Train Support Staff Beyond Knowledge Level of Customers

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Customer ServiceWhen providing a support service it’s absolutely critical that you train at least some of your staff to the knowledge level of your most knowledgeable customer. A recent issue with TimelessTime phones brought this starkly to the fore.

TimelessTime makes use of a mobile service that takes landlines and rings cellphones. It means that we get calls wherever we are and even if the office landlines are busy. It worked well – that is until the local cell site went off air with a fault. The mobile network operator (MNO) couldn’t say when it would be back on air and gave us a local cell site device (known in the industry as a femto-cell) that uses our own broadband connection to provide service to mobiles in the office. Great solution – but like most businesses with professional IT, we have an enterprise quality firewall. This doesn’t support uPnP, the feature in domestic quality systems to allow devices to grasp and set up the paths needed. uPnP is considered insecure. So the cell device couldn’t access the MNO server.

Problems like this happen, so you just get on the phone to the MNO’s support line. In our case their first line support gave stories like “you just have to wait for the device to connect”. Initially the time we were told was one hour, then two, then six, then twenty four hours. We are now on day three without telephone service, having waited what seems like over ten hours on the MNO’s helpline and something like thirty six hours looking at blinking lights on the device. After moaning we got to the second tier support folk who said that we had to contact our ISP to get a static IP address and to have ports forwarded for the device. OK, close but not quite. Port forwarding is done in our firewall.  Nothing to do with the ISP. Likewise a static IP address is assigned to a device MAC address in our router. First we got one list of ports from MNO support, then another. No-one on the MNO’s support staff could say definitively what we had to do but one stupidly suggested that we had to open all ports on the firewall (inviting the whole world in).

We did the port forwarding and static IP address. It still didn’t work.

Then the MNO level two support specialists for the femto-cell said we had to be sure to communicate with our ISP using the PPPoA protocol. They couldn’t say why , but just that it couldn’t be PPPoE. That was logical. All communications using ADSL uses PPPoA, so no problem there. We eventually twigged that we were communicating via PPPoE from modem to firewall. Why that mattered to the femto-cell is anyone’s guess and why it might be an issue is an engineering mystery.

We could go on.  There’s a saga around the PPPoA discussion too.

All the while we were accessing an MNO-sponsored support forum – and there were hundreds of threads about the same problem. There were some very bright mobile users discussing what had to be done. Right down into the frame structures of the communication between MNO server and local router, and from router to femto-cell device. And every so often the MNO’s support staff chipped in lamely with “most folk don’t have a problem” and then embarrassingly repeated the firewall and router settings, without understanding what they were saying.

So what’s wrong with this sorry five-day saga?

First, when adopting a product, assign a product manager and have the product manager set up the whole customer interface properly. Then train the support staff. Avoid having call centre support staff read from screens. They must, must, must know what they are talking about and when to escalate to a specialist. The tier two specialists must be trained to provide detailed support – not just quoting myth. And critically, when it goes into the weeds and the customers clearly know more that the tier two staff, escalate again to the third party supplier’s support engineers and potentially to their design engineers. Don’t just have the support staff repeat the same guff.

So as a business what can you learn from this? Don’t have your support staff looking stupid, talking nonsense to customers and posting lame posts on forums. All this hugely damages your brand. Invest in quality staff and train them or else you lose customers and both top line and profits suffer.

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