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Through Zendesk (our support channel), a customer is telling me that something is wrong with our software. Our software is running on a server at the customer’s location and not on an individual's computer.

I look at it, and they have an outdated version of some open source software on their server, so I politely reply: please update open source software to version x.x.x, here’s the link to the download.

The customer replies:

Could you please contact our IT department on phone xxxxxxxx, they have access to the server?

Now, I don't really feel that this is my job to contact their IT department, even if all I'm doing is communicating the same information I already provided to the customer who reported the issue. How do I politely deny and tell them to do it themselves?


Added info from comments:

  • I have authority to call their IT department to get them to do it, and I even have authority to access their server myself. The problem here is that it's not my job. They chose to host our software on their servers, and stuff like this is really their problem.

Edit: If anyone interested in knowing what i did; It is my job to help the customer. If i can't/won't, at least i should redirect them to where they can be helped further.

I replied: Sure, What's the email of IT so i can forward this case?

Them: xx@ss.com

Forwarded case

IT: Done

closed as off-topic by gnat, Snow, Mister Positive, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Lilienthal Feb 22 '17 at 9:16

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions seeking advice on company-specific regulations, agreements, or policies should be directed to your manager or HR department. Questions that address only a specific company or position are of limited use to future visitors. Questions seeking legal advice should be directed to legal professionals. For more information, click here." – gnat, Snow, Mister Positive, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Lilienthal
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 3
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Feb 21 '17 at 21:44
  • Can you clarify the authority that you have in accessing the server? How did they draft up the legal obligations? I feel like this can become a separate question on Security SE. – Nelson Feb 22 '17 at 0:33
  • The details of OP's security clearance don't make this a better question, let's try to answer for more generally applicable scenarios. – user30031 Feb 22 '17 at 4:58
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    Final close vote cast. While the answers below are useful and communication between multiple vendors on behalf of a single client can make for a useful question, the current version of this question is still just off-topic and a case of "ask your manager". This would have to be generalised to make it on-topic and for the answers to actually match what this is asking. – Lilienthal Feb 22 '17 at 9:16
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    @Lilienthal I disagree that "ask your manager" is appropriate here. See my answer below. – Beofett Feb 22 '17 at 13:17
76

You want something along the lines of:

I'm sorry I can't do that - I don't think they'd respond to a request from outside the company. You'll need to raise an internal ticket to get this addressed through your own systems. Please feel free include this email trail in your request so they're aware of the business reason for the upgrade.

Let me know when they tell you the software has been updated and we'll validate that this has resolved your issue.

It would be really inappropriate for an IT service desk to respond to a request from an external party - it's an ideal malware vector. Raising this through the customer's support process allows them to conduct their own audited analysis and risk assessment.


Note: I wrote this answer before I learned that the questioner has the authority and capability to make these changes for the customer. My answer in this new context is now somewhat invalid.

My new answer is:

If you're unsure, ask for advice/approval from a superior

38

The way I'd go about addressing this is fairly simple. Identify the true reason you shouldn't do this. If there is such a reason, then point to it. If there isn't, and you're just objecting to it because it's a simple task - doing simple tasks is part of customer service.

For me, I think it's right not to do it though - because of several reasons. Here's how I'd go about it. This assumes you don't have a general support contract with them - your contract is just to support your specific software. (If you've a general support contract, just do the install...)

Hi,

I'd love to help you out, but open source software XYZ isn't something we can officially support (as if something goes wrong in the installation, we would be liable). Your IT folks should also be the ones who decide if it's appropriate to upgrade the software, as there may be other dependencies on this software at your site that I'm unaware of.

If your IT folks decide to go ahead with the upgrade, and need any assistance from us, we're more than happy to help; please ask them to file a ticket with any information they need, or give us a call at the support number.

Thank you for your time, and please let me know if there's anything else you need assistance with.

The point here isn't that you aren't going to do a simple task. Simple tasks are simple, and anything simple that makes your customer happy is a good thing.

The reason not to do something like this is that the correct procedures exist for a reason. We go through the motions because otherwise we miss problems. So reminding your customers of the proper procedure, and of the reason for the procedure, in a polite and friendly manner, is key.

But make sure that's why you're saying this.


If you're concerned about the task because you think a few simple tasks will turn into an avalanche of them, talk to your manager about that. That's not a call that's appropriate to make at your level; your manager should be aware of how many simple tasks you're asked to do and make the decision of whether to keep doing them as customer service or whether to talk to the higher ups at the client and ask them to create policies and procedures to limit these tasks.

  • The overall software configuration was absolutely my first thought. So if the client installs additional software the client is responsible not the service company. The contract (or some other documented agreement) between the service company and the client should specify how such problems would be handed back to the client company. The service company is taking a massive risk if they just haphazardly upgrade some other software. This is a no win scenario for the service company. At best they are throwing money away, and in the worse case they've blown the server up. – MaxW Feb 21 '17 at 19:25
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    In other words there should be some defined escalation process between the two companies. – MaxW Feb 21 '17 at 19:32
  • @HorusKol maybe, or maybe one would lead to the other. The only certainty is that they're both against policy for some reason. – user30031 Feb 22 '17 at 4:59
  • @DoritoStyle I don't see the OP saying talking to the other IT department is against policy - they just "don't feel like it's their job"... – HorusKol Feb 22 '17 at 5:10
  • I think it's unclear whether it's part of their job or against policy - and (I think) I covered that in my answer. If OP has a valid reason for not doing it, provide that to the customer in polite terms that show how not doing it benefits the customer. If the OP can't do that - then OP should do it. – Joe Feb 22 '17 at 16:49
17

From the OP's comments:

The question is not whether i can or cannot, but if i should or not. If you were my boss, i woudnt ask you to grab me a cup of coffee.

and

I know that i've spent more time asking that actually doing it. The questions is not about doing it, but about not being a pusharound.

These comments, to me, highlight a perspective conflict between you and your contact at the customer.

It sounds like you feel that the customer is just being lazy by asking you to do something that is not explicitly your job.

To your customer contact, I am pretty confident that the situation seems very different.

From the perspective of the person who asked you to contact IT, they're seeing that the software isn't working. They have been given a solution that they cannot put into place on their own. They're clearly not in the IT department, therefore there's a good chance that communicating technical details is not their job.

You're not their boss, and they're not asking you to get them coffee. You represent a vendor, therefore, your company works for them, not the other way around, regardless of the fact that there are boundaries and limitations on thta relationship.

Calling IT may seem trivial to you, but for someone not in IT, calling IT and telling them that someone else said something about updating software on some server to fix a problem with a different piece of software may be fairly intimidating.

It sounds like they don't feel they're personally equipped to adequately describe the situation to IT, or answer any questions that IT might ask, and they're probably right.

Helping out someone at a customer site with communicating a technical issue to the people who will understand it isn't being a pushover, and it isn't an unreasonable request. Instead, it's just plain good customer service.

If there is a history of a lot of these types of requests, or if you were being asked to do something you aren't certain you have the authority to do, then it would make sense to escalate it.

As it stands now, though, if I were your supervisor, and you asked if you could call their IT department to tell them what software they had to update, I'd wonder why you needed my permission.

  • I think this is a great answer and is a good counterpoint to mine - and which one applies best depends largely on the actual relationship between your two companies (which is unclear). This is absolutely a mindset issue one way or the other, and getting yourself in the customer service mindset - whether it ultimately means doing what they ask, or helping them get to the right place - is your job either way. – Joe Feb 21 '17 at 19:36
  • This, and even more important if you are a small company. Having customers happy and making them trust you, is a key to have points in your side in case there is a big problem with your software. – JorgeeFG Feb 21 '17 at 19:42
  • I think this answer makes too many adaptions based on simple comments by OP and that lessens it's general usefulness. – user30031 Feb 21 '17 at 19:55
  • @DoritoStyle Can you clarify? I posted this answer because the other answers, while very good, didn't seem to address the actual reasons the OP is reluctant to make the call, as the OP didn't clarify until later. I believe the last two paragraphs of my answer are valid regardless of the clarification, and the part of the perspective difference as well. If you think the answer would benefit from a reorganization to separate those points from the parts where I address the specific comments, I'd welcome a helpful edit. – Beofett Feb 21 '17 at 20:00
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    @DavidSchwartz Read the question again. He's not being asked to call IT so he can install the software. He's being asked to call the customer IT department so they can upgrade software on their own server. All the OP needs to do is tell them the software and version that needs to be updated. – Beofett Feb 22 '17 at 3:47
8

The problem here is that the approach the customer is proposing is backwards and awkward. The IT team should be asking you for guidance on how to resolve the issue. You trying to navigate their internal IT department and find someone to do this is obnoxious for you and them. The person you are in touch with is confused about how things work. Instead of making it into a battle around what is and isn't your job, just guide them on how to get things done.

"Please work with your IT team to contact me(/my team) with regards to this problem. I will provide them with the information they need to resolve this issue. Thanks."

Once you get someone who knows something and can do something about it, things should go more smoothly.

NOTE: It's of some concern that you have access to their servers if it's not your job to administrate them. If you don't administer these servers, you do not need access and therefore should not have it from a security perspective.

1

You work at a small company, try this:

Hey, boss, I'm happy to do this if necessary, but I've got to say it really seems like it should be their responsibility to keep their software up to date. I'm concerned that I'll be stepping on their IT department's toes, and that if we do this simple thing for them it will set a precedent and we'll end up doing all their IT work for them. How should we handle this?

Preface it by stating that you'll do the work and you're not trying to shirk responsibility, but express your concern about why you don't think you should do it. Then, let your boss decide, not a bunch of strangers on the internet.

You let a bunch of strangers online decide this one for you and you could end up hurting your company in the long run, and that could end your employment.

  • I'm not sure why this one has been downvoted, it looks like a pretty sensible answer to me. – AJFaraday Feb 22 '17 at 9:18
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    @AJFaraday probably because people don't like being referred to as "a bunch of strangers". Unfortunately, we may give the OP advice that goes against what his company wants him to do, and that could be costly for him and his company. Especially, since it was mentioned somewhere that it is a small company. Lilienthal's closing comment is essentially the same as my answer, but I guess that makes the whole thing OT. Oh well... – FreeMan Feb 22 '17 at 12:34

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