Improving your support model

This is directed at a specific organization, but many of these lessons hold true for any group that has a client base to support.

Dear Blackboard Support

Your clients are suffering. As your annual conference comes to a close, your support model is feeling it’s age. Recent changes have been small, cosmetic, and even counterproductive. What you really need are deep, effective changes. Here are several steps you can to take to improve communication and support.

Use a real (and public) issue tracker

Make it easy for clients to access and communicate around your development cycle. Determining the status of a bug should not require a client to dig through a static table or download an excel sheet.

There are plenty of modern issue trackers out there that can provide a public interface for easily accessing and referencing past, present, and future issues.

In particular, your clients should be able to:

  • Easily search for issues (i.e. AS#’s) across releases.
  • Rate/rank/vote on issues
  • Comment on issues
  • Link directly to issues

This is crucial to the continued success and improvement of your client engagement programs. Tables and excel files age quickly, and won’t provide the continuity of a live ticket system.

Your development teams are working hard – don’t miss this opportunity to communicate this fact to your clients.

Tear down the walls

Drop the registration walls on the knowledge base. Communication is central to the role of a support organization, and information dissemination is an integral part of communication. Forcing user registration and hiding that content from search engines prevents people from getting to the material that they need.

If there is information in there that is proprietary or has security implications, then it shouldn’t be there in the first place. If you have to, make a separate area for more “sensitive” information. Better yet, fix the issues that make it so tremulous in the first place.

Focus on client cases and relevant information

Your client support portal should be up to date and topical. Clients coming into Behind the Blackboard want to see four things:

  • Cases that you are working on, and have worked on
  • Issues relevant to their cases
  • Any other issues that could affect them
  • Critical alerts and bulletins

Push recent items and topics from the connections or support areas – don’t push ads for your other products.

Improve the support ecosystem

Encourage the competition and growth of third party contracted support vendors. Word through the grapevine is that one provider gets preferential treatment over other 24/7 call center and knowledge base providers.

Wether or not this is true, you should be working hard to dispel this notion. If this isn’t hurting you now (hint: it probably is), it will in the future. When the vendor you are closest with has problems, this reflects directly on you.

Diversification of your support offerings will improve overall impression of the support your clients receive. Your third party vendors are an extension of your top tier support, and should be treated as such.

Give the Knowledge Base the authority it needs

Identify official, Bb approved content as such. Make it immediately clear when you are reading an article if it was written, edited, approved, or otherwise touched by a Bb employee.

User contributed content is fine and welcome. But when your clients go digging in the knowledge base for answers, they should be clear where and who they came from. Long time clients may recognize the name of an employee, but the page should still reflect this.

Further, take the time to clean up and organize the knowledge base. Visitors should not have to guess at which one is the “official” article when they discover two similar pieces of content.

Without an RSS feed, it’s not really a blog

And it should be an auto discoverable feed. Don’t get me wrong, A maintenance blog is a great way to communicate in a timely manner with your customers. But if they have to visit the page and refresh every time they want the information, then you’ve missed an opportunity.

Don’t interpret ticket closures as resolutions

Simply marking a case “closed” does not make it “fixed”, “resolved”, or otherwise useful as a metric for client satisfaction. Fixing the actual problem does.

Relying on these numbers will only lead to a false sense of confidence and unhappy customers.

Attempting to improve these numbers through practices such as “suggesting solutions” is confusing to clients, and offers no real solution. Worse, it gives the impression that you are not willing to devote the resources necessary to address the problem.

Seven and thirty day close rates may be useful as a rough, quick assessment tool. Just don’t lean to heavily on them.

Sincerely, with love and respect

Every single TSM I’ve interacted with has been helpful, courteous, and professional. Keep hiring good people. Just don’t leave them – and your clients – hanging by the threads of your support infrastructure.