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Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

Handling customer support with a day job

I understand that many bootstrapping micro-ISV owners are building their ISVs alongside day jobs.

For those of you who have day jobs and do tech support, how do you handle it? I just got a new customer on Sunday, which is great, but the tech support needs are interfering with my day job, and aside from outsourcing it, I can't think of many good ways to solve the problem.

Jason Swett Send private email
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Put up a free support ticket system online like OsTicket.
Then you can respond back to your customers on breaks or shortly after work via a smart phone.
Frank Coukos Send private email
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Technically I have Samsung ATIV pro tablet (Windows 8 and everything) and smart phone data plan with tethering enabled. I'm not using my company  laptop or internet connection for my personal business (I could but don't want to) .  Whenever I got a spare time I'm checking support email and forum, usually responding within 10 minutes.
Maksym Sherbinin Send private email
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
This is where a better website would be useful. After a while, you should notice which questions get asked, so make sure that the application streamlines whatever process is causing trouble and have a FAQ/Help section to guide novice users.

Aside from that, I was also going to suggest an iPad, or similar, so that you can handle support emails, etc during breaks.
Scorpio Send private email
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Whatever you do - don't use equipment, bandwidth or time that properly belongs to your day job.
Andy Brice Send private email
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
We have our main target market in a different time zone. We are based in the UK and sell most of our software to the US. This means that in the evening we can pick up the phone and speak to our customers who are still in the office.
Adrian Lock Send private email
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
BTW you might find something here that will help you reduce the burden:
Andy Brice Send private email
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
"Whatever you do - don't use equipment, bandwidth or time that properly belongs to your day job. "

Cash only!
Drummer Send private email
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Create good user documentation with screenshots covering each aspect of using your product.

Create FAQ's for each of the commonly asked questions that you get from your customers.

Dont assume support instances will will stop one day. They wont ever stop so prepare now by placing these good processes in place for your users to help themselves.
Kyle Send private email
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Make sure to use a support ticket system instead of email communication.

try hesk.com
free and great.
NewGuyOnTheBlock Send private email
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
>Make sure to use a support ticket system instead of email communication.

After 8 years I am still not using a ticketing system. I just move the email out of my inbox once I answered it. Works fine for me.

Is there any advantage to using a ticketing system if you are a 1 man band (I can see the benefits if there is >1 person answering support emails)?
Andy Brice Send private email
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
>Is there any advantage to using a ticketing system if you are a 1 man band (I can see the benefits if there is >1 person answering support emails)?

Yes, it definitely helps if your typical issue requires several roundtrips of emails. Without a proper ticket system it would be more difficult to keep track of issues. I have been the only support person in our company for the past few years but always used a ticketing system and it helps a lot.

With the system I use (Cerberus) all the tickets still come to my email and I can reply to a ticket by simply replying to the email in my Outlook. Occasionally I do that (especially if I am out and us my smartphone), however I still prefer the web interface since it keeps better track of ticket states (like "closed", "waiting for customer", etc), contacts, etc.

To the OP: you can handle the customer support after your regular day job hours. If you want to reduce waiting time for your customers you can also use your lunch break. That will give you a an average reply time of a few hours which is perfectly acceptable and better than most other companies (sometimes it takes 5 days for my credit card company to answer a simple email).

By all means only use your own equipment to do support. It is not so difficult to carry a tablet, a netbook or a small ultrabook.
B2B Send private email
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. Good point that between a lunch break and the evening hours, that gives a typical response time of just a few hours, which is pretty good. Also good idea about having thorough documentation, FAQs, etc. online so my customers can try to help themselves before coming to me. I feel better about my customer support situation now.
Jason Swett Send private email
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
I'm with Andy on using email only.  Back in the day, people loved knowing that they were emailing the developer direct and getting a personal response.  I personally like it too, when I contact a company and get replies from the actual coder.

As for things like Hesk.com, they can't be used remotely if email is all you've got access to, and they can see everything you're discussing, so privacy is an issue.

Final thought: forums are a great way to get other users to do your support for you.  I'm a member of several forums for products where others help me out instead of the actual developers.  That's a big plus and time-saver, IMO.
Harry Phace Send private email
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
www.hesk.com is open source download that you install on your server.
The tickets are private and cant be seen by anyone that does not have the ticket id and the email associated with it. so other customers cant see all tickets, only their own.

10 thumbs up for a ticket system :) *Andy :)

I used emails for support for few years, then realized, I was ignoring email support because it was so hard to keep track of conversations back and forth.

takes 20min to setup hesk on your server, and get it up and running.
it will change you life :) well not quite. but will change your level of support.

Accessible via a mobile phone online.

Also has email piping so you can setup to catch emails and auto add to ticket system, and reply via email, if you absolutely must.

* I dont work for hesk :) just a happy camper.
NewGuyOnTheBlock Send private email
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
I lost my job during a recession and had to get a replacement job. Nobody was hiring in the city I lived in.

I ended up working in a company that only had software development as a very small side-line. Their application hadn't be updated to years and years and was falling apart. It wasn't legacy technology, it was the previous technology before the legacy technology.

Their hardware was old and even for the old stuff it was barely workable.

I was wasted there. My boss was an idiot. He didn't listen to me. He wasted my time with a series of pointless tasks.

I always tried to tell the truth and do the right thing. But he just didn't listen. I pointed my boss in the right directions but he wasn't interested.

Unsurprisingly I left there eventually.

I have always done side-projects in my own time, at home and on my own equipment. I don't make a secret of them. I put them on my resume so future employers can see examples of what I have done and know that I keep my skills up to date.

I know what is right and what is wrong and what can lead to accusations and ambiguity.

I never used any of their equipment or time for my own work. Further to that their equipment and development environment was so useless and old, I couldn't have even if I wanted to.

I always got the gut feeling my boss was a dishonest scumbag and that he would try any trick to make a dishonest buck.

Even what clients we had practically told him the same thing to his face.

I left that company. Several years after I left, I got a letter for a lawyer representing this scumbag little company. I hadn't even spoken to them for years.

The lawyer presumably was constrained by what he could say. So he hinted at every thing. Most things were phrased as questions. One paragraph contradicted the previous one. Nothing was said directly. There was not one single shred of evidence, nor any specific details or times and dates. It was just a load of jelly.

Nonetheless they said for a fact my behavior was illegal (but contradicted almost elsewhere in their letter) and they were taking me to court, despite not one single specific thing or shred of evidence.

The lawyer made threats about court costs and said I had to reply immediately.

I wrote to my local political representative who forwarded my letter to the government department of justice. The department said lawyers are not allowed to make threats about costs as it is against such and such laws and regulations. Also you must be given sufficient time according to the rules to reply. So the lawyer broke at least two rules.

I should have referred their lawyer to the relevant regulatory body I guess, but it just didn't occur to me at the time.

I hired a local lawyer. He took a load of cash for me and then I never heard from him for months and months. I then had a brief meeting with him which was a little strange I guess because the other side had never followed up despite months having gone by and they did say they wanted an immediate reply.

I never heard from my lawyer or the other side again.

In retrospect I should have just thrown the silly letter in the trash can. I had not done one single thing wrong. I never used their equipment or time for any of my own work.

It was doubly stupid as their equipment and development environment was too old to be usable for anything modern and my boss just asked me to do stupid things when I was there.
Red Rocket Send private email
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
I mean Hesk themselves can see all your support discussions, not other customers.  Don't be naive and think they can't or won't.
Harry Phace Send private email
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Honestly if I didn't think it would be a privacy issue I'd love to have a ticketing system that published all my support conversations publicly online. It would be great seo & would demonstrate a good track record in customer service.

Unfortunately I bet some customers would hate this.
Jonathan Matthews Send private email
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Handling support with a day job is always going to be tricky but you could do a few things

1) Put up a maximum response time..say 24hrs. So the customer waits 24 hrs before escalating anything.

2) If a customer marks a ticket as an emergency, make the system send  a message to your phone. Since you have a day job you may not be able to fix the issue immediately but you could at the least reassure the customer by sending back a received message.
Web Developers Send private email
Monday, March 25, 2013

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