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Future of Customer Support???

Against my better judgment (<:-o), I couldn't let this message go
unanswered.  This reply is a bit long.

Please bear in mind that I speak for myself only, and not for Symbolics,
NASA, or Recom Technologies (my current employer).

    Date: Fri, 25 May 90 17:14 EDT
    From: attila@flash.bellcore.com (Leslie A. Walko)

    About half of the Chatworth CA Customer Support Staff has been layed off
    or left due to uncertainties over the past few months.

This is an exaggeration.  Since January of this year, one junior staffer
was fired due to an inability to deal with the demands of the job,
another was laid off because of duplication of effort, and I left
voluntarily in late April to take a less stressful position.  In March
another junior staffer was hired to replace the one who couldn't cope.

When I left, Software Support had 7 technical staffers, all but one of
whom had been there at least a year.

    Up until six months ago, Symbolics had one of the best Customer Support
    groups in the industry.  They used to answer the phone directly,
    understand the system, give intelligent advice and in generaly work very
    hard at making users happy.  They were not *perfect* they they were, and
    the remaining ones are, far better than what other vendors call

The majority of these people are still there, for the moment.  What
changed was policy.

First, direct incoming calls were a real convenience to customers, but a
major headache to the staff.  Typically, we would get off the phone with
a customer who had a very involved problem, and attempt to start
researching the answer.  Within minutes (or in some cases seconds),
another call would arrive, and the first caller's problem would be
shelved.  Imagine this scenario happening 5 times a day or more, every
day.  Ask yourself if you could work under that stress!!  We DEMANDED
that change to gain control of our workload and stress.

Second, a large number of calls to Software Support were not under any
valid support contract.  Symbolics was essentially providing the service
for free -- a dubious proposition even when they were profitable, but an
intolerable financial drain when they are not.  When callers were asked
to provide proof of a support contract, the number of calls dropped 60%!

Perhaps the policy changes could have been introduced more gracefully,
but I believe that the change was necessary.

    It is my understanding that that the remaining Customer Support people
    will be FIRED within the next one or two weeks!  The official
    explanation is that Customer Support is being moved to Burlington.

I don't know where you're getting your information; it's true that the
Software Support department will now be part of SCRC, where (in this
ex-SSer's opinion) it always belonged.  Those staffers who don't find
other positions within Symbolics (of which, admittedly, there aren't
many) have been given SIX weeks' notice, and there is a severance
package to ease the transition.  They are not going to be dumped on the

	    1. Is Symbolics going to relocate it experienced staff?

No.  Not one of my former co-workers was interested in moving to
Burlington, as they all prefer to live in California.  However, not all
are leaving Symbolics.

	    2. Will they receive financial compensation for the move?
	    3. Why on Earth do this?  

Because it is no longer economically feasible to provide customer
support from a remote location.  It has always been a strain to do so.
Besides the obvious internal difficulties of separating developers from
supporters, hiring employees with Lisp experience (let alone Symbolics
experience) in the Los Angeles area is next to impossible.  It simply
does not make sense to run Software Support as a separate operation.

    If the answer to 1) is NO, how is Symbolics planning to provide Customer

There are plenty of skilled, knowledgeable people at SCRC who could take
over this role.  Several have worked in a support role before.  I
believe the new support staff will be at least as knowledgeable as the
current group.  Better yet, instead of trying to track down a developer
who's 3000 miles away, they will be able to collar the responsible party
in the hallway and get an immediate answer.  Bug-fixing turnaround
should improve, both in the time it takes to receive a workaround or
patch, and in the speed in which fixes are incorporated into the

I think you'll see a net improvement in service, assuming they provide
enough people for the workload.

	    4. Should I start calling the developers with my questions?

Hell no!!  They don't have the time to answer random questions AND try
to keep the company alive.  Anyone who does this will only succeed in
distracting developers from their real work, and acquiring a reputation
as a nuisance.

	    5. Cancel my maintenance, and spend the money on consultants?

That's your decision.  I say wait and see.

If you do decide to pay for consulting, I'm sure there are plenty of
capable ex-Symbolics employees who are eager to help.  But they do not
have ties to the current development staff, thus they would not be able
to get fixes installed in future releases.  So you'd have to keep fixing
the same bugs over, and over, and over...

    Could Symbolics Management please post a reply to slug@ai.sri.com.

    Than you,
    Leslie Walko

I hope my remarks have been enlightening, and not too caustic.

 -- Chuck Fry (Chucko@Charon.ARC.NASA.GOV)
    Recom Technologies, Inc.
    Information Sciences Systems Group
    NASA Ames Research Center