By Steve Tem
If you’ve ever had a question about our software, whether it was installing a new application or upgrading an old one, fixing a modeling error, or maybe you needed help with a new feature, you probably made contact with Weyerhaeuser’s Software Support team. Our software support specialists bring a variety of backgrounds and expertise to their roles troubleshooting and communicating with customers regarding their technical support issues.
The first thing that becomes apparent when examining a typical day in software support is that there are no “typical” days. “Customers call about everything from the ‘The software’s not working’ to ‘How do I fix this modeling error?’” according to team member John Bridenbach, a construction industry veteran of over 20 years with a degree in Construction Management. “Of course, spikes in call volume always happen after a new product release. Some of our biggest customer issues exist either because the user lacks adequate IT support or because we can’t get full access to the customer’s PC due to security concerns. In either case, more than 60% of our calls are installation and registration issues, so time spent teaching best practices in both maintaining their machines as well as installing software will improve the user experience.”
Michael Miller adds, “If the software is going to have issues, they will likely appear during installation. In a normal call, the customer will describe the issue, I’ll ask some questions and once I have a likely cause, I’ll troubleshoot and fix it. Sometimes it’s very simple, like where to change a setting so there isn’t much need for deep, probing questions. Other requests can be far more involved.” When Michael came onboard, he already had 10 years in customer service, six of those focusing on PC troubleshooting, hardware and software.
“Generally we see more questions in the winter because that’s more of a design season, versus the summer which is building season, except in very hot parts of the country where the building season can be extended. Our busiest time is the middle of the day, when every time zone is having their regular business hours. Friday is consistently our least busy day of the week. ”
Sean McMurtrey started in 1997 with the Commercial Engineering Group doing single member design and open-web truss design with installation drawings. “Once upon a time I could tell you off the top of my head which hangers went with which joists and the nailing requirements for each.” He eventually migrated to the software side of things. “I entered my first Software Support Ticket on 9/30/2010.
“Call volume can be somewhat unpredictable, but there are certain times when we know a spike is coming. In mid to late fall, Canadian and northern US customers are in a rush to get as much product on site as they can before the weather turns ugly. Anytime there is a software release, answering customer’s questions through calls, IMs, and emails keeps me busy for at least a month. Since we’ve deployed software training as part of Weyerhaeuser Learning, put training videos online, and host regular training events on certain topics, I’m seeing fewer ‘how do I do that’ types of questions.”
Specialist Erika Boyer adds, “In addition to supporting customers, we test the software; improve our tools, utilities, and reference materials; share knowledge; and work on increasing productivity and improving the customer experience.” Erika’s earlier roles and experience have added a multi-faceted perspective to the team. “Having been a Regional Secretary at Weyerhaeuser gives me insight to how that office environment functions with its engineering, sales, and territory manager roles and departments. Having been a Software Quality Assurance specialist on the legacy TJ software products (primarily TJ-Beam, TJ-Xpert, and TJ-YardMate) has given me skills for testing our new software applications and troubleshooting field issues that come in from customers. Working with the developers on the design of the Forte software application provided me with insight into the development process. I also have a better understanding of the backend of the software applications themselves and supplemental file dependencies.
“We each have our own reference guides and documents to help us handle calls quickly. These tools are personalized to work best for each of us. We have some shared tools and reference guides as well.”
Every tool in the team’s arsenal helps them provide better information and service to the customer. John says, “I use my own notes and Javelin Product Help to remind me how a particular feature works. Our Ticketing System identifies other users who’ve had a similar issue, and we use another tracking tool toprovide information on existing software defects or bugs. ”
Michael adds, “A chat feature on our website expedites requests. And perhaps our most valuable tool is GoTo Meeting, allowing us, with customer permission, to remotely connect to and control a customer’s computer, speeding diagnosis and repair. I can give the steps to the customer and follow their progress, or we can remotely run the fix ourselves.”
Often when customers call support, they get not only the focus of a trained specialist, but the attention of an extended team. Erika continues, “With the help of other Software Support associates, most calls get resolved quickly and to the satisfaction of the customer. Both the Denver engineering and software development teams provide supplemental support. The software trainers pitch in when a member of the team is out. They educate us on more detailed features and assist us when calls move toward a formal training need.”
But even with these resources in place, tough, hard-to-resolve problems do arise. Erika explains, “Some software errors cannot be fixed with any of our known resolutions. The evidence sometimes points to an issue outside of our software and with the particular machine or user profile. Having to explain that to the customer and leave them in a state where our software doesn’t work makes for the hardest calls.”
John recalls a time when “a customer experienced Javelin performing poorly. Every third click was slow or delayed. We didn’t know if it was the computer, operating system or Javelin and its components. No errors were produced and we couldn’t reproduce the issue with a copy of his database.
“To solve the problem we removed or reinstalled anything we thought was interfering, then we installed a new Javelin database and replaced every setting manually. I held the customer’s hand through the whole process, and after three or four days, we finally had it working again to the customer’s satisfaction.”
According to Sean, “some anti-virus programs won’t allow our software to install. In the toughest issue I’ve had to solve, there was an anti-virus program the user couldn’t disable and a failed installation. Every time we thought we had the solution, we had another setback. The user didn’t allow the download to complete before installation which created a partial install. We re-started the download and un-installed the partial install. But then the anti-virus program locked the installer, thinking it was a virus. The user couldn’t temporarily disable it and had to call their local IT person. Once we got over that hurdle, we discovered that the Javelin component that houses the user’s product list was not installing correctly. After looking through the installation logs with our developers, we determined that some of the rights normally associated with the Administrators group were not turned on. We explained this to the user and provided the documentation needed to take back to their IT department. It required half a dozen of our people and nearly as many of theirs over two weeks to get to the bottom of this.
“Call me crazy but problems like this are the most interesting because they are the most challenging. I expand my knowledge and skill set while finding the solution. You feel the pressure that comes from knowing you need to get this user operational yesterday. I’ve been talking to some of these people for so long, the relationship has become personal. Sometimes in the morning before work as I’m watching the national weather, I’ll see a hurricane or ice storm in a region where a particular customer and I have that friendship. I’ll make a point of calling them to see if they’re safe and let them know I’m concerned.”
For this team on the frontline of customer support, getting customers back up and running to their satisfaction is the most important goal. “I think our customers are fantastic and I enjoy working with them,” Michael says. “Compared to other makers of software, we don’t have a very large customer base and being in this position for as long as I have means I hear from the same people again and again. It makes it possible to develop a real rapport with them. Just as an example, I’ve made a friend out of a customer through a mutual interest in bicycle racing.”