Category Archives: Tech Support and Customer Service

Articles about tech support and customer service, at Ilium Software and beyond.

Support and Sunrocket Alternatives

sunrocket goes belly-up, suggests we try teleblend. who?Like everyone else who used Sunrocket as their VIOP provider, I’m now looking for a replacement service, as they’ve just announced that they’ve stopped their service. And because I went to Sunrocket in the first place because Vonage customer service was so bad, I’m spending a lot of time reading reviews of other VOIP providers.

I like the convenience of having phones all around my house – it’s a small house and I have 6 phones, and still have a hard time finding one when it rings – so going cell-only, while an option, isn’t my first choice. And I briefly worked for our local phone company once, and will do almost anything to never give them any money again. So finding a VIOP provider I don’t mind (I don’t even have to like them, just not find them too objectionable) would be the best option for me.

But reading the comments on the review boards – wow. I may go cell-only just because I don’t want to give money every month to a company that doesn’t treat me decently. It’s why I canceled Vonage in the first place, and is the sole reason I’m not going back to them. I don’t need all that many features (though will admit I enjoy number blocking quite a bit, and would like a less-expensive plan with limited minutes, since I never use many) but I will not knowingly sign up with a company that doesn’t tell me the truth, or whose representatives don’t have the knowledge or authority to fix my problem or even to connect me with someone who does. I just won’t – I don’t want to support that kind of business model if I absolutely don’t have to. I don’t fly Northwest (if I can possibly avoid it) for the same reason – I just don’t want to give money to people who treat me that badly.

So this decision really comes down to support, for me, since I do have the luxury of not getting VOIP or a landline at all, and of taking my time to make up my mind. There are several providers who have the features I want and a decent price, and I’m very willing to put up with the VOIP phoneline quality. But unless I find one where I get more confidence in their support – even though I doubt I’ll need it – I don’t think I’ll be signing up with any of them. (And Sunrocket’s suggestion – Teleblend – is just scary. I’ve never heard of them before; they’re not on any of the review sites; at least 2 of their URLs were registered this week, and there’s very little info about their agreement on their site – just “sign up”. How about “no thank you”!)

Support does matter. And if we buy, or sign up for, the least expensive alternatives based only on price, we’re just incenting companies to provide bad support. And making it harder for people who provide good support to survive.

More and More … it’s about Support

I’m in process of switching away from a program I’ve liked for many years. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but a bad support experience was what pushed me off the fence. The support people weren’t rude, or even hard to reach; they just didn’t know the answer to my question, said they’d find out and get back to me, and never did.

More and more, I’m basing my buying decisions on support. I dropped Vonage for VOIP because their support was clearly outsourced and had no idea what they were doing. I don’t mind outsourced, but I do mind not giving support people enough information to answer questions, or enough authority to solve problems. I’ll never buy anything from Dell again for the same reason. Their PCs are fine, their prices can’t be beat, but their customer service people can’t fix a problem, and can’t even escalate it to someone who can.

For software – I have to be able to get support. I depend way too much on software working to put up with no reply to my email messages, no followup on problems, or no way to know my message has even been received. My work, my personal info, my conversations: I depend on software, and on the safety net of knowing I can get help if I need it. I won’t buy a bad product with good support, but there’s a lot of good software in the world. I won’t – and don’t have to – settle for anything but good support.

We do phone support here – tollfree in the U.S. – and while it’s one of our biggest expenses, there’s no way we’ll drop it. Yes, it takes more time to talk to someone on the phone than to email them, but when someone needs help, we want to provide it, whatever it takes. And email is not always the best way to communicate, or even always a reliable way. No matter how good our email sending is, if someone can’t receive it, the communication doesn’t happen.

Kevin and Lee - our friendly and helpful support people

I’m proud of a number of things we’ve accomplished in the last 10 years, and high on the list is the killer support we provide. I’ve heard some of the conversations, and I’m always impressed. If every company – software or otherwise – had as good support as we do, things would be a lot easier for everyone. And I think that many, many people – the people who actually use, need and call the support lines – would be a lot less stressed and angry so much of the time.

Keep Track 2.1.4 Released

kti.jpgJust a quick note! We’ve released a minor update to Keep Track. It doesn’t include the pile of updates we’d like to release right now, but it does fix a couple of minor things that we don’t want folks to wait for. In particular, it now supports the Motorola Q landscape display, fixes a couple of Smartphone bugs, and smooths out a couple of wrinkles in Windows Mobile synching.

 So if you’d like to grab the upgrade just download a trial version from our site:

The software should automatically register if you had it installed before. Otherwise your existing unlock codes should do the trick.

Daylight Saving Time Update for Windows Mobile

clock.jpgYou may have read about the changing going into effect in the United States, Canada and Mexico this year with Daylight Saving Time: DST will now start three weeks earlier and will end one week later. The newly announced Windows Mobile 6 devices won’t require an update but earlier devices including Windows Mobile 5.0, 2003 and 2003 Second Edition will require an updated DST table to automatically switch to and from DST on the proper dates. The good news is that there are information and tools available on the Windows Mobile site to help with all this now. You can find it all on the new Windows Mobile Updates for Daylight Saving Time page.

ePochette-eMappe-eCarpeta: Translating Software

translate.jpgLots of people want to know if we’re going to release localized (that’s the same as “translated” for those of you not in the biz) versions of our software. So far we’ve always said “Sorry, not yet.” Of course this leads to the inevitable response of “WHY??” Good news! I’m about to tell you!

It comes down to one simple thing. Support.

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Unintentional Success Story

Every once and a while, Ilium Software tech support gets a heads-up about an interesting and unexpected use of one of our products. We aren’t the only ones; Patrick at MicroISV on a Shoestring had the same experience and his story prompted me to think.

Sometimes the use case isn’t much of a stretch; ListPro is a program to make lists, so it’s hard to find a use for ListPro that isn’t obvious by definition. Prayer lists, scavenger hunts, web bookmarks, flight checklists… they’re all still just lists. NewsBreak is the same way; RSS and ATOM are usually used for simple ‘newspaper headlines’, but all sorts of information such as your NetFlix queue, Gmail account, eBay search results and weather reports are available via RSS. These uses are just part of what NewsBreak is designed to do.

eWallet, on the other hand, is really designed to be a program to hold your sensitive personal information like passwords, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, frequent flier mile cards. That’s it; you put personal information in, eWallet encrypts it under one password. That doesn’t stop people from coming up with their own uses.

Just yesterday, we had a user mention that she used eWallet to keep track of things she wanted to buy on the web. She would create cards with the backgrounds set to a picture of a particular item, with the weblink to the item and a description in the notes. That way, she could see at a glance exactly what something was, instead of having to go visit the website to figure out why it was in the list.

This is not something eWallet was intended to do, but it works and made the user happy. The ‘pictures of stuff to buy’ list works because eWallet supports both card background graphics and Picture Cards (useful for pictures of your dog / cat / gerbil with fruitless dreams of freedom / kid / favorite flower pot / car / boat / that really big fish you caught that was thiiiiiiiis big, really! / etc.) You know, stuff you would keep in a real wallet.

It also brings up the great can-of-worms question, “Should we pursue this with eWallet?” I definitely don’t have the answer. Questions like these are great, because they open up all those weird little opportunities you – the developer, or tester, or anyone else in software development – wouldn’t necessarily think of on your own.

The Danger of Cleaning House

PANICI had to share something that came up in a support call yesterday. It’s either really horrible or incredibly funny depending on your point of view.

We received a panicked call from someone trying desperately to access an eWallet file that they didn’t know the password for. This isn’t all that unusual. We all know that it’s easy to forget the “really good” password you came up with (one of the things that makes eWallet so handy!) The problem of course is that eWallet, being a secure information manager, really IS secure. If you forget your password there is NO backdoor, NO way to reset the password, and NO reasonable way to hack the wallet*.

In this case though, the problem was that Company A bought out Company B and laid off all the IT staff from Company B. Unfortunately for “A”, the IT staff at “B” stored all the vital IT info in eWallet and no one bothered to ask them for the password when they laid everybody off.

Needless to say, panic ensued. As a person who knows how bad it would be if we lost access to all our passwords, I can feel their pain…but on the other hand, as a guy who has seen his friends dumped out on the street during a merger, I can’t help but snicker.

* There are numerous articles about hacking 256-bit encryption. Estimates to do so typically involve a few hundred thousand computers linked together and working continuously for tens of thousands of years. Yeah…pick a good password and you’re all set.

Customer Service Etiquette

In eleven days, I will have been working for Ilium Software for two years exactly. I think. I’m really bad at numbers. In those two years, I have slowly drifted towards being something of a Good Customer Support advocate. Now that we have a blog, I can actually say something about what goes on in my head.

I get to be on both sides of the fence when it comes to customer support. I’m a customer getting support from other companies, and I provide support to our customers. Some people probably don’t reconcile this state very well; I can’t imagine that spammers are delighted to sift through spam email every morning while they have their coffee and wake up, nor can I imagine that telemarketers are very pleased when someone selling vinyl siding interrupts their dinner. 

I can’t stand receiving poor service, though, and I don’t want to give it to anyone else. I also can’t stand it when other people describe poor service, or describe the way they treat customers/service reps.

As a result, I’ve come up with this guide to Customer Support Etiquette, for both sides. It’s not very complete, but it’s a good start.

Customer Etiquette

  • Be polite. You don’t have to be cheerful, but don’t be a jerk. Say, “I’m unhappy, why did this happen?” Don’t say, “What are you trying to do, rob me?”
  • Don’t call the representative names. Unleashing a string of profanity at a service rep won’t do anything except indicate that you are angry, and that you are very likely to be unreasonable. Interestingly, I have never had this happen here at Ilium Software, but I did have to hang up on someone who was screaming into the phone at my previous job. An exception to this rule is if you are trapped in an obnoxious telephone menu system – some people have noticed that if you start swearing at a phone system, it drops you to a human.
  • Know when to walk away. Sometimes, hassle isn’t worth the effort you put into it.  If you are in line at the grocery store and you are hassling the clerk about how your hot dogs came up the wrong price, and the line is fifteen people long behind you, getting your forty cents back is going to cost fifteen people their time and the anguish of listening to you complain while their ice cream melts.
  • Know when to push. It’s like that song by Kenny Rogers – know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, and I won’t go on with the rest of the song. If the answer is “No” the first time, asking a second time is probably not going to kill either you or the other person but they may change their tune. Ask a third time and you’re going too far.
  • Show respect. You are probably talking to a human being. What answers they give you may not be your own answers, but mandated by their employer. Understand this, and don’t give them too much of a hard time. I can’t say how many times I’ve read comments on websites where people completely tear up sales associates at retail stores. It might be annoying to be swarmed by sales people when you go to buy a CD, or asked to buy a service plan on something inconsequential like a small carrying case, but it’s not the actual person’s fault. This is actually a touchy issue – you might very well consider that it really is the person’s fault because they chose to work at that job. It should be somewhat evident if they are out of line, or just reciting drivel. Pity the drivel, stand up to behavior that’s out of line, and that is the meaning of respect in this case.
  • Do not treat CSRs as if they are automatically going to be a problem. Customer Service is not your enemy until proven as such. At its best, customer service is your best friend in the whole world. At its worst, it will drive you insane. It will not, however, kill you in the huge majority of cases. You will cause needless stress on both sides if you approach a service interaction as if the other person is going to try to destroy you.


Customer Service Representative (and company) Etiquette

  • Don’t insult the customer. No matter how stupid someone is or seems to be, never say anything about it and don’t throw them a line you’re not holding onto. Even if you have to stomp the floor and scream into a pillow when you get off the line, hold your tongue.
  • Break a rule to avoid making a scene. If you are faced with the choice of A) not meeting your retention quota, or B) standing your ground and ending up a figurehead for all that is wrong with customer service []  the correct choice is A. I don’t care if your boss says it’s B. It’s A. 
  • Don’t create CSR rules that only exist to help you maximize your profits. This one’s for companies – if you have created a rule that doesn’t just stem losses but tries to raise your profits with no necessary benefit to the customer, you’re opening yourself up for all kinds of ill will. See the link in the above bullet.  
  • Learn to speak. If.You.Sound.Like.You.Are.Giving.A.Book.Report.In.Third.Grade or you sound like You.Are.The.Magazine.Salesman.From.”Office.Space”, You.Might.Be.In.The.Wrong.Job. That said, by the end of the day my standard “Ilium Software, this is Kevin, what can I do for you?” greeting becomes impossible to say without stuttering.
  • Fix mistakes and apologize. If you make a mistake, fix it and say you’re sorry. If someone else makes a mistake, fix it and say you’re sorry. I recently had to talk to five different people at my cable company just to get my service properly moved from one apartment to the next. However, at the end, the rep apologized for the mess and fixed it. They didn’t blame me, they didn’t pass the buck, they said, “I’m real sorry that happened, I don’t know how they could have scheduled an appointment for before you called, everything is set up now, really, honest.”
  • Don’t give out useless compensation. “I’m sorry you had a bad time with us and now want to kill all of our service reps. Please accept this pointless gift card good only for something from the company you now despise, or this coupon that looks great but can’t be used for anything.” Bzzzt. Wrong answer.
  • Remember what a customer is. They’re paying your for something. You wouldn’t have a job without them.

MicroISV on a Shoestring

A plug here for a really excellent blog about development, release, marketing and support of a new product. I especially liked the two posts: Support Does Not Scale and The Passion of the Customers. How Patrick has the time to write this much as well as actually do everything he’s writing about is beyond me.

Retention? Nope.

Ilium Software is really happy to have customers, but not so happy to have them that we would do anything to keep them. On the surface, doing anything seems like ‘bending over backwards’ to satisfy the customer. That’s not a horrible idea – we really try to make people happy within reasonable limits and company policy.

When I say ‘do anything’, I include threatening, badgering, obsfucating, hard-selling, and otherwise retaining.  The first – and quasi-official – thing that I want to get across is that we don’t have a retention policy or a manual. Ilium Software does not have a document that says how to retain customers when they say, “I don’t like [product], I want a refund.”

For more examples and some ranting, keep reading.

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