Posted by: Adam Deane | 07/04/2010

Support Strategy – Blame Canada!

support strategy - blame canadaOur support team had a tough day.

They just returned from their holidays when all hell broke loose.
A product license had expired, a live system had a bug, problems, problems and more problems.. and then the s**t hit the fan.

I got a call from one of the customers begging me for help.
“Look”, he says to me, “I love the support team, great guys, really great, but this problem is recurring again and again”.
Embarrassed, I phoned the support team and asked them to verify that the dev team provide a stable fix for the problem. By the end of the day, the support team had things under control… The customer was happy again.

Customer Support is an ungrateful job. No one will compliment them when things run smoothly, but they will get the brunt of the abuse when things go wrong.
Luckily, our support team are professional and caring individuals. It makes my life easier. It gives the company a good name. But basing the whole support strategy on individuals, however great they are, is not enough.

Here’s an example:

At the start of the year I flew to Canada to meet our business partners there.
Canada is lovely. The people are great (they are like the British, but for some strange reason they like enjoy smiling..), the hotel was great, the food was great. I got the red carpet treatment from our partners. The trip was a great success.

I remember thinking to myself, on the way back to the airport, what a lovely place this is. Everything here runs like clockwork.
Unfortunately, a few days before, there was an incident that caused all the airports to upgrade their security (frisk searches, one bag allowances etc.)

Now, I’m an organized person. I left more than enough time to get to the airport, I removed all liquids and had only one bag.
Check-in was easy. First security check – not a problem. Then I joined a queue for the customs clearance.
I waited, and waited, and waited, and waited..

angryI’m a reasonable man. I usually take things like this in my stride. At first you even smile at the commotion that this is causing (what a mess).
Then the whinging of the people in the queue starts getting to you (why didn’t you leave yourself enough time)
Then you start counting the number of custom officers (5 officers. There are 12 desks. Hey, why don’t they bring in more officers, they’ve got the room)
The time goes by, the people around you start to panic and complain (well, they are actually right…)
The frustration starts to kick in (Come on.. Move it!!)
You look for someone to blame (South Park’s “Blame Canada” starts playing in my head)

You feel your blood boiling (Bloody useless bunch of pencil-pushers!)
30 minutes later I’m at the start of the queue, I am now ready to explode (I’m going tell them what a bunch of useless knobs they are, I’m going to yell, I’m going to be rude, I don’t care anymore, I’ll probably finish my day in the local police station, this will not have a happy ending!!!)

I now step up to the desk (Whats the name on the officer’s tag, “Dragonov”, right, I’ll remember that name, what kind of name is it anyway?, Russian, KGB?, I’ll teach him to mess around with me!!)
Mr Dragonov looked at my passport. “Destination?”. “I’m flying back to London through Boston”
“Occupation?”. Software programmer. (If I start talking about BPM or workflow he wouldn’t know what I’m talking about anyway)
I am ready to burst. I am fuming…

At that moment Dragonov looked up at me. He could see I was boiling. Suddenly he told a joke.
A joke.
He told me a joke. An official customs officer just told me a joke. I can’t even remember what it was about (I think it was one about Bill Gates).
I’m stunned. I give a sheepish smile. All my anger disappears. I happily answer all his questions. He bids me a good flight and I’m off to the flight gate.

I’m now sitting in the plane thinking what a twat I am, what a complete and utter knobhead I am for having those thoughts. What a brilliant guy Draganov is. What a brilliant way of dealing with angry customers. What a smart bunch the custom management must be to recruit a guy like Draganov. They must provide training to deal with situations like that. Brilliant!!! Well done. What a great bunch of guys these Canadians are. Well done Canada. I love the place. Must return here soon….

This incident happened a few months ago. I was thinking of it today.
I still love Canada. I still think that Mr Draganov is brilliant. But I can now appreciate that I was put through an unnecessary experience. Lack of planning, Lack of resources on a day that everyone knew was going to be problematic because of security issues. Instead of solving the problem – they bet on the skills of the individuals in the field.

So they were lucky… (well, actually I was lucky), but you can only “enjoy” a crisis like this once.
If I ever return to Canada (and I will) and ever have to go through a similar situation again – no joke will help.

My Point – Basing the whole support strategy on fantastic individuals is not enough.

Most companies build their support strategies around “defusing angry customers” – instead of “solving business problems”.
If management ensure that problems are dealt with swiftly, and ensure that they will not recur – then they’ve got a winning strategy.
If they solely depend on “Draganovs” to solve customer problems – Well… they better start recruiting more Canadians…


  1. Very Nice!

  2. Just to point out: when you depart Canada for the US, you’re talking to US customs and immigration, not Canadian customs and immigration, even though you’re still in Canada.

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