Buying Software – Secrets they don’t want you to know: The “guarantee”

I’ve been in application solutions for manufacturing since the 1970′s.  I’ve sold mainframes; I’ve defined packages for sale on Minicomputers; I’ve been in marketing and support; and I’ve spent years working alongside customers installing and supporting MES systems.

It really irks me when I see an otherwise very intelligent customer get bamboozled by marketing hype, and spend millions of dollars on the wrong solution!  So I am breaking with the magicians’ union (so to speak) and will share with you over the next several blog posts some of the secrets that, once you know, can help you make better decisions on software solutions.

I will share with you strategies and anecdotes that may help you in your decision process.

Certainly if you are dealing with a smaller company, you are important to them.   I can tell you that every customer that QIC supplies is important to us.  Our large multi-plant implementations are extremely important to us.  Our single plant, single line customers are just as important. If we guarantee something, we will make good.  We can’t afford to lose the customer, or go to court.

But when you are dealing with a huge vendor, the same is not necessarily true.  If you have invested millions of dollars and years of employee time in a new ERP system, are you really going to sue the huge multinational software vendor that guaranteed it would work?  They have deeper pockets, specialized software savvy lawyers, and probably have covered themselves 10 ways in the various correspondence and contracts.  And you have a business to run, and a disaster to recover from.  Unless you are hooked on the principle, you will back off and lick your wounds.

I have heard so many stories about software purchases, ranging from misleading information to outright lies and impossible guarantees.  And it happens to everyone.  When we upgraded our CRM software, we upgraded from a package we had been using successfully for 10 years.  We upgraded to get 4 new features that were crucial to us.  We were guaranteed these features worked great.

What happened?  The features were there, but didn’t work properly.  We paid the support fees because the next release was going to fix the problems.  We stopped paying for support when the 4 calls we made about these problems were still open issues years later!  Now, almost 10 years later, apparently the next release fixes two of the issues.  We are changing to another CRM that has the functionality.  We went from a huge supporter of the software to its biggest detractor… but that doesn’t help us with the solution.

Unfortunately, some salespeople lie. In our experience, the leaders in software seem to be “fact challenged” more than many of their competitors.  Maybe this is how they got big? Or maybe it is because the salesperson at the huge software company does not have the intimate product knowledge found in a smaller company.

Is there a solution?  Sure, and ths is how you can reduce the risk.   You need to know your supplier and trust them to have your best interests at heart.  Deal with salespeople who will still be there AFTER the sale, and not fob you off on “a team of specialists” (which is a euphemism for “got your money, goodbye”).  Look for answers like “I don’t know, but I will find out for you”;  “what do you mean by….” ;  and “there are a couple of ways we can address that”, and “No, I am sorry we don’t do that”.   These all indicate that the salesperson knows your issue, knows her product, and wants to be sure that her information is correct.   The most dangerous words you can hear are “Sure, no problem”….  “that is coming in the next release”….

Or my favourite from a software demo given to a candy company “pretend your candies are car parts…..”

What ever happened to “Customer Service”

“For service in English, press 1”

“For support on easy stuff press one, for support on tough stuff press 2…..”

“Your call is important to us…. We are experiencing higher than normal call volume …  You are in priority sequence.. the average wait time is 60 minutes”.

What ever happened to calling, speaking to a real human being, and getting an answer in a few minutes?  I called a hardware company for a simple question and went through literally, 20 minutes of answering various questions before I could talk to someone.  I called to change an airline ticket and was told that the wait time was 60 minutes.  I called my ISP for support when my connection timed out, and after getting  routed  to 4 different people, the supposed specialist said to me “what do you want, I am just a first line technician?” The next specialist said “why did they send you here, I am in California  [I was in Las Vegas] , but let me see if I can call your local dispatcher”.

I have tried using those “Live Chat” functions on vendor web sites.  I have had good experiences and bad – from “the doctor is out” messages to reasonably competent people… but spending 30-60 minutes to get an answer to a simple question is a waste of my time.

My insurance company messed up some policies so I called the “hot line”.  I was not permitted to talk to the same person as I spoke to the last time, so I had to explain the intricacies again from step one, endure the same sometimes inane questions again, and eliminate the same attempts to resolve again… finally I just cancelled the policies.

And have you ever tried to talk to a supervisor?  That just doesn’t happen.  For most companies, the “contact us” is more of an exercise in ”what-to-do-so-you-don’t-have-to-contact-us” .…  Wading through pages and pages of FAQ’s followed by a “Was that helpful?” is generally NOT helpful.

What ever happened to calling the person you know that can solve the problem?

At QIC we are, I guess, a bit old-fashioned for a hi-tech company:  We actually answer the phone – the only automated question is whether you want sales, support, or the company directory.  Clients can talk to someone who can listen and help – Someone they know, who knows them and their technical expertise, and knows the applications to  answer the question right away.  Simple, right?

We have also tried to respond to customer requirements with Annual Support Plans tailored to their unique requirements.

You can see our variations at

Sometimes old-fashioned is not all bad.

Customer Service

Ok.  Let’s be clear.  Everybody screws up.  Even you.  Yes, even me!  It is what one does to make it right that is “customer service”; not what is printed on your list of corporate values.

The objective of every business should be to ensure that every client is satisfied.  Sure there are some customers who will never be happy, but in the words of Purdue Chicken “when the Customer is wrong, refer to Rule #1 (the Customer is always right!)”.  For every customer who takes advantage, there are 100 who will translate your commitment to them into loyalty.

When QIC makes a mistake, we try to make it up at least two-to-one.   If the client doesn’t believe that they got full value from a day of our services, we give them 2 additional days, or give them one and refund them one, as an example.   We do a customer survey after every client visit, and immediately address any concerns.  And, as you would expect, 99.999% are glowing reviews.  Hopefully this makes for 100% happy customers, but even I am not that naïve.

We believe that we get the highest return from a dollar spent on customer service.   Most of our business comes from customer referrals.  You can’t buy that kind of advertising.  (Or maybe you can, by investing in good customer service.)

And yet, in today’s marketplace, true commitment to customer satisfaction doesn’t seem commonplace.  As a cynic, I would say that the commitment is to the “spin” of customer satisfaction, not the actual achievement thereof.

It seems that with the systemization of customer service, the objective has become “make the customer go away as soon as possible and convince her that we are in the right”.  If you haven’t already, watch Outsourced  [].  I confess, QIC provides some of the tools that allow that level of analysis, monitoring, and scoring.  But don’t blame the tool – those same tools can be used to get to root cause, and drive improvement, treating the disease, and not just the symptoms.

When your customer takes the time to write you a letter, or telephones, or emails, that is a positive thing.  They are taking the time to help you – their business partner – to improve your product or service.  Seize the day and thank that customer.  Make them feel wanted and valued.  Often it costs almost nothing to do so.   (If it does, see my comments above about “Can’t buy that kind of advertising”.) But it is becoming commonplace to ignore customer correspondence.  The worst situation is when the customer doesn’t complain and gives you no opportunity to correct.  When they leave, you have no idea why; and can’t improve.

The most effective way to deal with customer problems is not to follow a flowcharted script; it is the time-proven “put yourself in the customer’s shoes” and follow the Golden Rule – treat her as you would want to be treated, or even better.  You cannot win a “not my fault” argument with a customer. Why would you want to – you might think you won a battle, but you will certainly be well on your way to losing a war – with a customer.

I wrote the President of my golf club expressing my (valid of course) reasons for not renewing my membership.  Instead of a response, I received an email from accounts payable telling me to sign a form allowing them to charge my credit card for anything that may show up late.  Kinda reinforced my decision to leave!  A month later the Club Pro called to personally express his concern and ask how they could have kept me – he listened, apologized, and told me what they had done and were doing to fix things.  Almost made me go back; but too little, too late.

In my experience, the typical first response to a customer complaint is a condescending “oh I am sure we are not wrong, you are just not smart enough to understand…” or words to that effect.  Try correcting a blatant error made by a bank!  In my experience, banks and credit card companies make many more mistakes than they used to.  But since they are made by computer, they can’t possibly be real mistakes.

My former cell provider gets so many complaints directed to the President that they named a customer service group: “the Office of the President” – that way the President himself doesn’t have to deal with pesky customers.  Complaints are often met with the “you just don’t understand” followed closely by “pay up or else”.  Specific questions are often ignored; it is almost impossible to get anything in writing – everything is by telephone [“if it ain’t in writing it never happened” my Pappy used to say.]  If they do eventually promise to fix a mistake (usually as a “courtesy” not because they screwed up, of course), it sometimes “falls through the cracks” and one has to start all over again.  There is nothing worse, from a customer’s perspective, than promising to fix something, and then not doing it.    On a per-incident basis, the money is usually so small, and the effort to resolve so long and intense, that customers can’t be bothered.  But they do vote with their wallets.  After 30 years, I finally changed.

But the pièce de résistance was the paving contractor who, after my driveway sunk 5 months later, told me the 2 year guarantee meant he had 2 years to fix it!

Even though QIC’s support often revolves around technical issues, many of which are too subtle even for seasoned IT professionals, we work hard to get a solution to every question.  Many of our support calls have root causes that are found in the infrastructure and supporting software configurations.  It is difficult not to laugh sometimes when something that has worked 24/7 for 10 years suddenly stops working – but the customer swears NOTHING has changed – not hardware, updates, operating systems, security profiles, network components … nothing.  It is also amazing how much havoc a network patch cord that has been subjected to stress can cause; how hard that is to track down; and how much harder it is to convince the user that such a simple solution solves such a seemingly complex problem.

But the reason for the support call is not the issue. The most important thing to remember is that the customer needs service and deserves our serious attention to the issue.

We answer every call immediately, because “your call <really> is important to us”.  Nothing percolates frustration like waiting in voice-mail-hell to get an answer to what the client perceives as a problem.  We may not have the answer immediately (although 88% of the time we do because the person responding actually knows the products), but we can at least start the analysis immediately.

QIC works every customer issue as if it were 100% our fault and our responsibility.  This is about getting the customer a solution – not fixing blame to a third party.  That is what we believe “customer service” means.

If more organizations saw the payback in sincere attention to the customer, as Sam Cooke says, “what a wonderful world that would be” (and how much more profitable to those service driven companies).