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Customer service in a network security world

When most people think of network security, they immediately think of security products and acronyms. Firewalls, anti-virus, deep packet inspection, unified threat management, security information and event management, data loss prevention, and everything else network security. Each of these can be delivered via a hardware or software solution and tend to provide a tangible benefit as it relates to network security.

As the network security market becomes more important and mature, security pros have begun to examine the intangibles as key difference makers when making a purchase decision. Now more than ever before, they're looking at things like technical support, training, documentation, self-help tools, and integration support. With this increased focus on customer support in network security, the question becomes, how can we provide the customers with outstanding customer support to complement our products?

In the past, customer support has been very reactive – especially in network security. You tend to hear from customers only when they are having problems. As the world has become more connected through online communication, and the average security IQ grows, the paradigm is shifting. To be a leader in customer service you need to be more proactive than reactive.

Providing proactive customer service means anticipating the customers needs and expectations before they occur. The best way to do this is to understand your customer base, and your potential customers. What problems are they trying to solve? What customer expectations do we need to fulfill both with the product and service? What are the potential problems they might encounter and when?

The goal for most any network security company is to build a long relationship with the customer, including upgrading or replacing products throughout the lifetime of that relationship. Knowing your customer from the first interaction to the last is absolutely critical.

Before the sale, spend time with the customer fleshing out initial requirements before reaching the product acquisition stage. You know your product and tend to have some idea about the customer needs, but most products won't fit every situation or customer equally. The more you know, the better you can determine if there is a product and customer fit before making the sale.

After the sale, listen and learn from your customers both old and new. Based on what you've learned, adapt your products and services accordingly.  As the product or service is being provisioned and installed, what things could be faster or easier? As you train the customer on the product, what areas are they having difficulty understanding? What common configuration changes present the most difficulty for users?

As you learn more about your customers, build and refine the processes to reduce customer effort and provide a better customer experience. Identify areas of improvement that will reduce customer effort, either through refinements in the sales process or programmatically through the product.

What happens when customers do need support? Critical business systems may be down, company revenues are at risk, and stress levels are running high. We need to make this interaction as quick and painless as possible. The bane of any customer support call is being on hold waiting for a representative to answer. Keeping these wait times to a minimum is absolutely critical.

Great service levels and measurable stats might imply satisfaction, but that's only one piece of the puzzle. What is the customer perception?

Through simple surveys and customer follow-ups you can identify the customer pain points in support interactions and improve the process as needed. Reduce these pain points and you'll have a much happier customer throughout product ownership.

What we're talking about is adopting customer support as one of the core components of your business. It is no longer good enough to have a great product and sales team out selling the heck out of your product. As product differentiation shrinks in many security markets, security firms need to embrace customer support as a core competency, building it into the company DNA at every level of the organization. Service is the next key differentiator in network security.

As you take a look throughout your security organization, identify the areas that can be handled more proactively to reduce customer effort. By augmenting your network security product with outstanding customer service, security firms and customers will reap rewards at each stage of the customer life cycle and ensure the longevity of each customer relationship with your business.

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