The HotLine Magazine Archives
For The Profession of Cloud/SaaS Product Support
By Mikael Blaisdell

In the course of doing a Customer Contact Center Assessment project for a computer hardware manufacturer, I found myself sitting in on a meeting between the senior people in Sales and Marketing. They were discussing the imminent release of a new product, and there were some concerns being raised about the short time span that had been allotted for Q-A testing. Despite the worries, the senior Sales executive announced that the release would go ahead on schedule. “We can’t miss the market window,” he explained. “There may be some bugs, but we’ll fix those as soon as we can afterward.”

Fellow veterans of the high technology industry will undoubtedly shrug their shoulders at this point, knowing that the “ambitious” release of a new and not fully tested product is nothing new. But wait, it gets worse — much worse.

I looked over the new packaging for the product, and found something missing. No documentation. None. No technical specifications, no references, no installation instructions; nothing. With raised eyebrow, I asked the Product Manager for an explanation. Surely the supporting information wasn’t going to be shipped separately? No. There was no documentation, the product was too new and the materials hadn’t even been written yet. And just to top off the whole ugly picture, the customer support team didn’t even know of the existence of the new product. Their first warning was going to be when the floods of calls started to arrive. I’ll draw a curtain over the rest of the tale; suffice it to say that the resulting disaster was every bit as big as you might imagine — and then some.

What’s all of this got to do with the SaaS/Cloud / On-Demand world? Potentially, a lot if the lessons of the past haven’t been learned. In the aftermath of such disasters caused by premature release of untested products, many traditional companies, both hardware and software, adopted policies that required the senior customer support executive to “sign-off” on any new products before they could be shipped. I won’t pretend that such rules were always observed, but it did help to prevent some meltdowns. However, the dynamics of the SaaS model, where a new release of a module or an entire suite can be done at any time, opens the door to similar difficulties.

Who has final say in your company regarding when a new module or suite revision may be released? What ensures that before any such change is made, the customer support team is fully briefed and prepared to be responsible for supporting the customers? The message in the tale of the missing product documentation is that different departments of the company can easily have very different priorities. Whose interests should take precedence? The correct answer is the Customer’s, of course, but who in your company has the designated responsibility and corresponding authority for representing the customer? Are those policies backed up by actions? If you’re not certain of your answers, it’s time to investigate. An ounce of prevention can definitely be worth more than many pounds of cure.

September 11, 2007