Redefining Support #1: Why The Traditional Support Model is Broken

Over the next few weeks on the Freshdesk blog, we’ll be running the Redefining Support series, where we’ll be taking a fresh new look at customer support. We’ll be discussing everything from the building blocks of support models to technological transformations in support. Well, everything from the breaking of guitars to the European Grand Prix, really.

Let’s begin with why support needs any redefining in the first place. At Freshdesk, we’ve been convinced for a while that the most common support models adopted around the world aren’t really optimised for the best support experiences. In fact, they have many cracks where frustration can develop.



We’ll attempt to show you how with an old story in customer service: the United Breaks Guitars story. In 2008, Dave Carroll and his band travelled on the fateful plane journey from Halifax to Omaha that brought United Airlines to its knees. It’s always seemed that bad support reps who just didn’t care about solving Dave’s problem were what led to that monumental PR disaster; but what if it wasn’t the support reps, but the support processes that were the final nail in the coffin for United Airlines? And what if we’re following the same faulty support processes till date?

Here is a list of the 5 things that were wrong with United Airlines’ support process, and are likely still wrong with yours:

1.  Touchpoint amnesia


Not cool, bruh

Often, a large part of any long and drawn-out support experience is because of something we like to call ‘touchpoint amnesia’. Dave had to deal with numerous United Airlines agents for a whole year, and none of them seemed to recall his complaint. They clearly didn’t have centralised information about Dave’s complaint that would be easily visible and shareable to all agents involved or being roped in. But complaints that require multiple agents from different departments to resolve come in all the time, which means you’ve got to take steps to guard against touchpoint amnesia. Customers aren’t going to stay with a brand that doesn’t even remember them or their last complaint, and might just write a song about it instead.

2. Frustrating assembly line experience


Who moved the customer?

More often than touchpoint amnesia, it’s the way these touchpoints are arranged that often make for time-consuming and confusing support experiences for the customer.

Dave had to go through this frustrating assembly line experience from agent to agent:

• The first United employee he tried to talk to said, “Don’t talk to me. Talk to the lead agent outside.”

• The person she pointed to refused to talk to him saying, “I’m not the lead agent.”

• A third employee at the gate then told him to take it up with the ground crew in Omaha.

• Carroll then had to talk to Air Canada in Halifax to open his claim with United…

• …and then contact United’s support agents in India…

• …and then United’s baggage offices in Chicago…

• …Central Baggage in New York…

• …United’s support agents in India again

• …and finally an agent from United’s Chicago office.

A year-long ordeal that took a lot of effort from Dave and left him utterly confused about company policy, the slow assembly line model that doesn’t allow for collaboration isn’t designed to fulfil the purpose of customer support.

3. Agents without full context


This book looks like it’s missing a few pages…

United dug its grave further by placing emphasis on process in support over situation-based action for every touchpoint in this assembly line model:

• Dave was told he wouldn’t be compensated because he didn’t report the damage within 24 hours of landing in Omaha

• He was asked to bring his guitar for inspection all the way to Chicago from Halifax

• He was told that United would not be taking any responsibility for what had happened and even an offer to settle was rejected

Without proper context about the customer and his past interactions with the company, United’s agents couldn’t understand what Dave had been going through and kept quoting technicalities and procedure. As a result, they lost out on each successive opportunity to make things better. Even if company policy was absolute, agents with context might have been able to have an understanding conversation with Dave or offered an alternative solution, possibly circumventing the disaster that followed.

4. Lack of collaboration


Ain’t nobody got time for that

Perhaps the biggest fault in United’s support was the fact that there was no collaboration whatsoever between any of the agents or departments involved. No one in the long assembly line knew exactly what company policy was or who would be responsible for handling Dave’s claim. The support workflows in place weren’t conducive to communication or ease of access across teams, departments and offices either. The model didn’t allow for the seamless collaboration that’s needed for support: but how much have things improved enough since then?

5. Customers trapped in a ticket


Do you wanna build a snowman?

The ‘customers trapped in a ticket’ problem is an underlying fault with the standpoint from which the support models of most businesses today were designed: for process rather than people. Making for a model that allows for the faults we discussed, it’s easy for customers to feel unheard and treated like just another ticket to be given off to someone else, tossed around without regular updates or resolved without regard to the circumstances surrounding the support request.

United’s agents might have had a particularly indifferent attitude towards Dave Carroll, but the truth is that most business support models today still have the same flaws. Touchpoint amnesia, the assembly line support experience, lack of context and the absence of workflows that facilitate collaboration, are all problems with a support model designed for clarity of internal process rather than to fully meet the needs of the customer.

But what if there was another way to do support? A way that celebrated the customer and focused on their every need, allowing you to forge real connections in every interaction?

Find out in Redefining Support #2: Customer Support for People Over Process, and stay tuned to the Freshdesk blog for more!

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One thought on “Redefining Support #1: Why The Traditional Support Model is Broken

  1. I worked in a customer service call center for a while for an outsourced company who had a mortgage company for a client. We had many of these same problems you just outlined. Very good observations. United still hasn’t gotten it right almost 10 years later. Companies simply don’t empower agents to make things right, and when you actually care about support as an agent, it is very frustrating. No one will probably say it publically, but I imagine the “procedure” was designed so that he would give up the fight and they wouldn’t have to compensate. You are now seeing a backlash with all this bad support. Companies have cut corners on support because labor is the first area they cut back, and it is beginning to bite them in the butt. Good article