A couple of years ago I bought a new printer for the house; a nice 3-in-one printer/fax/copier. I always research the electronics I purchase, and this particular model had received many very positive reviews. So, you can bet I was surprised, and a little pissed off, when the printer started acting up just a few short months after I purchased it. I tried like hell to figure out the issue, hoping my efforts would save me from a dreaded call to the manufacturer’s customer support hot line. No such luck. After a few hours of troubleshooting, I looked up the support number in the back of the users guide, dialed it, and prepared for the worst.
We’ve all been there. Unfamiliar with the product, we are often unable to explain in detail what is going on, especially over the phone. And usually on the other end of the phone is an under paid customer support representative who simply reads from a script given to him by his manager. Often these representatives know very little about the product they are supporting. And, good luck if you happen to have a question that doesn’t appear on the script.
What happened next I will never forget. On the other end of the line appeared this friendly, knowledgeable technician. I described the problem I was having to him. He listened patiently, and asked a couple of targeted questions to help narrow down the issue. In no time at all, he knew exactly what was going on, and exactly how to fix it. Step by step, he clearly instructed me on what needed to be done to get my printer back online. Before you knew it, I was back in business. That technician, that single person, turned my experience around 180 degrees. I was once again a satisfied customer. Hell, I was more than satisfied.
You cannot underestimate the value of awesome customer support. I will gladly pay more for a product or service if I know that it will come with great support, as I know it will save me from headaches and grief down the road.
Typically, developers don’t serve on the front lines of customer support. However, not directly interacting with and supporting the users of your product means you are missing out on a great opportunity. An opportunity to build customer loyalty, an opportunity to understand how a customer is using your product or service, or simply an opportunity to help somebody.
I think developers should spend at least a few weeks a year directly supporting the users of their product. There are several reasons why.
You will learn how people use your product
You think you know how people are using your product? Think again. You think that user interface you designed makes perfect sense? Maybe it does to you and your co-workers, but odds are it is not as clear to your customers. When on customer support, you’ll see first hand how customers are using your product. If you find that your customers are fumbling around your product, thinking they are doing one thing but actually doing another, it’s a clear indication that your product isn’t as intuitive as it should be. Don’t write off these issues as “user errors”. Instead, get some feedback from your customer, and figure out how to make your product easier to use.
It will become obvious what features are missing, what needs to be improved, or what needs to be taken out
Your sales team, marketing team, and product team may have some great ideas regarding what direction to take your product. But, there is nothing quite like hearing it straight from the customer. This doesn’t mean that you should run out and implement every feature, and make every change requested by a customer. But, if you start to hear similar feedback while on support, it may be an indication of a legitimate need. Take note of it! Or, better yet, just do it!
Developers can fix problems…fast
Developers are in a great position to fix problems, fast. They usually know the product more intimately than anybody else on the team, have easy access to the code, and sometimes have the ability to release a patch. This gives developers the unique ability to provide amazing customer support. There have been times where I’ve fixed an issue while still on the phone with a customer, or shortly thereafter. Think about how you would feel if all of your problems were solved this quickly.
Happy customers become loyal customers. And, providing awesome customer support is one sure way to keep your customers happy. Providing customer support can be very time consuming, sometimes consuming the majority of a developer’s time (which is why I think a few weeks a year is enough). However, this should be thought of not as an expense, but an investment. An investment in the customer and the developer.