No Customers Means No Customer Service

Someone once told me that librarians would be happiest if everything were checked in and no one was visiting the library.

We are at the point of needing to have at least a plan for collecting requests, suggestions, issues, and bugs from users. I purposely excluded a help desk application from the design for our software, intending to keep my eyes open for trends and free alternatives.

Twitter. Google for the words customer support twitter and you get close to 50 million hits. Wow!  Most of these are not about getting support for using twitter, they are not about Twitter’s customer service. Just the thought of using twitter for our own customer service is __________ (you choose)! I don’t know at what point simple e-mails and phone calls will be too much for us to handle, but even just one tweet might put me over the edge, and I am not even having them flow to my phone. Am I am too easily overwhelmed? 

If you check out the possibilities for software to help you collect and manage work orders issued by or ideas from users, they are numerous. Lots of software, but not an obvious solution so far, from what I have seen. Anyone with half a mind to write help desk software does, it seems (with a nod to Mark Twain as I think I am paraphrasing him, but googling is not yielding a quotation right off).

Google Groups. I’m not a fan of forums that are not e-mail based, but maybe google groups with their wiki is a good option for some aspects of customer service. That works for me as an InterSystems user for informal chatter as well as solid assistance. My frustration with yahoogroups is quite high right now.

Trac and Bug-trackers. E-mail lists and e-mail software on their own are not good for tracking. Each incident deserves at least a unique number. We are using trac internally for our tickets, but that doesn’t seem quite like the right type of software for public use. I might be wrong about that, because as a user I do like to be able to search for open issues, see what questions and postings others have had, and generally get the lay of the land from a ticket system that is open to the public.

Delay? Certainly with the number of customers we will have the first year of operation, we should be able to manage without putting a big whiz-bang customer service software infrastructure in place. On the other hand, “in place” seems better than “out of sorts.” 

So, if anyone knows any great free. as in beer. tools where we don’t have to do any work other than making a link from our site, and perhaps turning in a circle and reciting a chant, to get customer service software in place, please clue me in. We will be heading into more user experience testing in the coming months. I would like to get something in place for documenting issues or suggesting changes during such testing that can move with us into production. That needs to be tested too, and it can be useful at the same time.

Alas, the design for such, whether homegrown or selected, is not even started, nor can it fit on the plate very well just yet. Oh, yes, I do know that a high percentage of help desk software only had design in the mind of the developer while they were churning out code, and we might very well follow suit on that old tradition, but I hope to avoid that.

We do not have to write this software. While customer service is the new marketing (surely someone else has said this, but I’m not checking) and it must be done well, it is a supporting service to the software we are writing. I would rather not write it. I would rather not think about it at all right now.

While there is something difficult about being in that time where we are developing software with no income, with this posting I will also take a minute to count the roses.  Call me a librarian, but there is something really nice about having software with no users.

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4 responses to “No Customers Means No Customer Service

  1. Have you seen the offerings from http://www.37signals.com/? I would think that Basecamp or Highrise would be good tools for you to use.

  2. Dawn, at Nebula R&D we’re using Mantis.
    http://www.mantisbt.org/
    I maintain several internal and client projects with it. I occasionally give clients their own accounts so they can view and update their projects. Honestly very few people want to use it, but the people who “get it” love it. The software isn’t without it’s faults, but all faults are logged at the Mantis site, in Mantis, and for a few years they’ve been improving the software – all for free (beer). It’s as good as it gets.

    • Thanks, Tony, much appreciated. I can’t get to that link right now, so I googled for mantis software and see that bugzilla bought adwords for that, which is a good sign. It’s a bit concerning that their site seems to be down since the URL you gave is accurate from what I can tell, but I’ll check back later.

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