Vendor Responsiveness and Quality

[This post is the fourth of a series defining software quality].

The default vendor response to any problem appears to be: what is your authorization code and error number? It is even worse for those vendors who hide from their customers behind distributors or who outsource troubling customer calls to the third world. Of course this assumes you even have a phone number to access – many vendors restrict support to email only. Any vendor taking this approach has a single goal, reduce costs. They believe cost reduction is best achieved by ruthless adherence to CRM based metrics in the support call center: number of calls per support rep, average length of calls, and percent of incidents closed on first call. Note that none of this has anything to do with solving your problem. If anything the support ethos seems to be get that s.o.b. off the phone, it’s his fault anyway. Such vendors are focused on solving their own profitability problem, they spend more on sales and marketing than they receive in license fees [ed. check your vendor’s latest earnings report]. This leaves little money to provide both a profit and quality product support. Read Cem Kaner for the gory details of good enough software and how to deal with vendors who create it.

Wouldn’t you rather hear: I’m a shop floor guy too, what are you trying to do? At HarrisData, 98% of calls to our customer support hotline are how-to questions [ed. how-to run or set up business processes, not how-to program things]. Our support staff are business people who enjoy helping other business people (you, the customer) get things done. We measure their performance with a single metric – how long does it take until the customer reports the problem has been solved? This not only encourages, but requires our customer support people to follow up each customer issue to verify a satisfactory resolution. The definition of the word resolved comes from the customer, not an arbitrary industry standard message like restart, reboot, reinstall.

On those occasions where the customers problem is caused by a program bug, the customer service person will bring the product development manager into the conversation. At HarrisData, this is not a hand-off, the customer service person continues to be your point of contact for the problem. HarrisData’s development and quality people use the same CRM as support (CustomerFirst), so the support person has real time access to the status of any pending fix. Customer fixes take first priority for development and quality resources. As always, the customer support job is not complete until the customer verifies the fix is installed, is functioning properly, and solves the problem.

HarrisData customer support is organized to solve the customer’s problem, and to do so quickly and accurately. We believe that software quality requires the vendor to place problem resolution as the sole priority.

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