In my last few posts, I began discussing on what it takes to enable software quality and support. This particular post will focus on the latter, support.
Of course the goal of any decent software provider is to deliver software that is bug free, intuitive to use, and performs a valuable service. While we strive for perfection, in reality these goals can never be fully achieved. In the EDA world, which is always growing and evolving with the electronics industry, even flawless software must at least enable a path to future enhancements.
This is where support comes in. Support provides many benefits beyond the software itself, but in general can be summarized as two key benefits: 1) Access to software updates enabling timely hand-offs for tool fixes or enhancements, and 2) Access to expert knowledge for complex user challenges or issues. Since my previous post already detailed the approach used by the Calibre team to enable high quality and timely updates, I will focus here on benefit #2.
Providing access to expert knowledge can come in many forms. Typically we think most about the worst case scenario: a user who is up against an urgent time line who is struggling to get or to interpret the results they need. In this kind of scenario, the user is trying to pull in expertise. Of course, there is also the more proactive approach where the vendor will work to push expertise and knowledge on broad topics to the user community. At Mentor, our aim is to provide both approaches to sharing this kind of knowledge, and to do so in a manner that is faster and simpler than the rest of the industry.
Let’s focus first on the proactive methods employed. One approach used is the SupportPro News letter. This weekly flyer focuses each release on a different technology or trend and is full of helpful hints and places to find more information. Another avenue is U2U, the Mentor Graphics User’s community, where users can share their own tips and feedback, and also connect directly with Mentor personnel. In addition, Mentor regularly provides webinars and seminars with various technical experts presenting in the area of their expertise. Many of these are often recorded and available for review at the user’s convenience. All of these methods provide a means for users to educate themselves and to interact directly with Mentor.
Of course, this is only part of the solution. We also strive to provide users with timely answers to technical questions or problems. There are many ways for a user to access this level of knowledge. For Mentor customers on support, often the easiest and fastest is Support Net. Not only is this where users can quickly download the latest releases and documentation, but it is also a portal to a wealth of knowledge. User’s can search by topic or keyword to find technotes, application notes, tutorials, webinarrs and more? Most problems can be resolved quickly and easily without ever having to directly interract with anyone at all. Of course, if you can’t find the answers you are looking for, this is also an easy way to leave a request for a service engineer. Did you know that more than 70% of all questions coming into SupportNet are answered within seconds? Of course, you can also communicate with our support engineers directly through email or phone. (1-800-547-4303 for North America).
Of course access to a person is one thing, but access to someone with the required expertise and with the skills and aptitude to walk you through it is another. We’ve all heard the jokes and we’ve all lived through the pain of waiting on hold forever only to be put in touch with someone who can’t help. Making sure that there is fast access to someone with the right knowledge level is imperative; the average response time for technical questions is under 10 minutes!
There are many ways we use to ensure our support engineers are more than up to the challenge. We have our own CSD University where the engineers gain training and certification in their areas of expertise. They also attend AE training events twice a year to learn all the new features recently implemented and coming down the pike. We also hold regular brown bag lunch and tech talk sessions where tool development, marketing and support have an opportunity to present their recent findings to one another. Of course, like any engineer, they are also driven to keep informed with the trends in the industry through outside training and through various publications.
In addition to all of this, our support engineers are considered an integral part of all our projects and planning sessions. As a result, they are represented, along with marketing, R&D, QA, and documentation in all projects concerning key new functionalities being implemented or considered. They represent the voice of you, the user. This provides them advanced insight and expertise to new features or functions before they are available to the market.
The support team also meet regularly amongst themselves and with the documentation and customer training teams to cross-train and align on observed common issues or requirements.
Lastly, our CSD team regularly engages directly with users, not just through emails and phone calls, but through various technical and marketing review meetings, trade-shows and events, and more. That’s where you can come in. Next time you see Burr Shaw at the annual U2U convention, or you exchange an email with Tricia Allgyer, or talk on the phone with Bill Drezen,… don’t feel shy; fill them in on what you’re working on and the technologies you’re involved in. They live to solve your problems, but they love to learn in the process! The end result is better solutions and better software.