20 February 2023

Code, Writing, Social

Also Known As:

Problem: Customers using your product/service are inevitably going to find issues (or what they think are issues), and as the connection between developers and your company, you will be a first point of contact they will use to communicate with your company when they are stuck or believe they have found a bug or issue. Your customer is running into issues of one form or another with your product/service: Either it is not doing something it should, or it is doing something it shouldn't, or at least is behaving in a manner that is unexpected. It may be as simple as simply being "down", and they cannot correct the problem themselves.

Context: Formal technical support teams often have a formalized process by which they triage and handle (or escalate) technical support requests (tickets), in order to help that team focus on fixing the biggest-impact smallest-effort-required bugs. Each tech support team triages their tickets in a different manner, according to their policies and OKRs, and anyone looking for ways to circumvent this process often earns the wrath of the senior management of the technical support team.

Depending on the nature of your product/service, the technical support team may not be well qualified to handle developer technical support requests; for example, if your product/service is consumer-facing (like a cloud-based accounting system or an online gaming platform), the technical support team will likely be much more focused on working with end-user consumers, and not your developer-customers.

Solution: Dedicate some portion of your team's bandwidth to acting as a first-tier technical support team, either handling the issue entirely or passing it on internally to others better able to track the problem down. Continue to act as the point-of-contact for the customer, taking ownership of the communication and acting as their advocate in meetings about the issue. Ensure that they receive an answer (even if it is one they don't care for or want to hear).

If the product/service is geared towards end-user consumers, you may need to create an informal (or formal) developer tech support team to support those folks directly.

Consequences: Any form of contact with your team can be the entry point to an informal technical support request: feedback on an Article, one of your Ambassadors having an issue themselves, Forums, Social Media, even somebody walking up to you at a Conference Session are all prime candidates for a customer's opening line, "Do you have a moment? I've run into something weird, and I could use your help...."

Developer technical support is often more intricate and complex than end-user technical support, since software development is often more subtle and more "open-ended" than what users are capable of doing. This means that developer technical support is often a more time-intensive task (on a per-ticket basis), and it requires personnel who are at least somewhat proficient at writing code. If the company currently does not have a developer technical support team, your team will need to step into that role, and own any developer technical support requests that come in. This is an enormous time commitment if your product/service becomes at all popular, so while your DevRel team members may be able to serve in this role for a time, you will quickly reach a point where your available bandwidth is exceeded and a dedicated developer technical support team will need to be hired. (This team can be either a part of DevRel or a part of Engineering--there's solid arguments for both.)

Having the DevRel team involved at some level in developer technical support can help generate additional feedback about the product/service, and in particular the places where either the documentation needs to be improved (perhaps the Guides need to have deeper details about a complex topic) or fixed (perhaps the Reference Documentation doesn't accurately reflect how the product/service works) or extended (perhaps a new Sample/Example helps demonstrate how to avoid a common bug).


Tags: devrel   patterns