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Comm 101

Comm 101

As a WebLogic developer, there'll come a time when you'll need to file a support case with BEA; many of you have done this already. Throughout the problem-solving process, you'll be speaking with one of BEA's DREs (developer relations engineers). These folks are very knowledgeable regarding WebLogic, and hopefully the two of you will quickly find a resolution to your problem.

We're dealing with complex systems, however, and for a variety of reasons, things may not go smoothly 100% of the time. Surprisingly, much of this "nonsmoothness" can be attributed more to communication issues than technical issues. While BEA's Support Guidebook provides you with much information about support processes, response times, severity-level definitions, and so on, it doesn't really cover communication-related issues. So how can communication-related nonsmoothnesses be prevented?

As the customer, there are many things you can do to help ensure a positive customer support experience. You can help us help you. In this article, I'll outline some common communication problems that arise between customers and DREs. I'll also present relevant warning signs and recommend corresponding courses of action so you can help keep the process running smoothly.

What's Your Problem?
Believe it or not, one of the biggest communication problems is simply problem definition. It's absolutely essential that you communicate what you believe the problem to be and why you believe it to be a problem. If you're on the phone, ask the DRE to explain the problem back to you. Make sure the DRE fully understands every nuance. At the same time, be careful not to let the actual problem be obscured by your impression of the solution. State the problem and make sure the problem is understood by the DRE before suggesting possible solutions.

For example, suppose you are testing failover of your banking application, and to your horror when you bring down one machine, some users can see other users' data. How would you report the problem? Would you conclude that there's a problem with WebLogic clustering and report the problem as such? If so, bzzzt! Try again. Focus on the symptoms. Sure, you should mention the configuration, environment, clustering, etc., but the root problem is users seeing other users' data - focus on that. Don't throw off the DRE by reporting that there's a clustering/failover problem; you don't know that for sure.

One Thing at a Time
In general, it's best to limit each support case to one specific problem. If you have more than one problem, file separate support cases. Work on one thing at a time; divide and conquer. Remember that your DRE is working on several support cases for different customers concurrently. If you are focused, your DRE will be focused too.

Timeline, Severity, and More
Be certain that your DRE understands the importance of your issue. Is your problem in production or development? Is your entire development effort blocked because of this issue? Are you going into final testing? When is your "go live" date? It's a good idea to communicate this information upfront so that you and your DRE can troubleshoot accordingly.

In the future, the myBEA.com portal will allow you to record/update project/profile information and associate support cases with a project. Until then, it's your responsibility to make sure your DRE knows how this issue is impacting your business.

The People's Court
One of the best ways to keep support cases on track is for both parties to be explicit about whose court the case is in every step of the way. Support management has been training DREs to do this, but this is something you can drive as well.

Here is an example of a breakdown: your DRE sends you an e-mail asking for some configuration files, start scripts, and a test case, and then sets the case status to "Awaiting Customer Information" in the Case Tracking application. Later that day, you discover something new regarding your case and send an e-mail to your DRE stating the new information. Now there may be a problem. You're expecting your DRE to take action based on your recent e-mail, but your DRE thinks that your e-mail was just providing some additional information, and is still waiting for the test case and configuration files.

Avoiding this sort of situation couldn't be easier. Simply conclude your e-mail with something like this: "I know you were waiting for a test case, but in light of this new information, do you still need one? My expectation now is that the ball is in your court regarding this case. Please contact me at your earliest convenience."

Use the Phone
While e-mail and WebSUPPORT (www.bea.com/support/web.shtml) are the preferred means of customer/DRE communication, there are times when using the phone is more appropriate. You can always call the support number in your region (www.bea.com/support/contact_cs.shtml) and ask to speak with your DRE. If you reach your DRE's voice mail, leave a message specifically stating that you'd like a phone call (not an e-mail) in return.

Involve Management
BEA's number one core value is: "Customer issues transcend all others." While we strive to make each customer support experience a positive one (see my previous column in WLDJ Vol. 1, issue 1), problems can still occur. As a support manager, I'm often puzzled by how long it takes a dissatisfied customer to contact management. A few months back, I spoke with a customer who hadn't heard from his engineer in two weeks. He wanted to go live in a few days and the problem had now become urgent. Looking at the case, I saw that its status was "Awaiting Customer Information" and no contact had been made (by either party) in the last 10 days. I informed him that I would speak to the DRE about the lack of communication on BEA's side; DREs should not let cases idle that long, even if they are "Awaiting Customer Information." Out of curiosity, I asked if he had tried to contact his DRE, and he replied that he had not - that he was waiting for his DRE to contact him. Considering the apparent urgency of the problem, I wouldn't recommend following the example set by this customer.

Simply put, at the first sign of trouble, involve management! Call your local support number and ask to speak to your DRE's manager. It's better to call too soon than too late - think of it as preventative maintenance. Convey your expectations to management and agree on a course of action.

More Stories By John Greene

John Greene joined BEA as a WebLogic Developer Relations Engineer in June 1999; he is now a Support Manager. John has a Computer Science degree of the University of Massachussets and is a rabid fan of Philadelphia sports teams.

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