The Faces of Quark: Paul Brothe on Customer Service

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been conducting a series of interviews with executives and managers at Quark, Inc., to discover who’s piloting the ship, where they came from, and what they’ve accomplished since arriving at Quark.

The first was with Ray Schiavone, Quark’s CEO. Next was Joshua Duhl, who leads Quark’s efforts to advance their lead in enterprise-level publishing. This month I chatted with Paul Brothe, Quark’s Senior Vice President of Customer Service and Operations. It’s no secret that Quark’s customer service reputation during the late 1990s was pretty bad, but I’ve personally seen it turn around dramatically since Quark’s new leadership arrived in 2004.

Brothe took leadership of Quark’s customer service about a year ago, in February 2008. Since then, Quark’s customer-rated level of satisfaction regarding customer service has risen above Adobe’s, and higher than almost any other software company. That’s a HUGE turnaround, so I asked him what Quark has done to achieve such a dramatic improvement in customer satisfaction. Below is my report on our conversation.

How do you measure a happy customer?

First, I asked about the metrics — how do companies objectively measure customer satisfaction? One popular tool is Net Promoter, a survey system that asks customers about their experience immediately after contact with a company, specifically asking whether they would recommend that company or service to their friends and business associates. According to Brothe, Quark’s Net Promoter score has risen to above 50, which is quite an accomplishment. (Adobe’s highest score was 46.)

How do you make them happy in 2009?

In other words, what is Quark doing differently now than they were doing before? The answer involved several changes, all based on how customers prefer to interact with a company such as Quark:

  • Maximize self-service. In August 2008, Quark implemented a Virtual Knowledge Base in English, German, and French, and it gets about 500 hits every week. The Virtual Knowledge Base includes self-help (which is like phone help except via email) as well as live chat, and direct email to a tech rep. Unlike other companies’ programs, all these services are free. After using the knowledge base, customers are surveyed via Click Tools to discover whether they actually want self-service tools. The answer has been a resounding Yes.
  • Keep phone support free and fast.
  • Calculate the 10 most common reasons that customers call in for support, and put the answers on the customer support pages at (If this feature hasn’t been implemented by the time you read this story, it will be soon.)

Brothe emphasized Quark’s discovery that people actually prefer online chat for support, partly because of how easy it is to send links to Web pages and downloads, and because it’s easy for customers to send screen shots and other information about their questions.

How do you support customers of Quark’s enterprise-level products?

Quark has two support teams: one focuses on QuarkXPress, while the other provides one-to-one support for the Quark Publishing System, Quark Dynamic Publishing Solution, and QuarkXPress Server. The enterprise products have support people in Tokyo, India, Switzerland, Hamburg, London, and Denver. In addition, there is an expert team in Florida to support XML Author, Quark’s unique solution that lets users of Microsoft Word generate clean XML-based content for publishing systems.

A happy success story

What can I say when a company so completely turns around one of their weakest points, other than Congratulations! I applaud Ray Schiavone for his leadership in addressing each area of Quark that in the past had caused customers a degree of pain. And congratulations to Paul Brothe for bringing Quark’s customer support back to the highest level in the industry.

Next up: a chat with Tim Banister, Quark’s big-kahuna product manager for QuarkXPress…