Developers on the (user) frontline

Developers on the user frontline

Frontline: The part of an army that is closest to the enemy.

Disclaimer: this is not about the war in Ukraine.

My career change is stranger than most: after 6 years of practicing law, I moved into the IT world. Years of consulting, training and working as a project manager mean I've worked in many areas.

One job I don't want is help desk. A long time ago I had to help support an HR system during a project. I remember explaining to a user that we hadn't changed the screen layout overnight. He had enlarged his font and all he needed to do was scroll down to see the rest of the screen.

(In fairness, we all have moments of stupidity.)

No! Not help desk!

I don't want to work on help desk. And, honestly, I don't want to contact your help desk either.

I'm usually irritated by the time I call, because I have already looked for the solution myself. And, like most of us, I have had less-than-helpful experiences in the past. Like having to explain the problem to multiple people. Or customer care consultants who haven't read the history on file. Or being told by tech support to reboot my computer.

Recently I've had some positive experiences. Two calls, in particular, reminded me of something very important.

Help desk can help make our systems better

This is obvious. But like many obvious things, it is often ignored.

I don't mean we must train help desk to provide better user support (although that's important). I mean we must pay attention to help desk feedback. If we listen to them, we can make our systems better. We can reduce the number of user queries. Which will save help desk resources. And lead to happier users and happier help desk staff.

Such a simple thing

Here's my real-life story. It's trivial, but a perfect example.

I wanted to courier a parcel to my sister in the UK. Of course, I wanted to do this online. I filled in the details, chose the quote that suited me, and pressed the "Pay" button. But the amount to be deducted from my credit card was almost 20% more than the quote I had accepted. Maybe I'd clicked the wrong option. I tried this four times, and then phoned the help desk.

It turns out that the company reserves an extra 20% in case you provide wrong information about the size and weight of the parcel. That makes sense. What doesn't make sense is that the system doesn't warn the user about this refundable extra charge. The help desk consultant told me I was the 5th person to query this that day.

What a waste of help-desk time and resources! And what a waste of customer (or user) goodwill! All for the sake of a simple fix that actually only takes a few minutes.

Developers on the frontline?

We know how important user involvement is in software development. But maybe developers should spend some time on help desk, supporting their systems. Being at the frontline will provide a very different perspective on how users really engage with the software.

What do you think? Share a comment.

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