How often have I heard software developers say “Software development would be much more fun without users!” Now, in my new life “on the other side”, I find myself a user – a user of association software!
In my career, I was once the manager of a customer support department for a company that was a distributor of financial software written by a different company. When it didn’t work, it was frustrating to both me and the customer. The customer didn’t care if I was frustrated; he just wanted it fixed. After all, why did we sell something that didn’t work.
At another time, I was the president of my own software company and, perhaps to the detriment of our bottom line, we cared a lot about customer support and went out of our way to try to do it right. Yes, there were problems that had to be addressed, but I felt good about the way we responded. Once, when a client told me he wanted to see me in person to discuss the installation process, I took the next flight out to accommodate him. That was a good experience. That person, though retired now, has remained my friend for over 25 years.
I have heard of companies where software is released even when developers say it isn’t ready but for various reasons the company feels it necessary either to meet competitive issues or sales promises. Well, imagine that level of frustration for both the client and the developer much less the support personnel.
Someone I respect once commented that he couldn’t understand why software companies didn’t compete on the basis of quality and service. Quality matters. Service matters. When it is bad, people remember.
Now, as I work with this new website, I find myself working with other people’s software and find myself in the position of a “user”. I have seen both good and bad support through this process. I got very little help from the WordPress organization and some of the plugin creators. From MagicMembers, the plugin that handles all of our membership issues, the support was tremendous. It was responsive and always helpful. Thank you, Angela!
From all of this, here are my thoughts directed toward software companies trying to be successful:
- Without clients, your business doesn’t exist. Treat them even better than you treat prospects. Don’t assume that a signed contract means you don’t have to go out of your way to please the client.
- Be responsive to your clients particularly during implementation. Nothing is more frustrating when needing to get your software working than the inability to get help from someone who knows how things are supposed to work. Don’t assume users are stupid because they don’t know the internal intricacies of your architecture. Never have the attitude that whatever is wrong is user error – even if it is!
- Personalize your support. In a paragraph above, I thanked Angela for good support. When she first began to help me, she identified herself and she personally followed my progress and ironed out issues I was finding. I felt she was personally committed to my success. All of this was from a company who sold their product for $97! Just imagine the support you should get from a company whose software was priced in the hundreds of thousands!
- Still along the lines of personalized service, go beyond the basic facts if you can. Try to get to know the client personally so that not all conversations will be about problems. It is amazing what a good relationship can do to smooth the rough places in an implementation. Personality counts.
- As a user, I would rather wait for something to be fixed than be given something to do that you know doesn’t solve the problem. I don’t want to be told to load the latest version if you know that the problem still exists there. Fixing one important thing to break something equally as important doesn’t help me much.
- Honesty is better than anything. Nothing is more frustrating than feeling like someone is blowing smoke up your ….. If something isn’t working and you know it, admit it so the client doesn’t waste time trying to figure out if it is their own lack of knowledge. If you know it can’t be fixed for a month, say so, so the client can make appropriate plans.
- Users, on the other hand, should try to understand their support person who may not have much influence on getting something fixed but should be responsible for helping you with their knowledge of how things work. Be nice and they will go to bat for you.