The Cost of Support

This is in no way a rant. I/We love our customers to death and pride ourselves in taking great care of them. ++extra mile

With any SaaS type of business, your users will need support. They’ll have questions about your service, or issues that come up when something breaks or does not function as expected. Sometimes the issue is related to your product or code, like a software bug – and sometimes the issue is user error. And one could argue that a case of user error is actually a defect in your product in that for some reason something was unclear or not obvious. Example: You cant blame the user if that setting config menu item was 4 clicks deep and then required that something in another menu 2 screens over was activated first for your buried menu to even function.

I’m sure there are libraries of studies and reports on how to make your support system efficient and limit time per call and incidents per account. I have not read any of them.

But I have learned this: providing support costs money. Not providing support costs money. Providing half-assed support costs money. And providing great support – or even better – eliminating the need for support, costs less money and can even make you money.

Lets explore:

There is one rather large internet company I know of that treats support as a sales channel. Grandma calls support for issue x, and gets sold z, q, and p upgrades that really don’t help grandma. Support staff there appear to act as semi-trained sales staff that are incentivized with bonuses and perks to keep call time to a minimum, and up-sells to a maximum. On the surface looks like a win for megacorp. Not so much for grandma.

Flipside…

There is another company I know of that also sees support as a sales channel, but does so from the place of a happy customer is a repeat customer that recommends new customers. They don’t up-sell you (unless it is most appropriate, like a limit ceiling you have reached on your account) and then of course just mention it as possible option. The owner once told me his support system is his largest source of new/repeat customers. Seems like a win for the company, and a win for the user.

Support still costs money

Indeed it does. Take a low dollar hosting outfit customer at $4.95/mo… that is a ~$60/yr. gross income account. Whittle that down after cost of providing said service and then figure each customer may have 3 support incidents a year. Figure a support incident may include some email exchanges, a live chat, maybe even a phone call. Pay the light bill and the support teams’ salary.. etc. A heavy support user would burn away all profit for their account in no time. Sales volume makes up for it but you get the idea.

How I see it

So I think like the company in our second example: provide stellar support and reap the rewards of referrals and repeat business. I also proactively look for ways to improve the product to minimize support and find ways to automate support tasks. Our WhiteScreen eliminator is a good example of this automation. I noticed support volume on the same issue, so we built a self-service system to handle it. Even better would be to prevent the issues all together… something I trust the WordPress Core team is working on feverishly.

I would like to think of our support as a long-tail profit center, where in time, we will reduce overall support requests relative to customer volume by improving the system, but also by going the extra mile for our customers and keeping the up-sells to a minimum, we will yield more repeat customers and referrals over the duration. Check out our WordPress hosting support page for more detail on how we roll.

Conclusion

Support is part of any business. Do it well and prosper, or don’t – and piss off your customers & tank your brand.

5 Comments

Leave a Reply to Bobby Borszich Cancel reply

  1. Jared
    Jared

    I support you and your quality of support which you provide. All help and support you’ve offered me has been very appreciated, and is entirely different from another web host I use who “appear to act as semi-trained sales staff” located in another country and provide no help most of the time. It’s a nice change to have the support needed when needed, if needed at all. For me, most of my issues are user error (mine) only affecting my sites, which is ok with me, my site after all.

    So, yes, you should try to spend less $ on support by eliminating it, or improving areas that could lessen the amount of support needed for certain things. That’s the best option of course.

    However, if you’re going to do a job, which entails you to work, you might as well do the best job you can since you’re already required to do the work. That’s how I see it, and I’m glad you are on the same level -ish. I now feel like I can get you to support me all the time. What the hell, how bout making my site for me?!? 😀 lol no jk.

    But yeah, thanks for the support, and yes, for that alone is enough to strongly encourage me to refer people to use your service, its just that worth it. Gonna go write up something to do just that.

    In the end, I guess it all depends on whether the price of support outweighs the costs of referred client revenues or not.

    Reply

  2. Bobby Borszich
    Bobby Borszich

    I don’t use your service because I don’t currently need it. However … I have told countless people about what you provide! I once worked for said high-incentive upsell company … and yes we made lots of money by selling more. I don’t want to wonder into their business model, but I fully respect and appreciate yours! Another reason I will continue to recommend and promote one of my PHX locals!

    Reply

  3. Amanda
    Amanda

    the problem with most companies isn’t support vs no support, its that they generally seem to refuse to stand behind their products. i want to work with companies that hold themselves responsible. time was, the customer was always right. that’s certainly not always true, but the point was that as a business, you suck it up in the name of service. we’ve lost that, and its caused a cycle of consumers being less loyal.

    i recommend pagely because its not a company constantly trying to limit support and service or reallocate blame. they stand behind the product, which is simple and straightforward, while constantly trying to perfect the tools people crave to help themselves.

    Reply

  4. Sean Tierney
    Sean Tierney

    Agreed that delivering “fanatical support” can win you a ton of referral business. Rackspace has basically built an entire brand on that. Only caution is that you can set a precedent of bending over backwards to help people, at which point some will take advantage of the generosity. Know when to pull back the reins on losing propositions. But in general I agree that “above and beyond” service can win a lot of loyalty and word of mouth. We rely upon it ourselves – Austin delivers top notch support to our users and they rave about it to others.

    sean

    Reply

    1. Joshua Strebel
      Joshua Strebel

      Agreed.. you have to draw a line and stick to it. 😉