We already talked about how important support is and that busy help desk is one of the best problems you can have as a small software company. Now we are going to talk about the developers view on this issue.
Most of programmers don’t like to see their inbox full with all kind of users request. I would lie if I say that I don’t understand programmers who just want to work and don’t wish to talk with the customers, answer “stupid” questions; fix installations that are broken because customer did not read the manual; or does not know the difference between 0644 and 0755 permissions on Unix systems. I do understand they desire to work without distractions, but the truth is that running a small software company is not only about programming.
From my own experience I can tell that it eventually boils down to two rules:
- Software company’s purpose is to help customers solve their problems – not to provide programmers a place to work, or make founders a millionaires by the time they turn 30. According to that, support is as essential just as much as programming is;
- Be helpful, instead of being defensive – when ego is not involved, everything turns out just fine.
If you are already in the business, or you are a programmer who’s considering to found a software company, here is a couple of advices I can give regarding support:
Put support in right context and never treat it like a burden, especially if you’re the boss. Everyone will pick up that vibe – your team, existing and potential customers, readers of your blog. This feeling that everyone have builds up until it explodes at some point – programmers treat support as an annoyance, customers get disappointed with the poor support and annoy support staff even more, people get emotional, issues get blow out of proportion, etc. Result is that you’ll have a lot of people who’s expectations are not meet, feeling disappointed.
Don’t take criticism personally. When people are criticizing your product or service, they are not attacking your identity! Relax and don’t get defensive. Instead, see if you can understand customer’s perspective and help. Criticism is good because you can improve based on feedback you get. Worst thing that can happen to your product that people stop caring.
Learn to defuse tense and emotional situations. We all had to deal with people who react emotionally and don’t “listen to the voice of reason”. Key is to forget logic and reason! Only thing that works in situations like that is patience and commitment to help. Don’t let customer emotions affect you. Instead, be calm and resolve the issue timely and professionally.
So, if you have a crowded help desk it doesn’t mean that you or your product are bad, it means that there is interest for what you are doing, that there are prospects wishing to learn how it can benefit from that and are considering to purchase a license, that there are real people who use the application… That’s why support should never be considered as a burden, but as a strong indicator that what you are doing matters.