No mater how simple the product or service or how obvious its use or application, there will always be some customers who need questions answered, who make mistakes and who need assistance understanding how to use or consume a product or service.
The more complex the product and the greater the gap between their prior experience and the way in which the new product or service is used or consumed, the more likely help will be needed.
We need to anticipate such need and provide help in various forms to assist customers. This might be as simple as “user instructions”, a user manual or instruction videos. More complex situations might require a training class, consulting support, a guide or mentoring.
A lack of help or assistance can quickly lead to a highly unsatisfied customer.
Example: Assembly instructions
I recall working with my young son to assemble a remote controlled car. For some reason, all his friends suddenly became passionate about these and as a parent, the pressure was on me to step up to the mark and satisfy both the actual need but also the social status of having one. I was also informed by my wife that this was a “bonding session” and therefore a necessary Dad task.
However, this bonding exercise became a disaster as I failed to work out from the instructions how to install the battery and put the wheels on. The happy experience resulted in tears from my son as I pushed and prodded. According to my son, I was in grave danger of breaking his car.
I took the partly assembled car back to the shop and containing my anger, explained the problem. “Easily solved” explained the shop assistant. “You just cut away the battery cover and file down the wheel posts – everyone knows to do that!” Pity the instructions didn’t explain that as it would have saved a good deal of pain.
What is surprising is that my experience is not uncommon. How many times have you heard of people complaining about the lack of direction, poor instructions, misleading information, unintelligible manuals, poor instructors or unrealistic examples?
Many times I have resorted to friends to help understand how something worked or to YouTube tutorials to work out how to undertake an activity. However, every time this happens, it indicates a failure on the part of the vendor.
I shouldn’t have to go through a painful experience to discover through trial and error how to use something. If I found the experience frustrating, wasteful, stressful, annoying or painful, why would I even consider recommending the product to someone else? I might be willing to buy it again myself, once I had worked out the secret of how to use it, but would I wish the initial experience on anyone else?
Often vendors will have a help desk or on-line request facility. However, these can be somewhat suboptimal if their use itself results in a negative experience. If I send you an email with a question – will it take a month to get an answer? Will I be directed to a Q&A webpage without any access to further clarification?
As a vendor we need to understand the support customers need to properly use our product or consume our service to satisfy their need or solve their problem. Ask your customer these questions:
- What information was missing, misleading or incorrect?
- What further information did you have to search for to complete the user experience?
- Was the information provided in instructions, user manuals, videos and so on, adequate to allow you to use the product or consume the service satisfactorily?
- What non-vendor information or activities did you utilise to work out how to use the product or to overcome problems you experienced?
- What information or activity was the most valuable in getting the most out of the product or service experience?
- What further information could we have provided which would have made your experience more optimal?
My request for help may also relate to having an item repaired or upgraded. If I have spent considerable money on buying something, I may well have an expectation that I can easily have it repaired or upgraded. I need to know what is available, how I access the service and the process I use to make the arrangements for the service. If the item is essential to the tasks I am undertaking, then the speed with which the repair or upgrade is undertaken will also influence my satisfaction.
Of course, not everything can be repaired or upgraded. If I understand this at the time of purchase, then I would have a lower expectation of this being available and would not be overly disappointed if that was the case, excluding those problems which would be covered by a replacement under warranty.
A poor experience relating to repair or upgrade can seriously impact my satisfaction, especially if I feel that the service should be available, accessible and reasonably priced. I would also be upset if an item had an unreasonable level of failures or breakages through normal and anticipated usage.
If, outside of warranty, an item was not able to be repaired or was cost prohibitive to be repaired, the vendor should make this information clearly available so that the right expectation is set. Where items can be repaired, the vendor should state:
- Where they can be repaired.
- What can be repaired.
- What the likely cost of repair is.
- How long the repair is likely to take.
- Whether a replacement, loan or rental service is available and the cost of that service.
The vendor needs to anticipate the life cycle needs of the customer, not just the initial purchase event. By making sure the customer has support throughout the life of the product or service, the vendor is ensuring a continued satisfactory experience.
If a fault is covered by a warranty, then the processes for dealing with warranty claims needs to be fair and efficient. The coverage under warranty should be clearly stated, easily accessible and equitable. The process should not be overly burdensome or costly in terms of time or expense for the customer to utilise. The time taken to evaluate and process claims should be timely and reasonable.
Tom McKaskill is a successful global serial entrepreneur, educator and author who is a world acknowledged authority on exit strategies and the former Richard Pratt Professor of Entrepreneurship, Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia. A series of free eBooks for entrepreneurs and angel and VC investors can be found at his site here.