Thursday, 3 June 2010

To people who provide technical support

After feedback from very satisfied NAG users, it seems to be high time to publicly appreciate the folks who work in front line technical support teams. To point out what great value they provide to customers, not just for NAG but across many software organisations worldwide. It is a very important job that involves much more than answering questions. It is about asking the right return questions and about careful communications.

The idea of a TV detective springs to mind; working the crime scene at an upmarket golf club near Hollywood, with a smart party in the background… image Detective Lt Colombo, in the clubhouse, picking his words with oh-so-much care, and asking questions in the most un-intimidating way. At the same time, he has four suspects lined up at the back of his mind and is waiting to discount each one as the facts of the case (or support problem) are drawn out into the light.

Who at NAG?
------------ What! Not a doctor?

The support job sounds easy to start with: When someone gets in touch with a support desk it is because they need help. But it needs special skills to uncover all the important details that provide the clues as to what is going wrong. The support role needs an ability to understand what the user is trying to achieve and the mechanisms he or she wants to use. It needs enough knowledge to be able to challenge the user’s ideas of how their own system or application should behave and it needs the balance of authority and diplomacy to work through the possible solutions.

A little like the down at heel TV detective investigating the crime at the exclusive golf club, it is common for the person handling a support request to have no pre-knowledge about the user’s application or environment. So it can be a steep learning curve in support. But the rapid self-education in the user’s field can be critical to make for clear technical conversations. This is particularly so when communicating with NAG Library users, since they work in very many different industries and subject specialties.

The final twist in the detective plot is often the most important. Here, unlike the TV detective who has to expose the evil perpetrator, the very best support people don’t really say that the user may have made any mistakes. Instead they leave the user with new and valuable knowledge and often a favoured contact that they are happy to turn to if they need real help again in the years to come.

To end I need to be clear that this is not meant to suggest that support people are dishevelled, or that they dress badly (I am in no position to comment these subjects). And support teams actually do have an in-depth knowledge of many fields - at NAG these are the same type of people who develop the NAG library and provide all the detail support information http://www.nag.co.uk/Forms/support.asp and the diverse technical papers http://www.nag.co.uk/doc/techrep/index.asp that help users make the best use of the NAG library every day.

The analogy is intended to show how, like good detective work, the job is skilled, subtle and is critical. Many organisations are built on great support teams who provide astoundingly good help. Just listen to the users of NAG software saying – 'keep up the good work'.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more David. I have dealt with many software vendor support teams over the years and I can honestly say that the support staff at NAG are among the best in the world.

    Not only do you all know your onions but you are also friendly, approachable and sometimes humourous.

    Cheers,
    Mike

    PS This opinion is in no way influenced by the fact that you fed me chocolate cake when I visited your offices for training a couple of weeks ago :)

    ReplyDelete

NAG moderates all replies and reserves the right to not publish posts that are deemed inappropriate.