Oct 7, 2003
Comments Off on Servicing the customer is more than answering the phone

Servicing the customer is more than answering the phone

In a post on the Tucows reseller discussion list some points were made that I wanted to deal with in a general sense. This in response to these points generally. This is neither to address Robert or to discourage opinions like these from being offered. The dialogue is very healthy.

The points I wanted to highlight were as follows:

– “…as OpenSRS changes their target market…..”

– “The “service” provided by the reseller under these models is nothing more than marketing and first-level tech support: answering the phone and helping people who have lost their password, etc. That’s it. There’s no way a reseller can debug a mail service problem, for example, and no requirement that they understand how these services work.”

– “I stand by my assertion that this is more like how an affiliate program operates than how “traditional” Tucows resellers operate.”

First, Tucows has in no way shape or form changed our target market. Our target market has always been service providers who offer subscription services over the IP network. We prefer what I refer to as “first-call” service providers, in other words those that their customers most rely on for solving problems and who are they first entity the customer calls when they have a problem.

We have been clear from the beginning that we have always viewed domain names as one of a number of services we wanted to try and make more productive for our customers. This point is fairly Tucows-specific. The other points I would like to make are more about the structure of the xSP marketplace.

Customers for Internet services may be acquired on price (though usually not), but they are always kept on service. The primary Internet services today are access, email, hosting and domain registration. I think the comments above suggest a different view of the customer and what constitutes service than what I believe. In my view, service means helping the customer use a service easily and productively. The more they use the service and the more productively they use the service, the more they will need supporting services and the more they will graduate to additional services. Trust, reliability, dependability.

The statement above that I view as the most dangerous (and I mean dangerous in the sense that it is bad for your business) is

“(t)he “service” provided by the reseller under these models is nothing more than marketing and first-level tech support: answering the phone and helping people who have lost their password”.

This makes the mistake of confusing answering the phones with the totality of customer support and service. Front-line tech support is merely one of a number of elements of truly servicing the customer. Answering tech support calls is to customer service what chemotherapy is to health. It is a treatment when there is already a problem of some seriousness. There is lots of nutrition, exercise and lesser treatments that precede it.

When we at Tucows look at the dollars we spend on technology that provides support they are many times greater than the dollars we spend on people answering the phones. And they have a much higher ROI. The challenge is, especially as a retailer of Internet services, helping people better use services. Let me illustrate with some examples using email. I choose it because we can all agree that email is the most important application for Internet users. It has been around forever and every Internet user needs it.

Now let’s look at usage for a minute. How many of your customers have multiple email addresses? How many have them well managed and forwarded onto one box? Do they have effective spam filters? Are they protected from viruses in mail (both in terms of scanning and understanding what to do and what not to do)? Do they know how to use folders? Do they know how to use filters? How many use yahoo.com or hotmail.com addresses?

The answers to every one of those questions should mean dollars for service providers. Short term and long term. Every one of them leads to retention. Every one of them leads users towards more complex services.

Now let’s come at it a different way. Do you think a retail service provider’s time is better served maintaining a spam filter (and yes we will offer this as a service) on a daily basis or outsourcing that function and spending the time and effort getting the answers to the questions mentioned above? Or even better, addressing the deficiencies once they have the answers?

To me this is obvious. Retailers should focus like a laser beam on acquiring and retaining customers. On marketing and customer service. To trivialize this is, IMHO, to completely misunderstand the value-chain in Internet services. Retailers MUST understand, much better than we do, how their customers use services. We count on them to do that and to be effective filters for that information back to us so that hopefully together we can address customers needs better than any large megaprovider is able to do.

At the end of the day that is the name of the game. Our customers and us combining to provide the best Internet services experience in the industry. Together we do that in domain names and digital certificates today. I think we do it in email for those of you offering it. There will be many more of these services in the future. That is not about competing with you, but about YOU competing with THEM (and we all know who they are).

I must always note that these comments are macro. The “I run an awesome mailserver” point does not need to be made here. You guys are great at what you do. These markets are evolving daily at an amazing pace and we all need to run to keep up.


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