You’ve been there haven’t you? You buy a product, use it, have an issue, cringe and call support. What comes next either breaks or makes your future relations with the company and the product they sold you. It’s at this point that you find out if they are your partner or you are on your own. With consumer products my expectation for a good one is to never break — I don’t ever want to have to call their support. But when it comes to the toys we use in data centers I want to hit all of the big issues during QA and I want it to break down so badly that it will stump the technical support team so we get a chance to test their infrastructure and protocols.
That’s exactly what happened to one of the key products we selected for our latest large scale implementation. It’s irrelevant to this article what that product is, what’s relevant is that the support organization experience was disappointing. I am not going to focus on what went wrong — it really isn’t that important, what’s important is that we got the message across and it appears we’ll have a meeting with the people that might be able to make a difference. And I really hope that they do — I believe this company has potential.
I was thinking about the upcoming meeting and what to address and here’s what I realized. It’s actually very simple — here’s my list of things I Need From a Support Organization of a technology company:
Community is where you go first if you have a non urgent question. Community needs to consist of three components:
- Knowledge Base
- Bug Database
Knowledge Base needs to offer an up to date list of known issues and white papers that bridge the gap between official documentation and what customers are actually going through while doing hands on implementations. Bug Database is where you get a chance to feel the pulse of the company — it’s an integral part of the community and it doesn’t have to be an open Bug database that we see in the open source communities, no, just a read-only access where you get to see what kinds of issues development is working on these days. Through Forums you share experiences with other customers and learn best practices by picking the brains of the community gurus. Forums is what connects you with the rest of the customer base and gives you a chance to see the bigger picture, it also shows that the company is open about it’s business and is not afraid of public scrutiny.
Communication is one of the most critical aspects of a support organization. It needs to flow both ways — customer to support and support to the customer. Support needs to drive Communication, they need to deliver instant updates to your issue and they need to squeeze the last drop of information from you because even the smallest piece of information can play a huge role in how effective a solution will be or how it will help other customers that might be facing similar symptoms but have not yet identified the cause of the problem. Communication is the only thing that allows a good support organization to create strong Knowledge Base because it’s the only way to gage what you are really experiencing in the field.
For example a failure of their product might have an adverse affect on other products within your technology stack so it’s imperative for support to ask you for the error messages that you might have seen with the rest of the components so that these symptoms can be properly documented and published in the knowledge base as a white paper or an alert.
Response is the most critical aspect of the support organization. The worst thing you as a customer can experience is when your requests are being ignored or lost in the queue. You need to know as soon as possible that someone is looking into the issue and it better NOT be an boilerplate response from an automated system. Response needs to include action plan — it’s not enough to simply say “We are working on it” — it should provide an action plan even if it involves you — the customer. Response goes hand in hand with communication and it needs to be recorded into a system that you can login to view history of events. Just like Communication, Response goes both ways and support needs to drive it — if a customer is delaying response to a request for information support needs to follow up immediately.
And there you have it — Community, Communication, Response = effective support organization.
Vitaliy Mogilevskiy August 14, 2008
Posted In: Operations