How to Keep Customers Happy and Liking Us a Lot, part 1
Greetings, dear SUSE friends! Today I reveal to you the Great Secret for keeping customers happy.
We’re all here for various reasons, such as paychecks, a love of great open source software, creativity, wanting to build cool products to help people, nice offices full of colleagues and treats…whatever our reasons, SUSE exists as a business to sell enterprise open source software. Or, perhaps more accurately, to build great open source software and sell first-rate services and support.
It is very difficult to build a successful business on open source software. It’s like the restaurant business: there is no secret sauce, no magic, no lock-in. Restaurants use the same food and recipes that anyone can use. What they’re really selling is a good experience for the customer: good food, good service, pleasant atmosphere, convenience. Anyone can open a restaurant, just like anyone can launch a new open source software project, so there is a lot of competition. Restaurants have very high rates of failure. Just like restaurants, to succeed as a commercial open source business you have to be better: much, much better. You can’t rely on lock-in and scary restrictive contracts like the closed-source proprietary software companies do.
We have to work extra-hard to make customers happy, so that they like using our products, come back for more, and tell their friends how wonderful we are. It takes a large infrastructure to make this happen. It starts with the code, of course, but that is just the beginning. You know the old joke: ask a Linux nerd for the time, and they tell you how to build a watch. Our customers don’t want to build their own watches. People who build their own watches don’t need SUSE, they’ll pull the code they want from the same sources that SUSE uses.
Never underestimate the importance of convenience. We provide the infrastructure for customers that supports their businesses and enables them to do their work with a minimum of pain. Our job is to smooth their way and make it as easy and pleasant as possible. Life gives us plenty of obstacles and headaches for free, nobody is going to pay for more headaches and obstacles.
DOCUMENTATION IS TEACHING, AND TEACHING IS EVERYTHING
And now we arrive at my role in helping SUSE to become even more awesome. I am a proud and contented member of the SUSE Documentation Team. We write the product manuals and other documentation. We are the experts on using our products, and teaching customers how to use them. If SUSE could succeed by simply flinging code over the fence we would not need ace Linux gurus to write product manuals. We are system and network administrators, coders, and teachers.
It is a best practice to have an integrated development process from coding to documentation to marketing, sales, and support. The product manuals, ideally, are the “single source of truth” for all customer support. Ideally, whoever codes a new feature or bugfix also owns the documentation, and does not consider the code closed until timely accurate documentation is completed. SUSE has a wonderful culture of helpfulness and great thundering herds of smart people, but like tech writers everywhere, we still spend too much time hunting people down for answers and doing our own research.
Come back next week for Part 2, in which I talk about simple ways of keeping your faithful documentation writers, and ultimately our customers, happy. Or at least not unhappy. 🙂