Quality vs. Customer Support

"What is the single most important thing your manufacturer can do to make you completely happy with their service?"
(IMV ServiceTrak Survey 2005)

This was the question that caught my attention at a presentation I attended recently. Apparently the question is multiple-choice, with one answer allowed. Actually, PDF form of the executive summary seems to be available from IMV Web Site.

Figure 1.1, happiness with the service chart shows that 35-43% of customers wanted faster service and 10-23% want better service quality. Apparently 28-39% of the customers are already completely happy with their manufacturers. What interests me is that less than 5% of the respondents wanted to see these companies improve the quality of their equipment. What does this mean? Does faster and better service become more valuable than quality at certain point?

I think so. Consider a hypothetical scenario where a product fails in some way after a year in service (like my latest digital camcorder). Let’s say a competing product from a different vendor fails after 2 years. This suggests that it is a better quality product than the first one. Now, consider this: The first company is able to resolve the problem within a day while the second one takes more than a week. So, how does this change the perception of these companies and products for the customer? In my case, my camcorder wasn’t fixed in a day, so I am switching to a different brand.

Quality is very important, and it is what engineering teams increasingly invest in. But, without the technical support to back it up, customer satisfaction seems all too elusive.

Many companies I know have been developing tools and processes to deliver better customer support and faster defect resolution. Unfortunately there are not many off-the-shelf products that are designed specifically for diagnosing software problems in deployed devices. Wind River Diagnostics is one such product. I believe we will start seeing more field diagnostics products in the future, as customers are demanding faster and better service.

In summary, given that product quality meets or exceeds customer needs, service and support become big differentiators between products and companies…