Support Acrobatics

“Its [sic] not necessary to upgrade Acrobat 7 to Acrobat 10. The other option is to downgrade the Windows [sic] to Windows XP.”

I’ll assume for the moment that narcotics are provided free to Adobe’s technical support teams. The terminal quote above ended a support dialogue, initiated when an Adobe product commenced aborting after a laptop was upgraded from XP to Vista. Leave it to say that the support technician did not fully comprehend the complexity involved in reverting any operating system much less rolling back a laptop to a 10 year old OS. He also likely does not comprehend breakfast, water or autonomic breathing.

When anyone buys anything, they have a set of expected outcomes. A collection of such expected outcomes is a whole product definition. When a single expectation is not met, a customer is dissatisfied. When two or more expectations are unmet, customers begin looking for alternatives. When an Adobe support engineer with poor English skills suggests that their defective product be stabilized by reverting operating systems, one begins to applaud competitor decisions.

Technology products must address both typical and industry specific customer expectations. There are always the basics (price, functions, etc.) but also intangible aspects such as forward compatibility and support when stuff doesn’t work. For example, it is a given that Windows software application forward compatibility is reasonably assured (the fact that I can run MS-DOS scripts and programs to this day is rather astounding). Failure to adhere to basic development modes and assure reasonable forward compatibility (say from XP to Vista) violates an expected customer outcome.

Technical support is an intangible that earned a sorry reputation once global telecommunications costs dropped and people with thick East Indian accents named Dave began fielding your trouble tickets. American inability to effectively coach foreign support staff on matters like customer care and diagnostics was the core problem that exacerbated cross-cultural divides (how do you explain “the customer is always right” or “downgrading operating systems is very painful” to someone unfamiliar with the concepts). When support is missing, be it in terms of speed, accuracy or satisfaction, the customer’s expectations are unmet.

Crashing applications caused by simple OS upgrades that require downgrading is a multiple infraction and the first sign of eventual corporate failure.

Mapping your whole product (generic, expected, augmented or potential) is a required marketing strategy step that great companies take. You can omit non-essential expected outcomes, but never the fundamental ones. Failure to ensure delivery on expected product features leads to unhappy customers (who all have a public voice these days) and eventual financial downfall. In high tech, support is always an expected outcome.

The marketing lesson herein is that Dave, Elizabeth and the other folks working in Bengal?ru need to be educated on all customer expectations and given the leeway to make them happen. If not, we can on-shore their jobs, which would be a good move in the current recession.


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