The Holy Grail of customer support is to have it fully automated, with little or no human interaction, but that’s not usually practical or desirable for many solutions. Good customer support usually goes hand-in-hand with customer satisfaction – and in the SaaS world where user renewals are critical – figuring out the “right” level of support is important.
Customer support programs come in different shapes and sizes in response to any number of variables, and this applies to how you charge, or don’t, for technical support.
Pricing for support may be incorporated into the pricing model, so if subscriptions have pricing tiers, support packages would be included in the respective tiers. Support packages are also sold separately such that there is base-level support for everyone and then advanced support packages (i.e. bronze, silver and gold) at a cost.
Here’s a look at the most common support practices starting with the common self-service platforms, and moving through to various forms of one-to-one support.
Frequently Asked Questions have long been a standard part of software support. It is a collection of questions and answers that have been documented over time. They’re available in on-line repositories, sometimes segmented into different categories.
A knowledgebase may incorporate FAQs, but it will also include information from a wide range of internal and external constituents and may include both public and private documents (FAQs are 100% public). The search capabilities of a knowledgebase are more sophisticated than FAQs and a good knowledge base platform will also have the ability to create user groups and tag documents that are relevant to each group.
Customer Forums and Communities
The next level up in automation involves setting up customer forums or communities. The two offerings have a number of similarities. However, a forum is a support solution unto itself, whereas a community incorporates the forum functionality into its overall set of support features.
In either case, they facilitate the number one thing members want to do in professional networks: have discussions and be able to network with their peers. Since discussion boards or forums have been around in various forms online for quite some time, they offer a framework that customers or members recognize, know how to use and can easily understand.
Customer communities are the single most utilized form of customer support. In addition to offering a forum, customer communities provide:
- Email listserv (enabling forum discussions via email rather than just online)
Communities have analytics that let you track the level of member interaction and help you learn about your customers’ likes and dislikes regarding your company and products.
Also, online communities tend to have tighter integration with CRM systems or association management software, which allows you to push or pull data from the two systems and create a better experience for your customers.
There are more than 100 on-line community platforms to choose from, including open source and freeware products that cost nothing to use, all the way up to the more sophisticated proprietary systems that can cost $1,000-to-$2,000 per month.
The real cost to you, however, isn’t the platform – it’s the cost of making them work.
You will want to have a community manager responsible for a number of roles:
- Creating an environment that encourages participation
- Monitoring the site for appropriate use. (It is too easy for someone to hijack the site with their own agenda, which is the fastest and most certain way to kill a community.)
- Answering questions and reviewing answers provided by others to make sure they are relevant and correct.
The community manager can be a full-time employee, it can be a shared responsibility, or it could involve trusted members of the community who become designated as MVPs.
The community needs to be marketed so that your clients, users and partners know it is there. Without a high level of activity, the community withers and dies.
Attracting super users and subject matter experts is essential, because this is what brings people to the community. If they don’t have a high level of confidence their questions will be answered, they won’t bother.
Social media should be monitored on a regular basis, and from a business perspective, the pecking order is Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Twitter in particular has become a popular place for people to complain about a product or a service, and you need to monitor any hashtags that could involve your solution to pick up on any potential discontent as soon as possible.
This is what most companies start with because it can be assigned to an existing resource, such as a tech support person or a sales engineer. It has the benefit that users don’t expect an immediate response time. In fact, the auto-response for most e-mail support systems indicate the user will get a response within 24 or 48 hours.
E-mail allows for template-based responses. Many systems require a description of the problem. Keywords will trigger relevant auto responses, such as links to an FAQ or a knowledgebase. The risk is that non-auto-response emails can fall between the cracks. Make it part of someone’s job description to answer the e-mails and have an internal tracking system.
Real-time chat is growing quickly as a preferred form of support. According to the Association of Support Professionals, roughly one-third of companies use it. They found the significant factors for deciding to implement chat support were:
- Deflecting or eliminating telephone and e-mail support cases
- A higher level of customer satisfaction due to an immediate response to their issue
- Lower cost per case
- No need to worry about foreign accents and the potential for misunderstandings or frustrations
- More personalized than other forms of web-based support
- Transcripts help document disputes or trigger follow-up actions
Here is some additional information you may find useful about chat:
- Live chat isn’t practical for complex support issues
- Live chat programs are typically in the $20-40 per user per month range
- At volume, an efficient support person can handle up to three simultaneous chats (While the response is more immediate than e-mail, there can still be short delays as the support person goes back and forth between chat windows.)
- Most live chat programs aren’t optimized for mobile
Telephone Technical Support
This is the highest-touch, personal support for clients, next to going on-site. For complex issues, it enables remote desktop sharing to diagnose and potentially fix problems in real time. Additionally, the interaction is more likely to uncover information that can guide the decision to escalate or not, if the problem can’t be fixed over the phone.
On the downside, it’s time-consuming, labor-intensive, and as a result, expensive – especially if you have dedicated staff sitting idle waiting for calls. Then, as companies try to minimize the idle time, calls tend to get backed up, sometimes with wait times that create customer dissatisfaction. Foreign accents and/or poor quality phone lines can be an issue and lead to misunderstandings. Also, it can be awkward to provide links to other resources without a chat window.
Three simple ways we can help you
If you should have questions about support for SaaS customers or any aspect of transforming your business to the Cloud, I would like to offer you three ways of getting answers very quickly:
- “101 Questions to ask about your Cloud business strategy” ebook. We get a LOT of questions. This FREE download has the questions we get asked most often.
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- Want to discuss and gain guidance on specific issues, we make special 90-Minute Advisory Sessions available.