What’s Wrong With Customer Support?

I know that it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Let me apologize for that. I’ve got a lot of topics that I want to start covering here soon. Stay tuned.

Still, this morning’s reply from Intuit customer support was just too rich to pass up. Let me offer this little laugh to you to brighten you day. And then, I want to say a few words about why these interchanges are endemic to customer support as practiced by most companies.

I’ve heard support folks called “case closing machines”. Not very nice. But unfortunately, far too true. These are the metrics upon which customer support are rated: how many support cases can be moved through the queue within a time period.

The result of this rating, of course, is that the support person is far more interested in responding quickly to dispose of a request than in actually understanding what has been requested. And that, I find, wastes everyone’s time.

Let me give some context. I use Quicken 2oo7 on Macintosh for my home accounting. I’ve been a Quicken and Intuit customer for years. I was having trouble updating transactions to account from my financial institution. Heck, first thing to do is always update the software, right?

OK. I ran the R2 installer and got a weird error message claiming that I had “no valid copy” of the the software. Huh? Since I was in a hurry (first mistake!), I fired off a support ticket. 10 minutes later, I checked the running version of my software and low and behold, I’d already installed R2. Uh, oh! Bad ticket, no need for support.

Well, there wasn’t any way to recall the issue. So I let it grind through support while I installed the R3 updater successfully. (this didn’t solve the original problem, unfortunately. but that’s another story)

When I received the response to my ticket from Quicken, at first I was just going to ignore it. But the activist in me just can’t let lie!

I wrote back a quick note suggesting that the error message in the R2 updater might be just a little misleading.

Here’s my reply to Quicken Support. I’ll follow that with the first couple of lines of the second reply from Quicken Support:

“Yes – I figured your suggestion out about 15 minutes after putting in
the ticket. Sorry about that.

But, I would suggest that your error message could say something of the

“your quicken is already upgraded to R2”

Rather than “no valid quicken found” (or whatever the error says).

these are very different messaging. I would have had no need to file a
ticket (that’s money in intuit’s pockets, yes?)

Your programmers and QA staff need to do better, I think!


I’ll admit that my suggestion might be a bit terse. It does say, I hope clearly, that I found my solution, yes? I even apologize for the submitting the ticket: “Sorry about that”

then I go on to make a suggestion, “Change your error message. It’s misleading”

Here’s what I got back from “Karuna, Quicken Customer Care”:

“Brook, in this case I would advise you to uninstall and reinstall Quicken using the download link which I am providing you with. The download link contains the complete software with the updated patch. Please follow the steps mentioned below to uninstall Quicken…”

The email interchange goes on in detail on how to accomplish the reinstallation of Quicken 2007, including a download of the entire installer! If I had followed these instructions, it would have wasted hours of my time; I wouldn’t be writing this post, smile.

It is true that filing the issue was my mistake; there wasn’t anything really wrong.

My mistake was based upon a very poorly written error message in the R2 installer for Quicken 2007 which suggested that I had no valid copy of Quicken 2007. Which, of course, I do**.

Intuit support didn’t understand my note – probably the person working the issue didn’t really read it? Can you spell “scan”?

My response to Intuit required no reply whatsoever. Rather I suggested action on the part of Intuit Product Management and perhaps the development teams, should there be merit in my suggestion.
Quite obviously, keeping ridiculous metrics like “cases closed/time period” forces a support team to actually waste huge amounts of time sending useless and inappropriate replies to people who don’t need them and can’t use them. All in theĀ  name of productivity.

Most companies do it this way. It’s rare that I actually get a first reply that is on target demonstrating true understanding! Support don’t actually read what’s been written. I get asked all the time to “please supply the version and machine information” which I have already very carefully listed in the request. How absurd is that?

Support assume:

  • the incompetence of the request
  • the poor articulation of the requester

Support prioritize:

  • speed of delivery over understanding
  • delivering an answer, any answer
  • the first lines of the question (which are often only context)
  • any answer that can found in existing the knowledge base, no matter how inappropriate

If the support person had only truly read what I wrote s/he would have fully known that:

  • I didn’t need a reply
  • I had made a suggestion to be passed to Product Management
  • my problem was solved before the first reply from Quicken last week

Scanning the email (esp. if the scanner’s English is a 2nd or 3rd language) is highly prone to this kind of misunderstanding.


I think I’ll try to find out who’s the executive in charge of Intuit’s support operations and talk to that person. Because this is just too ridiculous to let go. We in the software industry need to get a lot more professional if customers are going to trust us.

Treating our support people as “case closing machines” is demeaning and dehumanizing. Instead of valuing and training problem solvers, we’ve created a situation whereby the competent use the support role only as a stepping stone on the way to another position. Who’s left behind? Those with low self-esteem, low expectations, those who don’t care about the job. Is that who you want responding to your customers?

And, of course, these sorts of email interchange and frustration go back and forth every day wasting everyone’s time with useless solutions to problems that don’t exist.


/brook schoenfield

**I pay for my software – it’s ethical. And, as John Caron used to say to me, “People don’t pay for software. They register the software because of the bugs for which they’ll need support” Tee, hee. all too true, John.