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July 15, 2010

Software Doesn't Live by Code Alone.

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I have to confess to a character flaw that's fairly well known here at Pica9.

I'm a fool for customer support.

I just love to drop what I'm doing (a shareholder letter or a sales presentation or one of those thousand-point RFPs) grab the support line when it rings, and find a local marketer on the other end of the line: a travel agent in the midst of promoting a cruise, or a security dealer trying to close a commercial installation, or a gym owner with direct mail on her mind.

I love to find out what it is they're trying to do, and I marvel at how hard they're willing to work to get it just right.

And with each call I take, my conviction grows that our software isn't defined by the code alone. It's defined by the way we humans pick up where our software ends. The way we work out a workaround. Or come up with an unexpected use for a little-known feature. Or maybe just in how we escalate a bug through to resolution and then call the customer to let them know the flaw's been fixed and they can proceed.

We've got metrics for all this, of course. Time-to-response and time-to-resolution are numbers I look at every week with the team. These are ways of looking at customer support as the end-step in a manufacturing model--and they do help us to focus on improving.

But the real questions, the questions that get me going in the morning and keep me in the office at night, are much more human. Did we leave the customer a little bit better informed, a little bit better equipped for their next foray into marketing? Did we take the chance not just to teach them the technique, but to learn about their needs? And did we feed those insights back into the team, where they could percolate and perhaps inspire better software tomorrow?

If our local marketing automation systems are (as we like to say) "living systems", then is customer support the beating heart of them all?

If so, maybe I'm not such a fool after all....

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