Public Knowledge Bases

One thing you learn rather quickly when you release and support software is that the faster you answer questions the more questions you receive. Fast e-mail responses often lead to fast responses on the other end and you end up engaged in a psuedo real-time conversation.

Being responsive to customers is important, but if you’re a smaller shop it’s more important to try to give them the tools to help themselves. No developer or company will ever be able to answer all of their customers support requests in real time on a one to one basis, but if you work hard to document things and are willing to offer support forums, you’ll find that your customers can help themselves and each other during the times you aren’t available.

I was reminded of this fact the other night. The last couple weeks have been pretty crazy. We’re hiring new people, looking for new office space, and busting tail to make sure we are meeting our client obligations.

So about 9pm, I decided I needed to unplug and went to watch some TV. Sure enough, that’s just when I got the e-mail notification that there was a new post in our forums. Because I was dead tired and didn’t see an easy answer for the question, I decided I’d wait until morning before following up with the customer and trying to help them troubleshoot.

Sure enough, 12 minutes later the customer posted in the forums again – they had found the answer to their question in another thread. The customer has everything working and no response from us was necessary. We:

  1. gave them the opportunity to find the answer to their current question
  2. might have allowed them to discover something else useful along the way
  3. enabled them to continue building the public knowledge base for future customers

It’s amazing what you can learn along the way when you’re looking for something specific. Accidental discoveries are often very valuable.

I’m not saying that you should ignore your customers, or intentionally make them wait for answers. However, you need to allow people to help themselves and each other if you want that to happen.