Most software applications have some sort of interface for support purposes. This interface is used to configure a system, add users and permissions, or troubleshoot issues. Unfortunately, the experience we create for those supporting our applications doesn't meet the experience we create for our end users. But that makes sense, right? Our support reps are not paying customers. In fact they are paid to learn now to use the system. Why invest the effort into their experience?
I hear this in every project. It's true, the support reps are not your paying customers. The problem with this way of thinking is that your support reps are going to be speaking to your paying clients every day. And even though you pay them, you cannot control their underlying emotional attachment to the product they are supporting. This emotional attachment can be positive or negative, and your clients will pick up on this when speaking to them. Are those supporting your product your evangelists, or trolls?
Are those supporting your product your evangelists, or trolls?
The evangelist is the person who preaches your product. She knows that the product is the best in the market, and knows why. She knows what all went into it, and how powerful it is in the market. She feels that her voice is heard when issues do come up, and feels as an integral part in the products development.
The troll is the person who loathes the product. Things don't always work and he doesn't hide the fact to the client. The support interface is clunky and any feedback he provides is, in his opinion, ignored.
In all companies, profit has to be recognized. What features will the client pay for, and those features are what get bumped to the top of the backlog. If it's not generating revenue, then why have it. I agree with this, as long as the support personnel are understanding of this and have a close relationship with the developers. When a company is just starting, the engineers are the ones supporting the product. When a few support persons are hired, the developers must train and have a close relationship with the support personnel. After a little time, support will become the companies product specialists getting a full understanding of what the customers are experiencing. This valuable resource must be nurtured as it evolves.
So What Can I Do?
Before I began the career journey as a software developer, I was in software support, and software education for almost 2 decades. I was a troll and I was an evangelist. When I became a software developer for the same product I once supported, I wanted to figure out how the process can better the chances of producing evangelists.
The first step we took was to embrace developing agile software. That term has been thrown around a lot but I'll try to stick to how it pertains here.
- Solve problems as a group instead of depending on one entity, and collectively negotiate a feature that will best solve the core problem, (sometimes this means actually defining the core problem). When support is involved in the solution to the problem, they will become evangelists for the software.
- Don't let complexity come into play right away. Often in these feature meetings, the developers will say "that is way too hard and will take way too long". When this happens, that means the developers are focused on the work involved implementing the solution. But there is a balance that must be met between a a perfect solution, or a compromised solution to the problem. But you gotta start somewhere, so I suggest to first come up with the perfect solution for the problem, the best experience the client can have. After the perfect experience is determined, negotiation may happen when development starts. Problems always come up when development starts so don't worry too much about them until the work starts. Early concerns may end up being easy and visa-versa. This doesn't mean to exclude developers, they need to be part of the solution, but they also need to take their developer hats off and put their [insert your business domain here] hat.
- (Work in Progress, keep coming back for updates)