Have you ever called or emailed a software company offering up suggestions for changes they should make to their product? Let’s assume you’ve answered yes, and let’s also assume they didn’t immediately laugh in your face. Whoever you spoke with probably took down the specifics of your suggestion, informed you that all product updates must be filtered through their development department and sent you on your way. If you’re particularly diligent, you might remember to check in on the status of your request at some point down the line; or, if you, like the rest of us, have more important things to worry about, you’ll probably just forget you ever called. End of story.
A lot of us have been there before. We realize that no matter what the new Windows 7 commercials try to make us believe, software companies don’t always treat their customers’ great ideas with very much respect. The commercial is just good enough to not be a spoof, although it leaves you wondering how it could possibly have been approved. What you might not know is the reason why this is. In most cases, employees of a software company fall into two, distinct groups: client-facing and non client-facing. Those of us that fall into the former get the pleasure of interacting on a daily basis with the client masses. We report to work each day with one goal in mind: keep the clients happy, and we do everything within our power to do so. Unfortunately, that does not include making programmatic changes. For tasks of that type, we must rely on the non client-facing contingent.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing ill to say of the people who work behind the scenes. In fact, they provide the foundation upon which everything else is built. Without the non client-facing types, Client Relations reps like me would have nothing to sell or support. The issue is that the people who talk to clients day in and day out and the people who make all the decisions about where the product is headed are not always on the same page, in the same room, or even in the same time zone. When the division becomes that great, you really have almost no hope of getting your voice heard. No matter how much a customer service rep may want to help you, if they don’t have access to the people who can make it happen, you’re both out of luck. This is the reason why it’s so special when a company makes a point of bridging the gap between client relations and development. It takes a certain kind of organization to admit sometimes the best ideas don’t come out of a closed room full of MIT graduates. At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter what sort of masterful, delicately crafted piece of software you’ve coded; if the clients can’t use it, you’ve still dug your own grave.
For someone with a career in customer support, working for an organization like this is the ultimate goal. I no longer have to dread being on the receiving end of the call that I described above, knowing that all suggestions will be relegated to a bottomless pile. Instead, I get the happy task of calling back clients just weeks later to let them know that their ideas have become a reality. Instead of taking the blame, I get to take all the credit. Just don’t tell the developers I said so.