When you build software, your approach to customer support is strategic. If you endeavor to create your first software product, thinking about support from the beginning will help you resource your product properly once it is actively used by your customers. The strategic question is how do you want to differentiate yourself with your support practices? Do you want to be known for being fast to respond? Thorough experts in your solution? Flexible in the topics you will support and highly available?
This plan can be especially challenging if your company didn’t start out with software in mind. Trying to layer on software on an existing service is a special challenge, and a common one considering almost all businesses expect their vendors to have some kind of software to complement their services. Software requires that you bolt on technology resources, new sales skills to demonstrate the software, weave technology into your strategic plans and update your operations to include development. Support often becomes an overlooked aspect of a successful software deployment because it is underestimated. But if you get this wrong then you can undo the benefit your firm created by publishing new technology. Get it right, and you can increase engagement and enhance your reputation and differentiation.
How do you run a successful support organization? How do you plan for it in resources and financially? Fortunately, running a successful support outfit doesn’t need to be expensive for most small to moderate sized support operations. There are a few key points to plan to make sure you will be successful.
- Plan the capacity and organize the practice. Try to imagine how many support requests you expect to have to handle in a week or a month. Do you have someone that can own those requests, or multiple people? If you are small, and this all falls on one person then what is your backup for sick days and vacation? What is the maximum amount of support time you would expect to have to provide in a day? Remember, support often expands and contracts so planning for the normal as well as the extreme is part of organizing for success.
As your support practice matures, a good idea is to keep documentation on resolutions so you can identify areas of your software that might be improved if they worked differently, or even keep a practices document that helps resolve common questions quickly.
- Use measurable performance indicators to track your support efficacy. This is especially critical if you have Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) published to your customers. Knowing your target times for a new support request to be assigned to a resource, to have follow-up discussions, to achieve resolution will help you measure in aggregate how effective your support practice is. It also helps you communicate expectations to your customers, and having suitable expectations is very helpful when support requests become critical or customers become emotional. These numbers will also indicate to your team when it is time for a support request to be escalated for extra attention from your leadership. Everyone involved in support at the company should see these measurements and understand their role in maintaining or improving them. They help create a consistent experience when customers call. Plenty of services exist that help you achieve this. Some of the best supported software in the world comes from organizations that use Zendesk, which is a very low-cost platform for tracking support requests from a variety of channels. Blacklight Solutions uses Zendesk for that reason.
- Finally, make sure you have reviewed your support model for your vendors. Especially for vendors that provide any service that your software depends on. If you use a cloud vendor to host your application, make sure you understand what happens in an outage. If you use a software library to enhance functionality in your software, then you should understand what license it is under and how often they publish updates for defects and enhancements.
The team at Blacklight actually commits to supporting our customers’ products directly, so if you use Blacklight you can actually get support on your product and end result rather than just on software we own and publish. We see that as a key differentiator when it comes to helping our customers transform into successful software vendors. We believe support to be a crucial aspect of succeeding with software because if it is done right it makes your solution more adaptive to feedback. That in turn increases customer engagement and enhances the overall success of your software.