Support the Business, not the Software

It’s time for a new perspective on software support. Technical software support isn’t good enough anymore. The vast majority of people that interact with software today are business people – not technologists. The traditional model of software support focused on defect resolution and staffed by technicians is not capable of meeting the needs of today’s market. Transforming software support to reflect changes in the needs of software customers is long overdue. A new software support model based on serving business users is emerging.

Consider Pat, an Operations Manager using manufacturing software application and looking for information about kanban processing. Pat has worked with the software package for years, but it’s impossible to know all of the capabilities of the software. Pat needs to get an introduction to kanban, how the software can help him implement kanban, and what kind of return on investment the company will receive. A call to a traditional software support hotline will be answered by a technician with some form of the “what is your error number?” question. When it is clear that there is no error, Pat will be told to consult the documentation, enroll in a training course, or, worse yet, talk to a salesman about new product features.

Why not staff a manufacturing software support hotline with a manufacturing business expert (e.g. a former shop supervisor, planner, or operations manager), rather than a software technician? In five minutes, the business expert can quickly present Pat with background on kanban and the features in the software that support kanban. The business expert can point Pat to various online resources, or connect Pat to another member of the user community that is already using kanban. Pat can quickly determine whether kanban or other functionality is right for the company, and begin to flesh out a plan to configure the software to make kanban part of the manufacturing process. In a short time, the business software support department can help Pat transform manufacturing at his company, and yield a significant return on investment.

If vendors continue to charge significant fees for software support, they are going to need to start providing significant value to their customers. One easy way is to transform the traditional technical software support center into a business software support center, focused on resolving business problems. Vendors cannot ignore technical problems that must be fixed, and must provide technical support services until and unless increasing software quality makes technical support unnecessary. However, customers won’t continue to pay for vendors to fix their quality problems for long. Vendors need to pay attention to the value software support provides to their customers. Those vendors that do not will ultimately experience falling customer retention rates and declining annual revenue streams.
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