Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Support – shield and sword of the company!

During the past couple of years I happened to see a lot of different teams and organizations. Although every organization is unique, there seem to exist some common patterns. The one I find most disturbing is the complete separation of the support department from other parts of the organization! What do I mean by this? There are a couple of development teams (no matter what kind of product or service they are providing). And then there is a support team department which deals with customer requests. And there is almost no connection between those two. Often they are located in different buildings, cities or even countries. And in big enterprises it is quite common to even outsource the customer support to a separate company. This is a disaster! The support people are usually the ones with the most customer contact. They know very well who uses the product we are developing (whereas sometimes the developers, project managers etc. seem to not know this); they know very well how our customers use our product, what they like and what they don’t like about it, where they’re facing problems when using our product etc. So they are very, very valuable when it comes to feeding the things we are developing back into the development teams. But usually organizations don’t do that. Or they do a survey once a year to ask the support department what features were requested most often by the customers. Even organizations which are quite mature when it comes to agile software development rarely do so. This strikes me to be absurd, because customer feedback plays such an important role in the agile world. But instead of bringing together the people who have the problems (as represented by the supporters) and those who can solve the problems (the developers, admins etc.), we separate them carefully. This leads to dissatisfied customers and therefore more requests for support. And what do we do? We hire more and more support people and train them to deal very efficient with customer requests. And sometimes we hire other people who should bring the customer perspective back into the teams.

And there is another perspective to this pattern, which makes it even worse. Not only don’t the developers know what the customers want. But the supporters don’t really know what the developers are developing. But the support is the first (and mostly the only) direct contact our customer has with our company. How can the supporters deliver an excellent customer service if they have no clue which features will be developed (and when), which ones are already in progress, which ones won’t be developed at all etc.?

I hope now it has become clear why I see supporters as the „shield and sword of the company“. But instead of respecting this and using this huge potential, very often organizations treat them as cheap resources. I suggest we start thinking about the role and the value of support and how we can use this potential to deliver better products/services to our customers.

Stay tuned: Tomorrow I will publish a second post on this topic with an example of how companies can do it differently.

-> Read the follow-up: Supporters to the teams!


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