As we modernize our code for Goldenseal Pro, it’s also an opportunity to update the rest of our software business. Right now we are thinking about tech support.
Our software has always included unlimited free support, by phone or email.
Naturally, it’s very popular with users, but it also helps us. Many of our new features and improvements come from user suggestions. And, even when there is confusion or a problem, it tells us what needs improving in the software design and documentation. The amount of support we need to provide keeps decreasing, as we gradually make our software easier to understand.
On the minus side, technical support is very hard work, especially when done over the phone. Helping frustrated callers requires tact, patience, technical skill, and a thick skin. It is hard to find all those together in one person, and even harder for any given human to keep it up for hours. Most callers are easy to work with, but some are difficult and draining.
As phone service switches from land lines to cells and VOIP, there is also a latency problem. The cellular network typically adds a delay of 90 to 200 milliseconds each way. That’s only 1 or 2 tenths of a second, but it’s enough to disrupt conversation ‘flow’. Staff and callers are more likely to interrupt each other, and seem rude or impatient when it’s really just transmission lag.
The other option, email support, has the big advantage of being asynchronous. You can send a message at 3 AM or whenever, and we can answer it without interrupting our other work. In an email reply, we can paste a link to an Answers page on our website, or copy text from there. We also have time to compose a thoughtful answer (and do testing or research if necessary), without you waiting on the phone.
Of course, email support is not perfect. The worst problem is the delay, which is annoying even if we answer at maximum speed. Also, some of our users are vision-impaired or dyslexic, and can’t work with text. Some support callers are just generally frustrated, and need a reassuring voice, rather than text. In general, we find that some problems are much easier to solve by email, and some are much easier via the give-and-take of a phone conversation.
Live support is a third option that is becoming more common: it is text-based, but more real-time than email. It’s better in some ways, but also has its flaws. It probably can’t replace either of the other support options, but it may be a reasonable supplement.
We have been looking at tech support provided by other software companies. In general, support usually depends on the complexity and cost of the program. Small, single-purpose apps (less than $100) rarely include phone support, and often have slow email turnaround. Large, enterprise software (more than $3000) usually requires an annual fee for support and updates, or pay-per-call. In between, phone support is more often available and free, but it is becoming less common. What there is, often goes to an overseas call center.
We are not to the point of making any decisions yet, and would welcome user feedback on this subject.