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support for a shareware application

I have a shareware application that is quite successful with the users. My users are usually of low and medium PC operating skill.

The problem is - I offer free technical support, for both registered and unregistered users.

My problem is that in week-end, they FLOOD me with technical support. I receive tens of messages from users, every day of the week-end.

And if I don't respond rather quickly, a few of them write again, get angry, etc.

Since I don't live in US or UK, I don't know if it is common practice for software companies to offer tech support in the week-end.

Is this common? Why do the users expect to be offered tech support in the week-end?

It seems an unreasonable request to me, especially because they don't pay extra for tech support, and the application costs $24.

Do companies in the US respond to tech support in week-ends?

And, most importantly: If I don't reply to their messages in the weekend, and reply on Monday, will I lose sales?

Thank you!

Barry
Saturday, November 15, 2003

You could start with setting up a forum and a good FAQ section, so that users can get some help from other users. Next, set up an auto-replier, so that users know their e-mail has been received but won't be answered before Monday. Last, either make your application commercial, or keep giving it away for free but make support limited to paying customers.

Frederic Faure
Saturday, November 15, 2003

Ideas:

Have two tech support queues. One for paying customers, one other for unregistered and "future" customers. Give priority to the paying customer queue.

And/or drop technical support for unregistered customers completely. Or downgrade the quality and level of service (see below). In exchange, consider a very lenient refund policy for anyone who buys your product who is dissatisfied with the product or the tech support.

Personally, I think it's nuts to offer technical support to unregistered users. It sounds like it keeps you from adequately serving the people that you have a moral obligation to help - those who paid you!

Lastly, the public support forum is a good idea. BUT: the problem would tend to be that only people with problems would hang out there. And then you'd risk getting flamed by your more clueless users. You might consider setting up a moderated forum wherein you answer the questions. It would become, over time, a knowledge base that you could point your unregistered users at.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, November 15, 2003

You might also make the support forum (a discussion board like this one) NOT PUBLIC.


We do provide support to our customers while they are trying our software (before buying), but our software costs $100 per module (with 18 modules). So, we can afford to help a POTENTIAL customer become a paying customer.

HOWEVER, at your price point ($24) you might not be able to do that.  You might not, in fact be able to provide much support at all.

SUGGESTIONS

1. "Tech support is free after purchase. If it's our problem we'll fix it or refund your money"

Make it clear that tech support is provided for paying customers and provide a refund policy.
If a non paying custome emails, send them an automated reponse asking for their [thing that verifies they paid] and explain that free support is provided to PAYING customers.  AND that if they buy, you will provide tech support. If the problem is with your software, you'll fix it or give them a refund.

2. Provide a moderate Forum (discussion board) for paying customers.  This is a GREAT idea as it generates COMMUNITY around your product and reduces your tech support costs.

3. TRACK what people have trouble with. If 50% of your calls are from people who are confused about something, see if you can change the program to make that something EASIER and avoid future calls.

Entrepreneur
Saturday, November 15, 2003

Also,

Check out softwareceo.com

It's a great resources for software companies. Has some free discussion boards that this question would be perfect for.

Also has a premium service with more features (that costs a bit)

Entrepreneur
Saturday, November 15, 2003

Arghhh....
Clickable link is:

http://www.SoftwareCEO.com

Entrepreneur
Saturday, November 15, 2003

>>
Personally, I think it's nuts to offer technical support to unregistered users.
<<

Unfortunately, this policy is way too common.  Quite a few companies have lost my business because of this.  If I have a support need before even buying a product and the company won't handle it, guess what -- they aren't getting my business.  Providing great support is one of the most powerful ways to win a loyal customer.  By not providing any support, you're scaring them away.  How does that make any sense?  I can understand some reasonable limitations but flat out refusing support to potential customers is insane if you want their money.

Regarding the original question, I don't think it's unreasonable for you to expect the weekends off.  My advice would be to make it very clear that you only offer support during normal business hours.  Everywhere that you display the support email address, add a brief note saying something like "Our support staff is available from the hours of 9 AM - 5 PM EST Monday through Friday.  We will do our best to respond to your inquiry within 24 hours."  You'll still get the occasional angry email from someone who expects their $24 to entitle them to 24-7 support but at least it'll give your customers some reasonable expectations. 

SomeBody
Sunday, November 16, 2003

If you get flooded with emails over the weekend then that is when your users are using your software.

My advice is set up a web site with FAQ. Seriously consider dropping technical support for non-payers. Publish the hours at weekends your emails will be answered. Try and fix the problems they're asking about :)

Stephen Jones
Sunday, November 16, 2003

>>
Personally, I think it's nuts to offer technical support to unregistered users.
<<

All of my customer who placed volume orders raised support issues before buying, I think some times these aren't even real issues, they just want to see how you respond before they buy.

The suggestions about having a FAQ and forum are sensible and you will improve your company image by offering this.

Also look at the nature of your support requests, can you reduce the amount of calls by changing the product. I've been doing this for some time and it has had a noticeable effect on the amount of support requests I get.

Tony Edgecombe
www.frogmorecs.com

Tony Edgecombe
Sunday, November 16, 2003

Tony,

Did you make the forum on your website yourself or is available to download somewhere?

Doug R.
Sunday, November 16, 2003

You need to examine your goals towards non-paying users. Do you really want to provide freeware? Or is your goal to entice/encourage non-paying users to pay for the software?

Since I'm guessing the latter, then make a public forum and FAQ, but clearly specify that that is the only support offered to non-paying users. Point out to registered users they need to either write support requests from their registered email address. Then just get a spam filter for your email client (or an email proxy) that uses whitelists - put your registered email addresses in the whitelist.

As for weekend support, if there's that much of a market for it, may I suggest it's time for you to offer "Premium" support packages - for an additional $10 they get replies within 24 hours (and a priority mail address). Otherwise they can sit in the queue and get an answer when you get around to it. :)

Philo

Philo.
Sunday, November 16, 2003

Caveat with support forums.

Forums are going to be full of people with PROBLEMS.  Potential customers may think this is REPRESENTATIVE of your typical customer (i.e., lots of people have problems).

So... be prepared to make sure that you keep the people on the forum happy.

Also, the #1 benefit of a forum is the ARCHIVE of PAST SOLUTIONS.  This creates CUMMULATIVE value.

So, it's great if you can make the archive easy to search.

(I'm subscribed to several newsgroups for Goldmine that aren't public so they aren't searchable via google, etc.  This really ruins the value of the newsgroup. Still better than nothing.)

Entrepreneur
Monday, November 17, 2003

>>Tony,

>>Did you make the forum on your website yourself or is >>available to download somewhere?

: http://www.johnsadventures.com/backend/DiscussionForum/APHPDiscussionForum.html .

Tony Edgecombe
Monday, November 17, 2003

A few more ideas.

Triage is necessary in situations like this. Separate out the problems that will require back and forth with users from those that can be resolved by pointing them at a FAQ.

Separation of priorities is important. I still say he needs two support queues, one for registered users and one for unregistered users.

I think some sort of database solution to the support issue might be desirable. If I were in this position I'd probably whip up a small database application that allowed me to attach categories to support instances and to sort and filter and print on those categories.

Bored Bystander
Monday, November 17, 2003

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