I hereby claim I coined the term “Tech Support Custom Code Cop Out.” This is described as a lame excuse used by some tech support people to avoid dealing with a difficult issue a customer has with software or a service they purchased.
This has happened to me a few times – and it’s really annoying. I’m certainly not saying that tech support people should be expected to support someone else’s totally custom application. But, when just a couple of things are changed in a product which is customizable and the person calling for help has clearly documented the changes in their tech support request, this excuse becomes unacceptable.
Here are a couple of examples of what I mean.
Once I was helping a friend who ran an online art gallery. He decided to go full on with an e-commerce site, adding a shopping cart while keeping some list pages organized in categories as he had on his straight HTML site. I recommended a new host for him which had a built-in shopping cart application he could rent. I figured there would be no problem recreating the look of his “old” site (which was working very well for him). I’d merely put all the products into the shopping cart database with a category flag and then query up the data to put into his list pages.
No problem, that is, until I tried to find information on creating a connection string to the database on the host’s web site. I found nothing. No examples, not even a mention of it. Now keep in mind this is a major shopping cart host, not some rinky dink outfit.
So I went through the support forums. I saw lots of people asking the same question, but no answers. I found that strange, but I carried on with my task.
I eventually ended up emailing their support. My request went something like, “Please tell me how to do a connection string to my client’s data on your service. I have the database name, user name and password, I just need the server name to connect to.”
A couple days later I got a reply, which went something like this: “We’re sorry, that’s custom code. We don’t support custom code.”
That made me go, ‘Hmm.” I replied to that message pointing out there was no custom code yet, because without a connection string I really couldn’t even get started writing the custom code. I didn’t need any help with the data queries or anything like that, I just needed to know how to connect to the database. A database which they, no doubt, already had connection strings for or my customer’s shopping cart wouldn’t work.
The answer back was exactly the same, “Sorry, that’s custom code. We don’t support custom code.”
I went back and forth three or four more times, always with the same answer. No help, no how. Needless to say, I do not recommend that host any more.
More recently, a work colleague and I were troubleshooting the administration piece of another shopping cart. (Coincidence?) My colleague did some major work on the CSS files for this product but just a couple small custom user controls were added to the code in order to display a little extra data on our products display pages.
We tested, and everything worked properly in our test environment. Once we moved the files to our production server, however, the admin piece started failing. We went through troubleshooting ourselves. When we couldn’t find a problem, she went into their help forums and found a couple of possible fixes, but nothing would get us past the error. Finally, when we could do no more ourselves, she opened a support ticket.
The first answer: “You did custom code on your site. We can’t support your installation because of this.”
My colleague replied that the customized parts were not in the admin section, but their reply was the same. She finally documented the changes she made, showing that they had nothing to do with the administrative portion of the software. Still, the reply was the same.
Good news: My colleague found a solution on her own. Still, it’s kind of sad she had to slog through their code for a couple of days before she found the problem. They, likely, could have found it much quicker. And it had nothing to do with any customization she did.
We Have To Do Better
Again, I’m not expecting a software vendor to support a complete customization unless they wrote it all themselves. But in these two examples I don’t think the requests for support were unreasonable. It looked to me like the support folks were trying to close the tickets as quickly as possible, regardless of whether or not the customer was satisfied. Service after the sale is important – and this ain’t it.
Here’s another thought: If you’re a vendor, what if you had a couple of tech support people on staff who could help customers regardless of their customizations? Now that would be rock start support. Would you have to ask higher prices or perhaps a premium on your maintenance fees? Yes, but I’ll bet a lot of customers would find it worth the extra cost. That could be the one thing to differentiate you from your competitors.
What say you? Have you been a victim of the Tech Support Custom Code Cop Out? What do you think about it? Have you ever been on the other side? I’d love to hear from folks on the support of the issue. Please feel free to share in the comments.