Customer support is broken.
As developers, we are very much used to the idea of filing a bug report and having it read by the maintainer of a project. We are at the very end of the support chain right away. This idea is quite alien to traditional companies. It normally works like this:
- A technician, or more likely a rep, receives a phone call from a customer. If they have a real problem, a new ticket is created.
- The rep tries their very best to file a support ticket that will be useful to lower-level support staff working in the data centre.
- As the issue is being worked on, the support ticket is updated with information about possible causes and attempts to fix the problem. If the report is missing some key information, either go back to step 2, or – even worse – halt.
- When the issue is resolved, the support ticket will be marked “fixed”.
What’s wrong with this workflow? Well the customer is excluded from all steps except the first. They have no insight into the process, have no idea about the cause of the issue. All they know is that something is broken, and they can only hope that somebody has a minute to work on it. Often they don’t even know when the issue has been fixed.
Some very good companies provide support forums, maybe even public bug trackers. These are hard to use and unhelpful, but at least the customer has something to do while his service is out of order.
What’s the solution?
If you mean well, there is no reason to hide the fact that software systems will have issues. The smart company includes the customer, not trying to make them feel like they’re important, but showing them that they actually are.
- A customer files a report, using an easy to understand interface, and having the freedom to not learn the technical process of issue tracking before they do.
- The issue report is constantly edited, updated, commented on by both other customers and technical staff. From small things like a “+1, this issue affects me” to detailed technical reports that are helpful for technicians.
- When the issue is resolved, they have an insight into what went wrong and how staff went about fixing it. They can estimate how long it takes, and they have a real sense that people are working to help them do the things they need to do.
The idea is straightforward, but is almost never implemented well. These are some attempts at customer-centric support I’ve come across:
- Exposing Bugzilla, Launchpad, Redmine to your customer (i.e. treating your customer as unpaid technical staff)
- Support forums, Q&A systems, things like get satisfaction (i.e. the modern equivalent of a suggestion box)
- Twitter accounts, asking the customer to describe their important issue in 140 characters to someone, hopefully human, who may or may not respond.
This was not good enough
Ondina, we understand that your issues are just that, issues. They are not discussions, questions, inquiries, suggestions, nor crowdsourced debugging. Tracker has been designed with that in mind.
Easy to use
Even if you are technically versed, it should not be your job to file a perfect report that a technician can work on right away. You are allowed to put as little or as much effort into your issue report as you want. Tracker will make it easy for staff to update the issue until it is actionable, and it lets you check up on the progress as often as you want.
Bringing customers and technicians together
While dedicated support staff might make the developers’ lives easier, some customers would actually rather talk to low-level engineers. Tracker is therefore designed with both customers and technicians in mind. Supports staff is still able to do their bit, improving issues with detail the customer can’t (or doesn’t want to, shouldn’t have to) provide, but at the same time, developers, support, and the customer get to be on the same platform.
Tracker is transparency
At the heart of tracker is the idea of being transparent, open, and accessible. We set out to deliver a very high quality experience, a feat impossible to archive without constant interaction with you.
One more thing!
If you like the way tracker works, and we hope you do, the code is available freely, so you can install it, use it for your own projects, or just play with it. The license is GPLv3, and the repository is up on GitHub.