Providing customer service costs money. Providing good customer service takes commitment and money. Money to hire the right people, commitment to provide a good level of service and learn from what your customers are telling you, and more money to actually do something about it.

What does indifferent customer support cost? While it doesn’t hit your bottom line today it’s going to have an impact when the customer doesn’t come back or shares a negative opinion and you lose business.

I know how tough it can be to provide good service. I spent some time running a support team for a software company as well as making sure we had support in place for premium services on some web properties. In every case there was a cost associated with creating service levels that made the customer feel you were on their side, and a cost associated with resolving the issue (sometimes engineering costs, sometimes time, sometimes smiling and giving a refund and hoping we’d do better next time) – from this I learned a simple lesson.

I learned that you don’t treat support as a necessary evil, you treat it as a pre-sales and marketing exercise and you focus on making happy people who are more likely to engage with you and your brand again. If you focus on getting them off the phone as quickly as possible with as little fuss as possible then you’ve already lost the battle.

As technology improves providing good service shouldn’t be hard. Companies like Starbucks, Comcast, HP and Polar all have multiple ways to talk to them – Live Chat, Twitter, Forums, Email, support systems like FogBugz – all of which allow tracking and continuity of engagement and potentially very public resolutions.

How they approach the task is very different and varies from ignoring negative comments and promoting positive ones through to active outreach and open communication. Sadly though even where individuals do a good job the process and attitude of the company lets them down (I’m looking at you HP – does it really take weeks to find out you don’t know how to change the assignments of buttons on a PC you make?!)

With a current issue with another company they have been great. Lots of communication and I’m sure we’ll resolve the issue and I’ll say nice things about them in the future.

The opportunity cost to HP of providing ineffective support is that I bought a new Acer machine at the weekend for home, so for want of a simple software fix they lost at least one machine.