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Gee, I Wish I Could Do That

July 24, 2014

Thanks for calling WordPerfect Support. My name’s Brian. How can I help you?

Brian wasn’t your typical support operator. In fact, Brian wasn’t a support operator at all. Brian was the lead developer for WordPerfect’s email program. We had just shipped version 3.0 and Brian came down from the mountain to spend a couple of hours hearing how people were using the product. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a mountain, but the programmer’s building was literally up the hill from the support buildings. A large canal separated “them” and “us.” Most of us had never even met one of the programmers.

Brian’s response to customer issues was also not your typical response. I won’t say that we learned by his example, at least we didn’t learn support techniques.

The famous French queen Marie Antoinette was informed that her subjects had no bread. Her response reportedly was,

Then let them eat cake.


And thus a revolution was born.

With software, if you want to know how a program is supposed to work, ask the developer. If you want to know how it actually works, ask a tester. If you want to know how people are using it, ask a support operators.

I once approached a programmer in the WordPerfect cafeteria.

Paul, I had a call today from someone getting the error, “Header File Full.” Any idea what might be causing that?

Wow. We never expected anyone to ever even see that error message.

Such was the life of a WP support operator. We almost never got to see or talk to the programmers. And now, here was Brian sitting in our midst taking calls from customers.

I think I understand your issue Mr. Smith. And we’ll be changing that in the first service pack.

THAT was his answer to some of our most challenging issues? “I’m the programmer, so I’m going to fix it.” It wasn’t even a great answer for the customers. The next service pack might be months away, and in the mean time they have a program that doesn’t work the way they need it to.

As support operators we were constantly looking for ways of configuring the current product, given it’s limitations to solve customers current problems.

The lead programmer on the other hand, had the option of baking the breadless customers a cake.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children and one grandchild.

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