I know it’s not a popular thing to say around developers, but I’m going to say it anyway. Programmers must sometimes provide support for their products. Now, before all of you developers begin flaming me, listen to my reasoning. While capable and competent, the average IT support technician does not and cannot know every error code and possible fault a piece of software might have. Some application errors are beyond the technician’s ability to diagnose and resolve. When this happens, the application developers must join the search for a solution.
When to call in the cavalry
As a general rule, developers should not be a user’s first support contact. I think of IT development as the last line of defense—the cavalry charging in to save the day. Initial trouble calls should be handled by IT support and escalated to development only when appropriate. Developers were hired to write code, not answer the phone. However, developers must be ready and willing to support their software after release.
IT organizations must develop logical, clear-cut escalation procedures for each application they support. Every software package possesses unique characteristics and support requirements. Before help desks agree to support an application, ensure that both they and the developers know the level of support for which each is responsible. This will reduce confusion and tension down the road.
Work as a team
With a standard set of operating procedures in place, there should be no misunderstandings when support calls are escalated to development. IS organizations should strive to present a unified image to their clients. The end user should not notice a difference in service between the help desk and the development team. Accurate and open communication is essential for this process to succeed.
The buck stops here
“I didn’t write the software…” I’ve used this response in the past to appease angry users and perhaps to focus their attention and frustration on someone else. While true, I should not have tried to shift blame to a specific part of my IS organization. To most end users, the help desk is the IT department. They couldn’t care less who’s to blame for their dilemma. They just want it fixed. When a problem requires escalation, help desk analysts must assure the end user that the problem will be resolved, but that additional assistance is needed.
The bottom line
Developers may not like to provide end-user support, but sometimes it is necessary. When application errors are beyond the control and scope of the standard help desk, IT development must step in. However, developers should never be a client’s first support contact. IS organizations should have a clear and specific procedure for escalating trouble calls from first level support to development. Help desks must also refrain from blaming development for application errors, and present a unified image to the end user. In the end, it’s the user that matters.
Does your company have a clear chain to follow when dealing with a particularly tricky end-user problem? Do you agree that developers should be part of the troubleshooting mix? We want to know. Post a comment or send us an e-mail.
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.