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Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

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BreezeTree Software

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

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

A new Support Question

This is a variation on my thread  "How to price/give support for needy market?" (for which I got AWESOME answers that I'm implementing).

That thread was in regards to very small firms that don't pay much for support.  I plan to stop the unlimited support offer for them.  For larger firms though, I plan to keep it as they are typically low maintenance and pay more for the support.

Do you ever encounter an issue where you are asked for support and the issue turns out to be unrelated to your software?  Or they've moved your software to a computer that does not match your system requirements? 

After 30 minutes troubleshooting an error a client said was due to my MS Word Add-in software, I discovered  the error was not even from my software.  It was from another MS Word Add-in they had installed.

My question - would you just suck it up on something like that, or expect to be paid for troubleshooting what turned out to be someone else's software. 

My business partner who does marketing, not programming or support, says I should be charging for that time  because it was not our software.  I understand that, but I'm the programmer and even I just assumed it was our software for 30 minutes.  I think it's reasonable that the client assumed it was us.

I'm annoyed about the wasted time and it's not the first time with this client (who makes very impulsive decisions to install everything under the sun, last time it was some blue tooth thing crashing Word and they thought it was my program, but I digress). 
I don't know that billing them is a good answer. 

I think if I hit the client with a bill in situations like this, even if it is in the fine print of our agreement that I can, I think it will create ill-will and they'll be afraid to call me and less inclined to want to do business with me and refer me to others. 

My partner says there's a difference between them liking me and respecting me and they may not set out to take advantage of me but I am letting them.  Huge corporations with millions aren't offering support that turns out to be non related to their software. 

This type of thing does not happen constantly, but it's becoming more common as I get more clients.  I get people thinking my software caused a problem that is non related, and I get people who buy our software then change something on one or two random computers so they no longer meet our system compatibility requirements.  In both cases, they assume their maintenance agreement covers the call to me and my troubleshooting.
Emily Jones Send private email
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Hi Emily,

It sounds to me like you are in the process of learning how to support your own software, which is why it is taking longer than you expect.

I think that good support people, if the solution is not immediately obvious, will have a list of questions (a "script") to smoke out the cause of the problem. You can add two questions to your script:

- did the software ever work? if so what did the user do just before it stopped working

- disable all other word macros, does the software work now?

I don't think you should charge the "installed another MS Word Add-in" client because that it a reasonable thing to do. Instead you should wait a couple more weeks until you have more experience in giving customer support and see if there remain any things which are a time consuming PITA.

In the long term you should aim for your company to be so successful that you won't have to provide the support yourself but will have an emplyee or employees for that. Be content that in these early days your support services are making sales possible and enabling your company to grow. There are weak network effects in the legal profession, as secretaries and clerks deal with each other on a daily basis and some have lunch together, so by providing great support, you are making it easier to sell your software into other legal firms within that city/town.

Billy Thorpe Send private email
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Once you will have a statistically significant sample to draw conclusions from, and provided you will have kept accurate records, you will find out that:

- X% of those customers never turned to support, or only checked in to say you have a great product;
- you spent a reasonable amount of time and effort per support case supporting another Y%; and
- the remaining Z% wasted a lot of your time.

Now, if Z << Y < X, like 10-40-50, or 5-25-70, and support does not eat most of your time, just accept that waste as the cost of doing business. Otherwise, you likely need to improve your product (make it easier to use, automatically detect common issues such as conflicting plugins, etc.) and process (automate support, build an extensive FAQ/knowledge base) and, probably, raise prices to offset the per customer support cost.

Probability theory also says that exactly the first Z% of your customers may all fall into the third category. Don't get discouraged if that happens to you.
Dmitry Leskov Send private email
Thursday, March 05, 2015
Thank you for the replies!

@Billy um.... I've actually been supporting this software for years.  Just not to firms with no internal IT controls.  And I *know* to remove all addins... It's just that when I saw an error I'd never seen I panicked and threw all rational thinking out the window. ;-)

Apparently I need to write up a troubleshooting checklist for myself to maintain my calm!

Dmitry - Good points. I do think I am coming out ahead overall. 

One reason I asked this question is because my business partner -- who is also my husband -- suggested I ask you guys because you guys always give such great advice and helped so much with my support program plan over all.  (I think he mainly wanted to stop my ranting and raving...)
Emily Jones Send private email
Thursday, March 05, 2015

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