Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Twittering technical support for greater transparency

What would happen if we dramatically opened up tech support?

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

The standard support model goes something like this: customer calls support, gets a low-level support person who proceeds to read through a manual trying to answer the question. Unable to do so, he or she calls for reinforcements who work on the problem under a veil of secrecy in which the customer never knows what is happening with her issue until it is finally resolved (if it's ever resolved). Throughout it all, the customer is in the dark.

I'm not sure that open-source support is much different, but in talking with my company's head of support today, I'm wondering if there's a better way. We try to be more permeable in how we conduct support, but perhaps open source has something radically different to offer. It would look something like this:

  • The customer contacts support and is immediately assigned a ticket number and is also informed as to the escalation path (with names and possibly contact information) should the initial support technician be unable to resolve the issue.

  • The support technician informs the customer of the likely causes of the problem and also suggests the different fixes she's going to attempt.

  • Support gives the customer a Twitter feed to follow (or some sort of RSS feed) that details the different efforts underway to fix the issue, both successful and dead-ends.

  • In tandem, the customer is given a support portal in which she can search the web for answers, search the company's knowledge base for answers, contact other customers for answers (the community effect), or interact with non-Support personnel for answers. The idea is to get more interaction/different takes on an issue, rather than fewer.

Now, I'm not experienced with technical support, so perhaps these are bad ideas for reasons unknown to me. But I like the idea of transparency in support. I want to know exactly what Apple is thinking when it works through my issues. I've found in the past when I have a real conversation with support (Apple's, in particular), I'm able to short-cut some of their efforts because their proposed fixes cause me to remember things that I've tried or things that I've done to the system that might have contributed to the problem.

Is transparency a bad thing for support? If not, why aren't more companies doing business this way?