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As an active user of technology, I hate bad support and poor customer service. Just last week, I had to get support from a major vendor. It was easy to get a salesperson, but harder to get a support person, something which always baffles me (what, I’m not as important after I’ve bought the product than I was before?).

If I walk into a business and see some sign which says “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on ours”, or a “suggestion box” shaped like a grenade, I walk right out, and you should too.

We hate bad support. We refuse to install those wretched IVR systems (we use these antiquated things called “people” to pick up the phone); we refuse to outsource our support overseas; and our entire senior management team (including me) is available directly to interact with customers. I also don’t hire MBAs for management positions, unless they had a very poor GPA in school (ok, that’s a joke… well, mostly).

Surprisingly, it’s not as expensive to give great support as one might think, and from a bottom-line standpoint, good support helps the P&L through the tough times (by keeping customers loyal) and makes the better times better (by getting you more customers). Support is something that can be quantified, and made into pigeonholes, and therein lies the problem: It’s easy to sort support metrics into various chunks that can be easily outsourced, thus “saving” money for the company (reference above statement about MBAs).

Having worked in the industry for many years, I’ve been in those senior level discussions about “the cost of support”. There seems to be some idea that “support costs need to be controlled”. It’s an easy department to pick on, because the effects of bad support aren’t necessarily felt by senior management (unlike the effects of a bad sales department).

True, cost control is key in any company, but being a CEO is kind of like being a symphony conductor — you have many different components, and all need to work together efficiently and correctly to make, well, a decent sound.

Support is part of the broad holistic system, a gestalt, that makes up a company. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to senior managers, because it’s obvious that great support alone doesn’t guarantee success (look at Wordperfect, a company with some of the greatest support ever, and now practically in the grave). But if you want the whole machine to work right, you have to have great support, you have to have great products, you have to have a great sales team, a great marketing team… you get the picture.

Some starry-eyed managers pump their fists about “great support”. Well, that’s good, but it’s a bit more than that. Good support has to be part of the fabric of a company. It’s something that has to be lived and breathed.

It also helps if you only hire good, decent, nice people. That sounds a bit like a Hallmark card, but it’s kind of a basic thing in a business. Nothing is ever perfect in any company — people make mistakes, things break, someone trips over a power cord and takes down the server room, etc. — but good, decent, nice people are the glue that will keep it all going in the right direction.

In the end, here’s a simple answer to the problem: Vote with your pocketbook. That goes for all the companies out there, mine included. We all should have our feet to the fire to do the right thing.

Alex Eckelberry