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Calling into a lot of tech support lines these days is at best a chore and at worst a headache-inducing and time-consuming exercise in futility and frustration. Maybe you have an easy problem that can get solved right away by the level-one engineer who answers the phone. But more likely you will go through a phone tree, as the level-one engineer — who isn’t familiar with your business or the applications it uses — won’t be able to fix your problem.

How long will you spend on the phone before you are connected to the engineer who can solve your problem? Who knows? So when you decide to make that tech support call you need to be sure you leave plenty of time for explaining the problem more than once, being transferred, maybe having your call dropped and calling back in. You know the routine.

Is this what you want your customers to go through?

Nick Bock, CEO of MSP (managed service provider) Five Nines Technology Group, didn’t want his customers to ever experience anything like this. He wanted customer relationships to be relationships. So at his company based in Lincoln, Neb., each customer is assigned to one engineer. These engineers would likely be level-three engineers at any other company. But at Five Nines they answer the phone when their assigned clients call. They are familiar with the infrastructure at customer sites because they likely installed it. They are also most likely experts on the vertical applications their customers run. They handle 80 percent of the interactions with their clients, and if they are not available a backup engineer on their work team can fill in.

Sure, it’s more expensive to run the business this way, Bock says. But it’s paid off. His company that began with him and a partner now has 12 engineers and is hiring a 13th. It has grown to be on track for $4 million in revenues just three years after it started.

Now during this time of recession and economic uncertainty, as companies have slashed IT budgets and are looking for any reason to cut, how is your company handling customer service? Are you building up relationships with a higher-touch model? Or are you cutting back on service? I want to hear about your plan and how it’s working in the comments below.