I was very entertained when I read a recent blog post complaining about the crappy customer service you get from big internet companies. The writer titled it, "Hey internet giants, you're no longer startups, get some customer service."
I was entertained for two reasons. The first is that it's quite possible for a startup to provide great customer service. JP Etcheber, who runs customer support for us at PBworks, manages to support millions of free users and thousands of corporate customers with a team of three (highly dedicated) people. If you build a good product, and commit to supporting it, even startups can provide good support.
But the other thing that entertains me is the fact that the same people who complain about poor support are the same people who won't pay an extra dime for better support.
Let's say you use Gmail for your email. When something goes wrong, you might curse Google's name. But you're not likely to find a commercial email provider. In fact, there are no commercial email providers! Why? Because we're too damn cheap to pay for what is probably the single most critical online service we have.
Enterprise customers have long understood this; they're willing pay enterprise software vendors because they know that there is a throat to choke. In fact, they know that startups might provide better support--at their scale, a single customer is far more important. It's less likely they'll simply tell a customer to pound sand (which seems to be Google's standard practice).
At one point, I was spending $250K/year with Google, but that wasn't enough to get me a telephone support number. You can bet that a smaller startup would be happy to give you their founder's cell phone for that amount of money!
The fact is, consumers don't value support, which means companies don't bother to provide it. If you want that to change, you need to change your buying habits.