can make all of our lives better.

What is the Quality of your Quality Survey?

I just finished a chat session with a customer service group and I received this survey. I started to fill it out then I got confused.

image

I had ordered a product and a week later the status said it was still waiting to be fulfilled. I was disappointed that the agent I was chatting with could not help me with my issue. They said that “As I am an online chat representative I do not have access to customer information due security purpose.” So apparently the website I entered my credit card info in a week ago was not secure enough for them to look up my personal data. I wanted to rate the information I received from my agent as poor as they could not answer my questions. The options I had to rate the response was Excellent, good, Fair, Yes no No. Wait, Yes and No? In case it’s not obvious at first glance, the last two options are Yes and No which appears to only apply to the last two questions. I suppose that means Excellent, Good and Fair apply to the first two questions only.

Lessons Learned

The goal here is not to complain but to learn. If I use my feelings and experiences as a customer to mold my business acumen, then what can I learn from this encounter?

Measuring quality requires as much or more quality than what you are measuring

This survey is not of enough quality to provide value. People quickly filling out the survey may not read the last two labels. They may either assume a strait 5 point scale or when they get to the third question they may have to start over. Not knowing which path the customer followed puts any conclusions based on the responses suspect. If only 1 in 25 people responds to a survey the any misunderstanding is multiplied 25 times.Without the quality in the survey you have wasted everyone’s time in putting it out there.

Keep it easy

I believe passionately in providing feedback but even I was reluctant to fill out this form. It took twice as long as it should have. So I really want to spend my time helping out this company. It’s hard to convince people to fill out an online customer service survey. It stands to reason that anything that makes it confusing or difficult will reduce the number of responses further skewing the statistics. I bet that spending extra thought on the survey would have resulted in a higher response rate which would probably increase the accuracy.

Allow the negative

I can only speculate why Fair appeared to be the lowest score on the scale. It is possible that they assumed I would use the Yes and No columns to show anything less that fair. They may also wish to spare their customer service representative the heartbreak of receiving a negative review. There might be something else I am missing.

As a customer, I felt like I was being asked to lie. In a situation where I am trusting them with my credit card number I want to be able to trust the company. If they want me to lie to them then I can only believe they will lie to me. Giving me negative options would give me a more positive feeling regardless of whether I was please or displeased with the service I received.

Don’t use Security as an excuse

As a customer I was alarmed to hear someone tell me that they can not access my personal data on a online chat on the same website where I just entered all that personal data and just viewed it again just before the chat. From a customer point of view a communication method is either secure or it is not.  From a technical standpoint, any reason why the chat is insecure appears to be a limitation on their software implementation. The phone is a far less secure technology in many ways. I can’t imagine the cost of providing a secure chat session is higher than the cost of the loss of business when telling you web based customer that the web is not a secure place to do business.

In the End

I did as I would want someone to do for me and took the time to indicate in the comments a clear impression of my call. I also provided feedback on the quality of the survey. This is really benefiting them and I hope the take it that way.

Technically, the last question is not written in the same form as the others but that is splitting hairs and I’m starting to sound bitter. Comment below if you see any other lessons we can learn from this encounter.

Crowd Funding by Software Feature

crowd I have donated to several open source programs that I use regularly. I would also like to develop some open source items but I’m spending all my time making money. I like the idea that software could be mostly free (no cost) and open so people can see and enhance it when necessary. A common open source funding model is to charge for support. This may deemphasize quality as your funding increases as you develop more complicated, buggy and low usability software. Open source with donations on the other hand is difficult as there is little incentive to donate.

I suggest a software funding model where you have a feature list and allow people to donate money and vote for the features they want. The more money donated the more votes they have. I haven’t seen this done yet but I just did a few Bing searches.

Benefits

  • Increased donations as there is a perceived future value to the donation.
  • Encourages quality code and design as support problems reduce the profit of the developer.
  • Greater customer involvement

Disadvantages

  • Eliminates exponential profit. Sometimes you can create an item and sell a number of units that far outweigh the cost or original design. On the other hand, with crowd feature funding, the developer’s profit is linear to the amount of work. You will make a good living but you most likely will not get obscenely rich. This may be a benefit for some altruistic people.

What is the first application that should be funded this way? I would do a website so that software developers can crowd fund their features. Anyone interested?

If you know that this has been done please let me know in the comments

Tell them when (Support Desk, Customer Service)

My first support desk tip is to always tell your customer when you will get back to them. I know, that sounds impossible. How can I know how long it will take if I haven’t even looked that the problem yet? How can I tell them when the 2nd level support or worse a vendor will get back to me?

Customer Viewpoint

The customer has even less of an idea that you do about how long this issue will take. This is (hopefully) the first and (hopefully) the last time they will ever encounter this issue. You do this sort of thing all day long. You might even have access to information on how long this type of issue might take. If they don’t know when they are going to be contacted next then every minute of every day they are wondering if they should call you. Maybe they should just call to make sure it didn’t get lost in all the other issues. I have personally contacted support desks to only find out they had lost the issue or no one was working on it because someone left the company.

You don’t have to tell them when the issue will be solved. You just need to tell them when you will have an update for them. The update could be as little as “I haven’t heard from the 2nd level support”. Although, in that case I would suggest you follow up with: “I checked with them and they are still working on it. We will provide an update by…”

Benefits to the customer:

  • Reduced stress for your customers: Once they know you will get back to them at a certain time they can put it on their calendar and move on.

Benefits to the support desk:

  • Reduces phone calls or emails: The customer will know not to contact you until the next update.
  • Fewer lost issues: Now that there is a set time to respond to a customer it’s a lot easier to know when you need to take actions on existing issues.
  • Higher satisfaction scores: If you reduce their stress by setting expectations they will feel better about your organization and rate you higher.

Tips for implementing this suggestion

  • Tell them when on every communication: Consistency is reliability. Once you begin this if you leave off an update time you can expect an immediate request for one. Make it part of your process.
  • Make meeting the deadlines your top priority: You loose all the benefits of this suggestion if you don’t actually update them by the suggested date and time.
  • Implement some standard text: This will allow for a consistent message and reduce confusion.
  • Use an actual time: People will get antsy if you tell them “end of day”. Is that 5PM pr midnight? It’s better for everyone if you have an exact time.
  • Be early: It is impossible to send out a communication on time. Expect to send it out early.
  • Don’t wait if something comes up: If you get an update send it out immediately as usual. If they feel you are holding information until the next update they will be tempted to call and check up on it reducing the value of this suggestion.

Suggested text

“We will provide an update by 5 PM December 7, 2008”.

Short and to the point

I would really appreciate your feedback on this suggestion. I would also like to have feedback on formatting or organization suggestions if you see any. Let’s build this world up together.

Whom do you serve? (Support Desk, Customer Service)

My wife recently had a conversation with her coworkers and mentioned how she “serves” me. They seemed shocked at her statement. They said they would never use that word in reference to their husband. Even after my wife mentioned that I also serve her and speak about it in that way they were unconvinced. Maybe they were correct. According to Merriam-Webster the etymology of the word “service” is “from Latin servitium: condition of a slave”. I still believe that I am here to serve other people.

I would like to share and discuss some of my observations about customer service in hope that it might serve you. Some of the modern definitions that apply to this conversation include “contribution to the welfare of others ” and “a helpful act “. I learned this first hand as a customer service agent at a large all center. On my very first night I had an angry customer on the phone and they ask to speak with the highest ranking person at my company right now. I stood up, looked carefully around then said that I was that person. As usual the newest person got the worst shift and no one else was around. I don’t recall how that call ended but I do remember many guests ending my calls by saying that the may not go to the specific branch where they had the problem but they would use my company again due to how we handled their situation. A problem is a defining moment in a customers experience. It can make a lifelong relationship as much as break it.  It’s an opportunity for greatness.

More recently, I have been managing a small support desk. We support technology that we developed and software from several vendors. I have now had years of experience in working through help desks trying to get issues resolved. It is truly maddening. I have gathered some best practices and rules of thumb for both using and running support desks. I searched the web and I could not find any real good free sources for help when starting a support desk. I had to learn my lessons the hard way. Maybe you won’t have to.

I am also looking for more ideas. There are lots of people in this position all over the world. Please join in the conversation in the comments below. Please post any online sources you are aware of. I would also like to know if you have any questions or situations that you would like help with. I may not have the answer but I bet someone else out there does.