It has thrown off the shackles of traditional publishing models and now, by way of the Internet, a similar pay-as-you-go model is becoming the norm.
Traditional software, delivered by floppy disc, CDs and later DVDs, was a clunky affair. Support usually came in the form of hefty instruction manuals, sometimes with the option of a premium-rate telephone helpline for the truly shafted.
If those didn’t contain the answer your only option was an Internet search (if it had been invented yet), and failing that hours of keyboard-smashing frustration.
Now that software is delivered live over the Internet, customer support can be too. This is usually in the form of a bolt-on customer support forum (such as those offered by ZenDesk, GetSatisfaction, UserVoice, or any number of camel-capped alternatives) populated with support staff ready to answer users’ questions.
Why, when the delivery, sophistication and usability of the software we use has advanced leaps and bounds in just the last few years, has customer service come on only a few paces? Even the most responsive support forum amounts to little more than an interactive instruction manual – a human butler fetching information for you.
Most software companies experiment with other avenues of support – video tutorials or built-in tool-tips to prompt confused users – but I think that for customer service to advance at the same pace as modern cloud software we can no longer treat software and customer support as two separate spokes of the same service.
Humans and software must work together to support the user. Software designers must include customer-facing teams in their development to produce software that not only performs the task it is designed for (be it accounting, CRM, business management or otherwise) but also helps the user carry out that task.
Insert your customer service team directly into the software, so they are not a “Panic!” button a user must contact in case of emergency, but a feature themselves.
Personal service isn’t gone – it is as valuable as ever. It just needs to evolve to suit modern, web-savvy users who expect experiences to be seamless and service to be on-demand.