If you use software tools, and who doesn’t, you probably want to get the best possible customer support and service to go with it. I include ‘service’ here because I want to consider more than just whether the company has a support hot line. It is important to me that vendors listen to me when I make suggestions or recommendations; that they provide help which is more than a telephone operator reading a script; and that they provide forums that enable me to interact with other users, sharing knowledge, tips and ideas. This would be support and service.
It may be unusual, but let us classify companies according to the level of customer support and service they provide. Vendors may:
Thankfully, there are increasingly more products available from companies that use model A. I say, ‘thankfully’ because this model allows companies to sell software at a lower price point, making their products accessible to the general public. Examples of such companies include video game vendors and suppliers of anti-virus software. There is not much we can do about the support provided by type A organizations; we accept it to get those lower prices. So, what about B and C?
Both B and C are typically vendors of software for sophisticated, enterprise-scale business needs. Examples include providers of large-scale database software, systems engineering solutions and software development support tools. As an end user I really would like good service before and after I buy but, unfortunately there are a considerable number of companies that use model B. The good news is that there are also a good number of companies that are type C. So, how can I tell which are type B and which are type C?
While there are prominent exceptions, there is a tendency for companies to begin as type C vendors and then as they grow, morph into type B. Companies that are small have the advantage of generally offering fewer products so that their customer interactions can be focused. As smaller organizations they will also be more suited to Agile development practices which promote heavy user involvement. So, I can get some idea of whether a company has an overall user-inclusive culture by considering whether they use Agile development methods. But again, as organizations grow, remaining Agile becomes harder. Smaller companies are better positioned to offer a more personal service and support experience, but the larger they grow, the harder it becomes to sustain.
Along with company growth, comes the pressure on projects to base their strategy and product direction on corporate policy and financial goals, rather than user needs. The larger marketing departments of these growing businesses then have the job of persuading me that this strategy is something I need and, in the fullness of time, will recognize as a good idea. This is the point at which I cease being an individual, and become merely a number.
I don’t want to use products that undergo revisions in order to fulfill the corporate strategy of the vendor, I want revisions that directly help me do my job and rightly or wrongly, I generally trust smaller organizations to do this over large, multinational conglomerates.
To increase the likelihood that a vendor has good customer support and services, I shall look for those that actively employ Agile development practices and are therefore more likely to extend user-friendly policies to their customer support and services. I like to be seen as an individual and so I buy from Agile developers!
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