Customer support is an immensely important part of the security industry. Much of the industry is based on integration — technology companies working in concert with each other to deliver a solution. But what about technology companies that don’t directly install the solutions and products? In these cases, there is an intermediary object — a company, an integrator, a dealer, a reseller — and there must be a sense in which the technology company is able to work with the intermediary companies and deliver fast, efficient support to the customers without the customers being bounced back and forth, trying to find out who is the right person to address an issue.
This kind of support will allow companies to retain customers and set themselves up as experts; it will benefit all the players involved — from the customer to the integrators to the technology companies and manufacturers.
So how can a company create a support environment in which this type of collaboration and prompt problem solving is the norm and is expected? SDM spoke with Adam Benson, Director of Support Services, Salient Systems, Austin, Texas, who shared three keys Salient has successfully implemented in its customer support services.
1: Treat support issues similar to objections in a sale
The longer that a tech issue sits unresolved, the worse your chances are of winning the sale, Benson says. Or, in the case of a support customer, winning future business from that company. So effectively, every support issue is an opportunity to earn more business.
Benson says this philosophy comes from a lesson he learned in his early days in the security industry when he was in sales. “We lined directly up with other companies in the industry that were what we called ‘full-line manufacturers,’ and I was trying to convert this one company that was a fairly good-size opportunity over to our product line,” he says. “The process of sales is to overcome the objections, and one of the most basic objections was pricing. So I was able to get them better pricing on a line of products similar to that of another vendor that they had. I knocked out all the objections they had, and I still couldn’t get them to flip over to me.”
The reason he couldn’t get them to come to his company, Benson says, was the level of support that another manufacturer was giving them. “This integrator would not flip; it would not come over to our side because that company would, at the drop of a hat, replace any product that failed. They would just advance replace anything that that customer had that failed out in the field so that they were done and the customer could keep moving. And I was unable to offer that.”
Benson says he realized early in his career that you can beat all the objections — even price — and you still can’t get that customer to come over if you don’t have the customer retention department approach to support. “We [Salient’s support services] follow those same examples,” he says.
2: Drop the adversarial approach
“Often,” Benson explains, “technical support departments develop this kind of adversarial approach to their customers — ‘We know more than you do, you don’t know what you’re doing,’ and it creates this idea that you’re on the top of the mountain throwing down stones. You’ve got to empathize with your customers and understand the situation that technician is in and help him.”
Benson describes it as a real partnership. “You’re not better than them; we’re in the same boat as they are. Neither they nor we are going to earn this end customer or keep this end customer if we can’t help get this problem solved, whether it’s my fault or someone else’s. Let’s just get to the bottom of it and get it fixed.”
He explains that while a customer may be having an issue with a camera, Salient is providing the software they are looking at. “Quite often we’re going to get that phone call, whether it’s our problem, the camera’s problem, a network problem, or a myriad of other things. Ultimately, what we have to do is recognize that it may not be our issue, but we’re still going to take that issue and help get the customer out of the hole they’re in.”
In fact, Benson says he’s had staff members spend hours on the phone troubleshooting network problems. “We know it’s not us; it’s a network problem, getting the video from the camera to the physical server, but if we can’t help them get out of there, then the video doesn’t get recorded, the installation doesn’t get completed.”
Benson says customers look at support from two simple standpoints: 1.) Was I able to reach someone in a timely manner? and 2.) Did they fix my issue?
“So our goal really is a first-touch, a first-call kind of resolution, he says. “Whether it’s a camera issue or a network issue or an access control issue — troubleshoot it, identify where the problem is, inform the customer what the problem is and help them get out of the swamp if you can.”
Although the tools Salient uses to remotely assist its customers are expensive to purchase and use, Benson says Salient uses that software to help fix issues quickly and also to become a training tool for customers. “We can use the tools to teach, and if the customer learns from what we’ve gone in and shown them while looking over their shoulder with these tools, then they’ll remember more, and they’ll be able to solve these issues themselves the next time I go out to install.”
Benson says Salient often gets involved in coordinating resources together between themselves, the integrator and maybe the camera manufacturer, or maybe the access control manufacturer.
“A lot of times if the integrator calling in for help gets instructions from the VMS company, and they tell him, ‘Go check this on the camera, check that on the camera,’ and then he has to hang up, and then he has to make a phone call or reach out to that camera manufacturer and then run those questions by them — the game of telephone gets involved here. The message that the support team gave him doesn’t quite make it clearly over to the other support team, he doesn’t get the answer he needs, he doesn’t have anything resolved; you’ve got the camera guy pointing at the VMS guy, and the VMS guy pointing at the camera guy — that’s an unacceptable situation from our standpoint.”
Consequently, Benson says, Salient’s support team members often get involved in a three-way phone call. “When we know we’ve got an issue that is potentially network related or camera related or access control system related, and we need to get help from that manufacturer, rather than directing that customer to go somewhere else, we just conference in that support team. We’ll call them ourselves. So we’re on the phone, our integrator is on the phone, and the other technology partner is on the phone, and we will all collaborate together to get things identified, fixed and resolved.”
Benson says he views Salient’s support resources, particularly its people, its tech support staff and its field services staff, as more than just the traditional definition of tech support or field support: “I look at them as a whole, as more of a customer retention department. Sales people will get customers in the door,” he adds, “but it is up to the support organization to keep that customer.”
Looking at support as a partner with the account management department will mean ongoing revenue from satisfied customers, but it also means general industry growth as everyone, from customers to manufacturers to integrators, is able to thrive and develop.