Posted on 03-11-2014
I wish I had more time to take many of the questions I get behind the scenes via email and publish as stories, but with an insane inbox I only can make time for some of the more relevant ones. I had one from a couple weeks ago that I just got around to responding to, which had to do with which support building blocks should an API provider use. This particular question comes from Jamie Parkins (@jamieparkins) from JustGiving:
In your experience of documented APIs, when you come across the need for help, do you find the simple Google Group approach works or do you prefer the more ticket like approach that a Zendesk might offer (and possibly wrapped with some FAQs)? I only have a resource of 1 dev so have to pick my battles carefully but I can't help thinking I'll end up gaining time if I can help users solve their own problems or questions better from the start (i.e. A self service approach)
Which building blocks you use in supporting your community is a balancing act based upon the amount of resources you have, the size of your community, and the types of users you have in your API community. Based upon what I've seen available at other APis, and the one's I've developed strategy for, you try and balance between self-service and direct support building blocks--with emphasis on self-service and asynchronous communication.
Depending on your target audience, some consumers may be needier than others, and will not be accustom to self-service API approaches, coming from more of a sales and direct support culture. The goal within any API community is to steer as many of these users as you can towards a self and community supported model, but you want to make sure your company is actively present as well, engaging and supporting your developers—not absent and relying just on your community and self-service.
There is no standard template for how to support your API community, the best way is actively engage with developers via real-time channels like Twitter, or at least asynchronous tools like Github Issue Management, and Forums. Get to know your users, understand who they are, what they need, then provide as many self-service support resources as you can, augmented with your human presence.
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