When working with external companies for support — either resellers or consultants — it’s easy to get caught up in the blame game. When your support provider starts pointing the finger at a software developer or shuffling you off to another support group, you know you’re headed for a frustrating experience. In my opinion, it is often the case that when this happens, both parties are somewhat at fault.

This post was inspired by my recent experience with a support organization. The blame game was in full swing, and it was constantly some other application outside of their realm of support that was supposedly causing the trouble.

In some respects, I can sympathize with the support group’s perspective. I was in a phone support role for a few years, and I had to refer customers to other companies sometimes when the issue seemed to be outside our direct responsibility, even if it was common knowledge and not difficult to fix. At the time, I knew that the reason for this was to limit our responsibility and liability for things outside our scope. Still, I wasn’t comfortable with the fact that we weren’t helping more with some of those issues with the overall goal being to give the best service to the customer.

I think that rather than being immediately referred to someone else to solve a problem, it would be beneficial to both sides if a real conversation could take place first, even if the end result remains that you have to go elsewhere for final resolution.

Sharing all the related information about other applications and your environment could result in an insight into the problem that would be discovered only by hashing it out together. Not only could it help the customer get to a quicker resolution at the next stop along the way, but it could also result in more efficient call handling in future for the support person. From their perspective, they might learn something new about a particular environment that would help them deduce a root cause more quickly. From the customer’s perspecive, a little extra effort on the part of support is always appreciated (see my post about a similar situation with Microsoft support).

My solution to the blame-game scenario is for the customer to be willing to fully explain the difficulty and be ready to provide all the relevant information that support person might need. Likewise, support pros shouldn’t automatically push the problem off on someone else, but they should provide as much information as they know about it — even if they can’t fix the problem directly — and be willing to follow up if anything new comes to light. Remember, we are all in the IT business together, and helping each other is what we do everyday. Taking a little extra time is better for eveyone in the end.

Have you been involved in a particularly combative support situation recently?