People VS. Products: Teaching an Old Dog

Posted on 29 July 2010

Supporting a product is quite obviously not the same as supporting a community. In fact, it’s completely different.

Products, in my opinion, are much easier to support.  Products are meant to do a finite list of tasks and supplying directions for those tasks is pretty straightforward.

“To get your printer to print you need to do A, B, and C.”

Because there are a finite amount of functions there is a finite list of things that could go wrong. Making a list of those potential problems and creating resolution paths for those problems is also very easy.  Have you ever looked through a printer owner’s manual?  Each potential problem is clearly outlined, usually with diagrams no less.

“If your printer fails to print, check A, B, and C.”

Products also are much more specific in design and functionality.  You know a printer is supposed to print, and so does the consumer base.   Communities are obviously much more complex than a printer, they involve people, who represent an infinite set of variables that need constant attention.  These people will always view things differently from one another, or simply not “get” something that will undoubtedly need explanation even if the directions are clearly visible.

Supporting communities takes a great deal of flexibility and patience, often more than required in “real-life” simply because the digital medium is bereft of nuance.  FAQ’s are great but the need for “semi-live” support is constant, especially the more complex or subjective the experience.

Even more difficult, is the integration of community management into a product infrastructure, which can be a monumental task. It involves convincing each person in the chain of command to abandon the notion of established practices and embrace hard to quantify goals.  Metrics are great but they can be arranged in just about any configuration to provide the information you want to see and often fail at determining a proper course of action, don’t completely rely on them!

So, how does a company that excels at providing product support become good at supporting communities?

They take a leap of faith.

“It’s the lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself.” – Muhammad Ali

Have a GREAT weekend!

-Eric


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