Service and Support: Can A Medium Between Business and Customer Be Reached?

By far, the most time consuming and expensive phase of the Systems Development Life Cycle is support. That copy of Windows XP Home that you bought for $99 in 2001 is still in support by Microsoft until 2014, but they’ve long since gotten their only payment for it. Think about who wins in that transaction. As our economy transitions from a manufacturing to a service focus, support and service are two areas that every business needs to provide, yet they are often the area where service falls short.

For instance, I’m having a problem with Evernote. Evernote 3 is a web based database with clients for Windows, Mac, the iPhone, and Windows Mobile. I had been using Microsoft OneNote for a while, until I saw that Evernote had an interesting “cloud-centric” approach and I started using it. I mostly use Evernote at work, which is where the problem comes in. When I create a note in Evernote’s web client, it will sync to the desktop client. However, when I create or modify a note in the desktop client, I get a message the my sync failed and the content won’t upload to the web client. I don’t consider this to be satisfactory, so I went to the Support link on Evernote’s web site.

Have you ever called your bank and landed in one of Dante’s levels of Hell, the phone menu level, where you end up trapped in a never ending cycle of “Press 1 for this, press 2 for that, press three for… OK, press 1 of this, press…” It used to be if you hit 0, you could get an operator. Some, such as Citibank, will automatically disconnect the call when you hit 0. Sometimes there is a strange combination like hitting * 8 times can get you through to some cubicle peon who can’t answer your question anyway.

Evernote is like that for support. The support page lands you here. The thing is, I have an IT degree. I’ve been on the Internet for more than 12 years. I’ve been through this with plenty of services.

Option 1 in most support cases is to read the FAQ. No, I’m not cussing at you, that stands for Frequently Asked Questions. It’s a good idea in theory. It does cost a lot of money and time to pay somebody to answer support requests, and this can be a waste of that time and money to take calls from people who are new to the product. Check out Tech Tales.com for some of the ways inexperienced, clueless, and just plain moronic users have wasted the time and resources of support departments. A FAQ can be good for answering simple questions, but I don’t like them because the FAQ assumes that all problems and users having them are equal. I’m quite capable of doing my own troubleshooting, and it’s very rare that I can find the answer to one of my problems in the FAQ, which is often written on the level of “did you plug the darn thing in and turn it on before you decided it doesn’t work?”.

The next option is to search the knowledge base. Again, that’s good in theory, but I’ve always found it to be a waste of my time. Even if my direct issue is answered in the knowledge base, what search terms would I use to find it? Should I just read through every single entry in the hopes that I can find it that way? To be honest, I see that as a waste of my valuable time. Especially in cases where I’m paying for a product or service, this is a waste of my time.

The third option is to use the Evernote Forum. This is a good idea in theory. A product like Evernote has been around for a long time and has built up a solid user base. I’ve been using Evernote for many years. I was even a beta tester for Evernote 2, so I am familiar with the product as many others would be. In theory, I should be able to go to the forum. However, the way forums work is similar to how the support process has gone so far. Forum members, like support personnel, get really sick of having to answer the same questions over and over and over and… over again. It gets old. I’ve been a forum moderator in the past. The problem is, I consider my time valuable and if I need a question answered about a product, I don’t want to have to waste my time trying differing search terms in a forum in the hopes that my problem has already been dealt with. Like the forum members who don’t want to waste time answering my question, I don’t want to waste my time searching through tens of thousands of forum posts. I’ve found forum search engines to be horrible and as close to useless as possible while still being considered functional. I often can’t even find a post that I’ve made by searching for the exact sentence I wrote in the first place. If I make a new post, one of three things will happen. It may be addressed, but it’s possible that the people who may know the answer might not visit the forum, or they might not visit for several days. I will have to waste time waiting for an answer. The second thing that can happen is that either nobody will answer, or I’ll get a post saying “I don’t know. Have you checked the FAQ?” The third thing that can happen is I’ll get flamed with something like “Get lost, n00b!” (n00b means Noob, or Newbie.) Again, that’s not helpful and is a waste of my time.

Finally, after exhausting all of those options, I can submit a support inquiry. If I were to be using an Evernote Premium account, I could expect a reply within 1 business day. As an Evernote Free user, I don’t know how long it will take.

It almost seems like I’d be better off going back to Microsoft OneNote.

I’m only using Evernote here as an example. I’m using their free service, and I should expect to get what I’m paying for. Other than this sync problem. I’m getting far more than I’m paying for. But what happens when you’re paying for a product or service and you get a similar treatment? Comcast is a total nightmare to get support from, second only to Verizon DSL, which makes you give a number to call back on if you get disconnected, but disconnection is always a guarantee and they NEVER call back.

Providers of services should take responsibility for the services that they provide. If support costs too much, then get out of the business. I won’t miss you, Aetna! I sure won’t miss U.S. Airways if they go out of business.

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