I invite you to give thought to some ideas I am going to share about the implied, unspoken, unwritten, and (in some ways) unconscious contract that exists between a customer and a support organization. I call it a “social contract.” I’ll break it down for you a little and show some interesting statistics and observations that apply. Finally, I’ll present some strategies to help derive value from this “social contract.”

I borrowed the term “Social Contract” from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who wrote “Of The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right” in 1762. This work influenced both the French and American revolutions. One might think Rousseau was talking about governments, but he was really talking about people. Here is a key quote:

“Every law the people have not ratified in person is null and void — is, in fact, not a law”

How can Rousseau’s quote apply to us in the web hosting industry – or any support providing company, for that matter? It means that, in the mind of the customer, all the TOS’s, SLA’s and Statements of Support are trumped by this unspoken social contract. It means that the customer and the support representative can sometimes begin an encounter with entirely different expectations.

Let’s take the Internet, for example. Even to tech savvy millenials and seasoned online vets, the Internet is a complex web, if you will.  It’s tough to understand every aspect of how the Internet works. Most know a few facts and  procedures – some more than others. If asked to draw a simple diagram of how one thinks the Internet works, most may offer something like this: diagram1

Even more complex is the troubleshooting of issues when the flow of information and expected behavior is interrupted.  The typical web hosting customer, when faced with an unexpected error message or website behavior that , reaches out for support. Why?

CRM guru Paul Greenberg tells us that:

“40% of people calling customer service for assistance, call with no expectation of having their problem resolved.”

 (BPT Partners Social CRM Summit, Atlanta, GA. Feb. 2010.)

That is an amazing statistic. 4 out of 10 callers are phoning, writing, tweeting or chatting with no expectation of a solution. So why are they doing it? What do they want if they do not even expect a solution? What is the expectation they bring that derives from that “Social Contract”?

I suggest to you that they want an experience! They want the experience of being understood, of being acknowledged, of being comforted. They want simply to be told that everything will be all right. So when Elya McCleave from iWeb Technologies in Montreal observes that…

“34% of customers who change webhosts do so because of dissatisfaction with support.”

(HostingCon, Boston, MA. 2012.)

…it’s possible to make the case that those customers aren’t dissatisfied with the actual support, but rather with the way that the unspoken social contract was fulfilled, or unfulfilled.

Build Your Super Support Team

Here are some guidelines we’ve applied to our organization over years of discovering, exploring and working to fulfill this silent contract. (mt) has been innovating in the customer service space for the last 15 years. With a few awards and an industry leading low churn rate under our belt, we’re confident that applying these principles will help you help others.

Hire Thinkers
Get imaginative people on your support team who can think, learn and do something with the knowledge they have gained.

Empower Them
Give your team the training and the coaching they need to succeed. Give them the tools they need for the job.

Get Social
Are you doing support via Twitter? Facebook? Instagram? If the answer is yes, good! If no, then stop reading and get started. Yes, social media is not good for long technical explanations, but the customers who are using social channels are looking for more than technical help.

This is a toughie, and it relates to philosophy. To empower your agents to listen, try to avoid holding your support team to metrics like “talk time,” and do away with productivity quotas. Instead, the emphasis should be on the quality of each support encounter. Make it possible to listen fully and carefully to each customer’s concern. The very act of listening makes a difference in terms of customer experience.

You have to be intuitive and knowledgeable at both the agent level and the organization level. If you know where the customer is going, you can be there to greet them. Make sure your regular training cycle includes the latest information on lessons learned, future updates to popular software, the latest trends and the newest techniques.

Now, there is one more guideline I want to share with you as we wrap this up. It is an (mt) Media Temple guiding value, and it is something we live by:

Enjoy the Journey

If your support team is having fun at work and enjoying the day to day, that sense of fun and enjoyment will infuse their work and become a part of every support encounter. When that happens, your team and your customers are on the way to a long and profitable journey, together.