Your Support Team needs an API

If you know me, you know just how much I freaking love APIs. From a programming perspective, I think it’s the right way to build a modern application. Sure there’s the lost time involved with initial setup and upkeep but it’s totally worth it. I know it’s 2016 and thankfully at this point I’m preaching to the choir. Sup?

My first exposure to APIs was when I started doing support at Instructure in 2011. Their main product, Canvas, is open source and built on a RESTful API. It’s so beautifully crafted that it brings tears to my eyes. At the time I had no idea what I was using or how it would greatly benefit me but now, 5 years later, I’m extremely grateful we crossed paths.

If your app is built on an API but your Support Team doesn’t have access to it or know how to use it, fix it! Knowledge is power!

But Why?

No programming knowledge required
One of the hardest parts of troubleshooting is not knowing how something is built. If you know the code, bugs are significantly easier to resolve. However, your Support Team shouldn’t be burdened with reading and writing code. If they are, why aren’t they programmers? APIs give them the ability to be helpful yet focus on their main goal, helping the customer.

How the web works
Understanding how to use an API will set off so many lightbulbs foryour support team. APIs break down CRUD functions and HTTP in a visible and digestible way. The whole process of how a web app flows will make a lot more sense.

Better understanding of your app
Access to an API will inherently give someone a better understanding of how your app is organized and its architecture. Knowing what items are expected to stand alone or be a collection, as well as where the has-one/has-many relationships are, will create a deeper knowledge of the app and thus lead to better troubleshooting.

Front-end vs the Back-end
An API can give incredible insight into where the problem lies. Say a user reports something not working in the browser but they get no errors. The agent tries the same thing and gets the same result. Does it work in the API? Boom! Problem narrowed down and the agent can communicate the issue more accurately in documentation.

Workaround heaven
It sucks to tell a customer you have to wait for an engineer to fix their issue. Most companies have a bug backlog and the root cause of the problem often won’t be resolved for some time. When possible you want to provide a workaround even if it’s “I’ll do it for you”. An API empowers your agents to provide premier service and resolve the customer’s issue until an engineer can fix the problem. Sure this doesn’t apply to all cases but it helps a lot of them.

Scripting
It’s common for customers to ask for help in mass creation/importing of content or users. Writing scripts for these requests aren’t the best use of engineering time. Given an API, a higher level support agent can write scripts to fulfill these types of requests. This will save the company money and will expand the skillset of the agent. Win-win!

Knowledge that can be used elsewhere
Once you learn one RESTful API you pretty much know them all. At Instructure I was able to use this knowledge to interact with our help desk software and preform bulk actions that would have taken me hundreds of hours manually. I found that even digesting SOAP became possible thanks to my knowledge of REST.

As you can tell, APIs are close to my heart. I owe a lot to them and wanted to shed some light on a something that’s often overlooked as a resource by tech companies. If you’re curious about REST and want to learn more, this guide is a great place start. Additionally, I’d recommend the Star Wars API (read only) as a good tool to familiarize your team with the concept.

Happy RESTing!

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