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Photo above: Sherlock Holmes thinking about data. Photo by Justin Ennis

‘Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay,’ voiced the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, in the Adventure of Copper Beaches. Arthur Conan Doyle, its creator, was referring to the tendency to jump to the impossible, to make bricks without their proper material. 

The insight has guided me as we’ve worked to create a new framework for Akvo FLOW user support. We would avoid jumping to a theory, a conclusion, until it was based on real material – there’d be no bricks without clay. So for the last three months, we’ve invested time analysing current workflows, incoming questions from partners, talking to partners, looking at ideas for new product features, and re-structuring support requests from trainers. We’ve collected multiple experiences from people all around the globe, either in the different Akvo hubs or in the field, using our tools. I’m happy we’re today rolling out a new process, which we are confident will make things easier, for everyone.

Tools don’t support people, elegant processes and a devoted team do
In this journey, we’ve learned about the different challenges partners, staff and trainers face. Ranging from low internet connectivity, timezone differences, late response rates, lost emails, limited accessibility to a computer, needs of highly technical support “for yesterday” etc. This lead us to understand that in order to improve the way we do support, we really need a focused and structured approach, with the aim to lower solution response rates to the minimum possible and improve the way we communicate with everyone, in the future.

If you think about it, when the average response time in a request is two days and it takes around five responses (you’ve experienced e-mail pingpong right?) from both sides before a solution is found, it already takes two week to get things sorted. That’s far from what we want to achieve.

Instant solutions, instant happiness
While looking down at our current self-help articles like knowledge bases, manuals, tutorials, and quick guides I asked myself the questions “what is the difference and the goal of all of them”, and if they are so important, why can’t I find them all at one centralised place?

The new centralised self-help support page provides you with a dominant search box to get your started. Pop in a question and access to relevant documentation that can get your problem solved. As we are currently tracking statistics on search requests, the system gets better as time goes by, allowing us to create ad hoc content for trending questions, and to improve the quality of it, as we receive feedback from you. This page also guides you to an improved indexed version of our documentation about the Akvo FLOW Dashboard, different FLOW app and current tutorials and guides, FAQs containing multiple answers and screenshots, as well as popular tutorial videos.

If the answer to your problem is not at reach, you have an easy Contact support link to channel your issue, via four different characteristics. A person from the Akvo support team will follow up with you directly and make changes accordingly, so we get better at it each time.

Preparing ourselves for what’s coming our way. Everybody wins
From now on, every incoming support request, general comments or feedback can be handled or resolved in the following ways:

(A) You can solve an issue through the new restructured and improved self-help tools.
(B) You can request specific 1st line support from Akvo. Achieved improvements afterwards will also improve the self-help materials.
(C) If your request happens to require 2nd line support (meaning this needs more technical support, involving database changes, server adjustments or fixes in the code) and an issue is later added to Github, the self-help materials are improved based on the feedback and at key stages, we will be in touch with you and the different people involved in the process.

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Correct input, valuable self-help and follow up environment

Every interaction coming our way, whether it’s from a partner, a trainer or another member of our staff, is considered a support request. We call this the input. And we want to have all these inputs categorised and ordered in the system. Is it a bug? Is it feedback? Is it a feature request? Does it need first line support? Can you handle this on your own? Do we need to involve the tech guys to tweak stuff? This process is usually known as funnelling – One entry point, multiple destinations – and it provides invaluable insights to move forward in ways that benefits everyone, as it allows us not only to better and quickly analyse trends in incoming requests, but also to learn from every situation and only get better for the future.

Thus, your input is incredibly important for the Product and Support teams,  to develop better products and improve the way we give support. Biweekly we analyse all incoming requests, bug reports and feedback and make sure it has a follow up by updating the self-help, see if it requires a code fix, or if we need to change the interaction of how a feature works.

We are in this together, so…what’s next?
We are today kicking off this new support phase and would like to invite you to have a look at it right now, as we are longing for your opinion and support requests. If you are currently experiencing a problem, please have a look and try our new Self-help. If you cannot find a solution in there, please contact us. If you want to give feedback to us whenever you feel it could be useful to improve this process, we would much appreciate it.

This process has no end we’ll constantly improve and reshape it to provide the best user support, any place, any time, always, in order to give your a smile, and stick one on our faces as well.

Geert Soet is technical account manager at Akvo, based in Amsterdam. You can follow him on Twitter @deSoet