Is great customer service the entire customer experience?
I’ve been working with accounting technologies for a long time, and much of that time and activity has been focused on online accounting models and solutions. The Authorized Hosting Program for QuickBooks is a good example of the type of service model that’s garnered a lot of attention over the past couple of years, particularly since desktop QuickBooks editions continue to be the accounting solutions of choice for new and growing small businesses, even as those businesses look to leverage the cloud for remote and mobile access to business information. But hosted QuickBooks delivery models vary tremendously from provider to provider, so how does an accounting professional or their client business owner know which service will suite them best?
At the surface, most of the QuickBooks hosting services available today look pretty much alike. In concept, they are, but in reality the technology each provider elects to deploy makes a big difference in the experience of the hosted service user. Some deployment models require a lot of 3rd party software to make the service work, and some providers have constructed their own “black box” technology to make the delivery possible. The result is a wide variety of service models and delivery approaches, some of which may perform better or offer more functionality than others. But these details are often difficult to discern when evaluating the various provider deliveries, so most folks simply resort to pricing comparisons. Unfortunately, this isn’t really the best way to measure the quality of the provider or the service. There’s still some truth to the old adage that “you get what you pay for”, even when a service has become commoditized in the market. On the other hand, just because a service is more expensive doesn’t mean it is better.
It is often difficult to get prospective customers to see or understand the technical nuances of any given hosted delivery, so many service providers are trying to find other ways to set themselves apart from the competition. One approach that’s become quite popular is to tout the availability and quality of the customer service offered by the provider. While I do believe that quality customer service should be available for subscribers at all times, I also recognize a bit of a problem with this marketing approach.
To illustrate the problem, I’ll describe a conversation I had with a hosted client last year.
This particular client was with an engineering firm, and the company was subscribing to hosting services for a variety of Microsoft applications, including MS Project (not that it matters, really). Anyway, this client called me up one day just to chat about something that was frustrating him, and that was an issue of irregular system performance. Sometimes it was really speedy, and sometimes things would slow down to a crawl and nobody seemed to know why. He said that he and his team members had been regularly in contact with the support department, and that the support team was always cheerful, helpful, and willing to work with them to find out what the issue might be. Unfortunately, they didn’t find anything, and suggested that the client continue to contact them when there was a problem. This went on for quite a number of months, and the client continued to be frustrated with the service performance but quite pleased with the support response. Then he told me a story.
He said that he used to have a Mercedes, and he loved that car. It was beautiful and fun to drive, and yes, pretty expensive. The car had frequent issues, and for this reason he got to know the guys at the Mercedes dealership really well. He knew all of their names, and they knew his. He even sent them Christmas cards every year. He couldn’t have wished for a nicer group of people to service his vehicle.
Then he bought a Toyota. He really liked this new car, too. It was fun to drive, sporty, and a little more affordable than the Mercedes was. This car didn’t need nearly as much maintenance as the previous one, and he had far fewer problems with it. He never got to know the names of the guys in the service department at the Toyota dealership, because he didn’t go there very often. When he did, the service was fast and courteous – pretty much what he expected. But the best part was that he didn’t become closely acquainted with the dealership service team, because the car just worked.
You know those car commercials on TV, where the sales person is telling the customer about how great the warranty on the vehicle is? Yeah – the one where the customer wants to know if they should buy a good car, or buy a car with a good warranty. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
When you’re looking for a hosting service provider to deliver QuickBooks and other desktop software to you via the cloud, remember that great customer service is only part of the puzzle. The best solution is the one that just works, and doesn’t leave you needing a lot of support.
Are you on a first name basis with your hosting support team? You might want to think about why that is.