Customer Support and the Art of Transparency

With a strong commitment to constant innovation, this week at Square 9 we officially launched a new web app for our user community that provides real time insight into our support queue, including the Average Wait Time for a response to a logged case. Additionally this app provides the ability to create a new case or view support hours while on the go, from your mobile phone or tablet device. Yet the Support Queue app’s indisputable value is in the visibility it provides a person requiring software support. This app, which was the brainchild of our Software Support team, publicly releases critical data previously only available internally for managing the effectiveness of customer service levels.

The driving reason for making this application public was to provide our user community with visibility into what they can expect when calling into Customer Support. The catalyst for providing this expanded level of transparency originated from a tremendous presentation given by Rory Sutherland in 2011 called “Perspective is Everything.” Entertaining and informative, this 20 minute presentation explores the power of reframing actions and ideas to the sense of control we feel we have over our lives.

In this presentation, Mr. Sutherland argued effectively that we spend far too much time on what he calls technical or mechanical solutions instead of using a psychological approach to resolve service issues. He managed to rationally and logically argue that the circumstances of our lives matter less than the control we have over them. Mr. Sutherland accurately pointed out that a commuter waiting seven minutes for a train, with the knowledge of when it would arrive, was far more tolerant of the wait than a person “white knuckling” a four minute wait time, without an idea of when the train would appear. He further asserted that billions of dollars could be spent increasing the speed of the train system when all we really need is a few inexpensive LED signs providing us with an ETA to increase our level of satisfaction.

As a company deeply driven by metrics, at Square 9 we carefully measure our support times daily through quantifiable terms such as Time to First Response (TTFR), Time to Resolution (TTR), Average Wait Time (Avg. Wait) and Percentage of Calls Taken Live (% Live). As a result, we’ve driven down our average wait time to below seven minutes in an industry where many organizations measure their response times in days. Still, in retrospect to Sutherland’s presentation, a seven minute wait time unbeknownst to a caller can feel like a very long time. However, with a combined consideration of technology, psychology, and classical economics, the Support Queue apps allows increased levels of customer satisfaction through shared knowledge. This in return will centralize all user call-ins for higher visibility and faster case resolution to ensure our help desk provides the greatest level of service possible.

In addition, as a metrics driven support provider, we know exactly when the peak call times are, but it’s highly unlikely that our user community does. If we can provide you with this insight on a real time basis, aren’t you better off knowing that logging a support case during this peak time (12:00 PM – 2:30 PM EST) might mean a delayed time for a response? Even if you have no option but to log the case, you go into it with your eyes open and can grab a cup of coffee or catch up on your email instead of tapping your fingers in anticipation.

After discussing the decision to make metrics used internally openly available to the user community, it was no surprise that some questions were posed. “Aren’t you concerned about making these numbers public? What if there’s an erosion in your support levels that everyone can now see?” Nonetheless, to me, this is the true beauty of transparency.

By putting our service levels out there in this way, we’re truly owning our responsiveness as we are forced to answer for any levels of diminished service. There are certain to be times during the cold and flu or vacation seasons when it will be a challenge to maintain consistent service levels, but that’s when superior management takes over to either minimize its impact or be exposed for its shortcomings. More importantly, our customers will always know what to expect, regardless of the circumstances, and will hopefully appreciate the respect we’ve shown for their time.

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