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In the Web Development community there is a dirty little secret. We dislike providing technical support. After all, we are website builders, not website trainers. Ask any web developer what their process is for training and maintenance and you will get answers all over the place. Some send a manual, while others do a “join.me” or similar screen sharing session, explaining to their client how their website works. Still, others avoid it altogether directing clients to a support ticket system, with hopes that requests for help will be few and far between.
Building is different than training
The people that build websites are great at what they do. Whether you are a designer, front-end developer or programmer, you are presented with a task and then you complete it. Educators and trainers are a different breed. They look at problems in a series of lessons. They see this mass of information and then visualize how to break it down into digestible chunks. Coming from a family of teachers, the concept of the lesson is so nuanced, it really is it’s own discipline. Putting it into perspective, we wouldn’t expect teachers to be great website builders; would we?
Front loading with support
Typically in a website development process, most web shops learn about the clients business first, design and build the website and then when time has run out, quickly push the client through the training process or limit it altogether. Can you imagine buying anything these days without instructions. What if your new Ikea desk just came with a bunch of planks and a bag of fasteners? What would your experience be? I think I would be pretty upset. Especially after paying the time and money for the desk, hauling it home and into the office, only to find out that I couldn’t do anything with it.
Remember how it is when you are thinking of buying a new car? You start seeing it everywhere. You go online, research the specs, talk to owners that already have one and maybe even poke around the car lot a bit, before actually pulling the trigger. What if we build this concept into our website process? We start spoon feeding support documents, training and possibly even micro training sessions during the discovery, design and building process. By the time the website is complete, the four or five hours we have allotted for training, now seems appropriate.
Experience is everything
Have you ever noticed that working with a person in a good mood is a lot easier than working with a person in a bad mood? It’s just nicer. Everything seems to go easier. That person is happy, your happy and things just get done. If we create a support culture up front, clients are more informed and educated about what they are getting and how to use it. We have developed the “Have faith and wait” attitude with web development. Clients have no idea what we are doing behind the development curtain and we consistently give updates that “it’s coming” and to just hang in there.
I see a bright future in companies big and small creating a “Support First” approach to Web Development. Creating business practices around it can add another revenue stream to the project as well and when better to have that discussion, then at the beginning of the project. Support businesses could also partner with with development companies and take training off their plate completely. This could have a positive affect on the project. By introducing a new team during the development phase, it could add fresh energy to the project, while also taking advantage of typical down time. It will be exciting to see how this area evolves in the future as it appears there is a lot of areas for growth.