We’re All in This Together
The evolution of service applications designed for the software industry has been very interesting to watch. At least two, and arguably three, distinct system categories have evolved, and the separation of these systems exacerbates the silo mentality between departments, leaving the customer almost forgotten.
Most software businesses use at least two separate products internally:
- a help desk to track customer issues that come in via phone, email, or on-site visits; and
- a bug tracker to monitor software defects.
Some companies also have a separate requirements management system to track features that should be in future versions.
An issue flow usually goes something like this: A customer identifies a software problem. A service representative logs that into the issue tracking system and assigns it a case number. If the problem is one the customer service representative can solve — or handle within the department — it's taken care of routinely.
However, if the customer reports a bug or has a new feature request, the process falls apart. In some cases, a bug report is exported from the help desk system into the bug tracking system. In other cases, bugs simply languish in the help desk system and are never addressed.
In all such cases, the customers are disconnected from their issue when it's shipped to another department or software. If they call into customer service, the representative can't provide any information about the problem because there is no visibility into the bug tracking system.
Most companies have workarounds that, while inefficient and error-prone, generally pass bug reports to the developers and get the software fixed. The real tragedy is the loss of feature requests.
Anyone who has worked at a software company knows — or should know — the best ideas always come from the customers. Customers use the software day in and day out, often in unique and creative ways in order to solve their real-world problems. End-users are simply the best source of new ideas.
When customers have a feature they want, who do they call? Typically, their only avenue is the customer service department, where — if they're lucky — it's logged into the help desk system. If not, the representative simply says, "Sorry, we can't do that," which promptly ends the discussion.
Break Down the Silos
The best way for a software company to be successful is by breaking down internal silos that separate departments. Customer service needs direct and constant communication with the software development, quality assurance, and product marketing teams. These four departments need to be tightly integrated and highly customer focused.
Too often, various departments operate in a complete vacuum with regard to the customer, leaving the most important stakeholder out in the cold. Yes, a company may have a great customer support system, but if the customer support team is unable to work closely with the development team, great ideas may never see the light of day.
The good news is that we are starting to see a shift in the evolution of customer service software. Companies are finally realizing that separating the help desk from the bug tracking application simply doesn't make sense. They are turning to providers who can offer best-of-breed help desk applications that are also sophisticated bug and feature tracking systems.
A customer service rep can simply mark a ticket as a bug or feature request and route that ticket to the appropriate software development or product marketing team member. The ticket maintains its visibility so that all internal stakeholders can see and monitor its progress. More important, the customer can get direct feedback either through the traditional customer service path or via a self-service portal.
Happy Customers Equal More Sales
While technology alone cannot demolish these internal communication roadblocks, experience has shown that it can greatly increase a team's ability to work together across departments, ultimately yielding more satisfied and loyal customers.
Such technology also results in a product development team that is more focused and software that is more aligned with the customer's needs.
In a software company, integrating these critical departments, and breaking down internal communication barriers, will result in better software and a higher quantity of happier customers. After all, happy customers equal more sales!
About the Author
Robert C. Johnson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the president of Muroc Systems, a provider of SaaS-based customer-centric applications. Its TeamSupport.com application is a customer service application designed to integrate the help desk, bug tracking, and feature management functions of a software company.
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For the rest of the December 2009 issue of CRM magazine please click here.
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