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Transition to paid support

We're a small software shop.  Our software is web-based and hosted by us.

We've always tried to give good support, and to be very responsive with bug fixes and enhancements.  We did not charge extra for support.  Our customers have gotten used to this: they often call before they even look to see if something is already there.

We're now have enough customers that this is getting to be quite a burden.  We want to transition to paid support, and try to get paid for enhancements (or at least for doing their enhancement ahead of other revenue-producing enhancements).

Our help is, shall we say, "under-developed", and we've never offered training, but it is a fairly straightforward app that works well in a browser.

Any tips or advice?  Have you seen any hosted-app companies that have a decent support plan?

Andrew
Monday, March 29, 2004

We didn't really think about our policy until FogBUGZ 3.0 came out... the policy we have now is an attempt to do what people expect, what other software companies do, and what's fair, but we've had to fine tune it over the years.

You always have to -- at least -- meet people's expectations, or they will be unhappy.

http://www.fogcreek.com/FogBUGZ/SupportContracts.html

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Monday, March 29, 2004

Why don't you add a Skype UserName for International customers?

Prakash S
Monday, March 29, 2004

You don't know how much I empathize with your situation. I used to work for a company that wrote libraries and tools for developers using Borland Delphi. As part of the business model, we provided free technical support (and the customers had the same behaviors you're seeing). In the end, engineers were spending around 50% of their time just doing technical support. Despite well-intentioned discussion, we never made the jump to paid technical support. We went out of business early last year. So my advice is to figure out a good plan by looking at what other companies in your field offer and then decide what would be best for you and your customers. Then implement the plan. Let your customers complain and let some of them leave. But in the end you'll be glad you did it and you'll feel like you're being paid adequately for what you provide to your customers.

Sean Winstead
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Don't forget that many people are used to paying for support, especially in the form of a 18-22% annual maintenance agreement that includes free upgrades. Larger companies will buy these automatically. And we kick in 90 days of free support so that we can be certain that you have a chance to get the software up and running at your site with all the help you need at no extra cost.

We also have a policy, copied from Microsoft developer support, that says that if the support call is due to a bug in our code we will not charge for it.

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

---"Our help is, shall we say, "under-developed", "----

How about writing it?

There are loads of US technical writers whose jobs have been outsourced and many of them are single mums and both they and their children are facing penury, so you can be patriotic, socially responsible, skinflint with remuneration and save money all at the same time.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

As well, people will often bother support staff with trivial RTFM questions if they get free support.

Having even a minimal charge can filter out some of that.

Nigel
Tuesday, March 30, 2004


I think MANY of us have had the experience of solving a problem while on hold for tech support.  There's something about the calming affect of having to wait. It gives you a chance to rethink what your problem is.

MAKE SELF-SERVICE EASIER
If you can make self-service easier and phone support a little harder (or more expensive) than you can probably "teach" your customers to be more self reliant.

The problem with good tech support is that customers aquire "learned helplessness" where they think they NEED you to answer the question because they can not do it on thier own. They lose the confidence.

Suggestions:

1.  Don't answer immediately. Answer only via email and let them know it'll take a day.Then call them the next day to see if they still need help (or email them an 800#).  I think you'll be amazed how many solve thier own problem

2. Charge a low amount ($1/minute, etc.)

Mr. Analogy
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

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