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
So with any SaaS type of business your users will need support. They will have questions about your service, or issues that come up where 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.
There are bookshelves of studies and reports I am sure 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 come to learn 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.
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 min., and upsells to a maximum. On the surface looks like a win for megacorp. Not so much for grandma.
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 upsell 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 like $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, as in time we will reduce overall support requests relative to customer volume by improving the system, but also just by going the extra mile for our customers and keeping the upsells to a min. will yield more repeat customers and referrals over the duration.
Support is part of business. Do it well and prosper, or don’t and piss off your customers and tank your brand.