The only organization better than HP at losing customers was Heaven’s Gate.
I have fond memories of Bill and Dave’s HP, which in no way resembles the current Palo Alto pack. When I wrangled HP manufactured big iron mumble-mumble-mumble years ago, they were reasonably good about customer support though their byzantine processes for achieving such was an exotic form of auto-masochism. Even eating lunch at the HP cafeteria was a rough slog.
It has gone down hill since.
Let’s keep in mind that service is a product, and like all products must meet the criteria of the customer. This includes price, quality and — most important — availability. The on-site service agreement for my laptop recently expired, and I went to HP’s web site to renew it. This was my first mistake since HP’s various business divisions and poorly integrated web sites are slightly more complex than the federal tax code. I spent more time than I have to spare attempting to find the right place to review and update my support agreement.
Rule #1: Make it simple, obvious and easy.
It is not enough to provide a service. Selling the service is a service itself. There are few better ways to lose a customer than to make discovering what you offer and how to buy it a chore. Yet after five different web sites, two emails and one phone call which transferred across three different HP representatives, I was no closer to renewing the laptop support agreement than before I started. A service is a product. A service that cannot be bought is a product you cannot sell. A service that your employees cannot find and deliver is not even a product … it is a strain on the relationship.
Rule #2: If you are going to sell a product, you should attempt it.
Any time a customer or prospect encounters unnecessary friction, they are given reasons to buy from a different vendor. This involves not just the core product (in this example, a support contract) but all other products covered by the brand (e.g. servers, tablets, printers). Unnecessary friction kills sales, and as SaaS leaders like SalesForce.com have demonstrated, a lack of friction accelerates adoption. Oddly, HP understood the key to reducing friction which was to track the serial number of the unit for all sales and support activities. I know this because several HP web sites and four different HP employees asked for the serial number as a prelude to “assisting” me. Yet HP shrouded the simple option of renewing my support agreement in labyrinth that Theseus couldn’t navigate.
In high tech, everyone has to offer service because nobody can support complex technologies by themselves. Treat your service offering as you would your core product. Doing less will result in lost customers, damaged reputation and a brand fewer people will love.
Postscript: I made one final plunge into the HP support pool based on an email from HP’s esupport team. This led to dealing with no fewer than six people in four different departments (including some poor gal in India who could not be convinced that my laptop wasn’t a printer). I remain on hold and fear they will find my skeleton slumped over my desk before an HP support contract can be created.