Improving support for users - and investing in support AEs

Ben Jordan
|  Created: February 21, 2017  |  Updated: September 25, 2020

Many of you who’ve contacted Altium’s North American support team over the past two years may have noticed some changes. Notably, there were times when it was hard to get a live body on the other end of the phone, although generally once you did the advice you got was solid.

For those users who resorted to emailing the team or logging a case through the support center (feel free to continue this practice), the wait time for a response could get like, well let’s be honest, you could wind up like this poor little guy:

So we’ve made a few changes here in the US support team to improve things, and I’m happy because we’ve received a lot of good vibes from subscribers about this.

The first change we made was to recognize that a large part of subscription funds subsidize technical support staffing. In the past we often found that there were indeed users who did not pay for maintenance who did often call for help. While we really did like helping those few individuals get through some tough times with the tool, it wasn’t fair on the many others who waited patiently (or otherwise) who had paid for subscription/maintenance. This simple change immediately had a positive impact on turnaround times.

The second change, was to create a more well-structured support team. This meant that we could now have more staff directly answering calls, logging cases, and taking details down, and therefore the average time to get a living human body on the line went from 20 minutes down to less than a minute. These support associates work hard to resolve the majority of cases, which typically involve helping users get started when “opening the box” on a new Altium purchase, and range to moving license servers or sorting out an IT related issue with their Altium software installation. Other more design-related cases are escalated to AEs who delve more into the grit of design and related methods. We also have senior AEs who take on bug validation and feature suggestion cases, and cases which require more years of design and manufacturing experience.

I have to tip my hat to these guys - because from my view they’re doing a great job, and I’m hearing lots of positive feedback from customers who’ve observed this transition.

Which brings me to the next change (or more aptly, addition). As we’ve recently become a certified IPC training center in Carlsbad CA, one of our goals in support is to get our AEs and Sr. AEs certified CID. This is to ensure that they fully understand the PCB design, fabrication, assembly and test processes. Knowing how PCBAs are actually made is critical to understanding how to design electronics hardware optimally. In our industry we call this DFx (Design For X where X is (T): Test, (A): Assembly, or (M): Manufacturing). Also understanding how bare boards are built up in a fab - all the steps involved, gives them a better awareness; not only of what users are making, but how to apply these tools most effectively, using a common language for supporting you.


What was most amusing for me about all this, is the reluctance of recent university graduates to do yet another exam in order to be CID certified. We’re talking bright young sparks with GPAs higher than 3.5 here - people who’ve done multivariable calculus and Maxwell's equations! Fortunately, we had an ace instructor - Kate Mayer - who was also a co-author of the CID training programme. Kate was able to ease the nerves and allay the fears, and each of the team members who took the test, along with several external customers, passed well: Max, Candace, Anthony, Charley, Chris, Sainesh. Well done to you all. Now the rest of us need to do it and you all set the bar way high, I’m proud to say.

I spoke with Kate today to catch up and get her view on this. She made the interesting observation that the areas of CID training which, when training seasoned designers, she is able to quickly gloss over, she had to spend a little more time on with the less experienced engineers, while other areas that normally are a labor for seasoned designers they were able to get through fairly quickly.

Personally, I am keen to get all Altium support staff certified, because, well... any old EDA company can invent their own metric of support quality and keep meeting the target. While we do have targets and want to help customers in the most effective and efficient manner, I believe it says more for us to also have a recognised, industry-valued certification which shows we speak YOUR language, and understand both what the designer and manufacturers needs are.

What do you think?

[a]imagine the discomfort this image will cause.

[b]Yeah - intentional. Is it too much?

About Author

About Author

Ben is a Computer Systems and PCB Engineer with over 20 years of experience in embedded systems, FPGA, and PCB design. He is an avid tinkerer and is passionate about the creation of electronic devices of all kinds. Ben holds a Bachelor of Engineering (CompSysEng) with First Class Honors from the University of Southern Queensland and is currently Director of Community Tools and Content.

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