Programmers know how the product is built.
Testers know how the product works.
Support people know how the product is used.

Test Manager for a desktop product in the research study

“Get close to your customer!” is the mantra found in business circles today so enamored with Customer Experience Management. ISO 9000 and various quality management programs all stress listening to the “customers’ voice” as a source of information for improvement processes. The functional group with the most customer contact typically is the customer or technical support group. Logically, the customer support group (CSG) could serve as a key source of customer information, yet many — if not most — companies treat the CSG as a “necessary evil,” leaving it untapped for its greater strategic potential.

The author recently concluded an in-depth case study of the strategic role of the customer support function in software companies. I began the research study with three objectives:

  • Identify the types of roles CSGs play in product quality assurance and quality improvement;
  • Determine the potential impact upon the cost structure of companies when the CSG serves a more active quality management role; and
  • Determine how companies can develop these more active quality management roles for customer support.

Across my research sites I found CSGs playing a broad range of quality assurance and quality improvement roles. More importantly, the data suggest that a more robust quality management role improved the quality of the next generation product, significantly lowering the cost to support the product. These robust roles for CSG appeared to result from a maturation process, which was promoted by a mix of factors with the organization.

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