All companies developing commercial software products offer support services. Even open source solutions benefit from this advantage. Be it promoted as free (included in the license price) or as subscription-based service, the technical assistance seems more of a must than an additional benefit.

However, the types of support services and their quality play an important role in buying decisions, both for end-users and savvy IT personnel. For end users, it’s a question of abilities and knowledge they lack. They buy software products to make their lives easier, not to spend hours and hours trying to debug them (unless that’s their hobby). For IT professionals, it’s a question of time and resource management. If you need to invest in a certain solution, why not save crucial time and resources by acquiring one with technical assistance included. If you’d like to know more on why it’s recommended to call support instead of toying with a product yourself, I recommend this article I wrote a while ago.

Given the high importance potential customers place on tech assistance, support services need to be designed so as to represent a strong competitive advantage. And there are a few aspects you can think of to sketch a strategy to tune what you offer your customers.

  • Availability – the longer support services are available the better. Non-stop is what you aim for, given that more companies provide such services, part of them free of charge. Nine to five is not that hot, given that software issues have this bad habit of not waiting for it to be a business day to happen. They also show no preference to business hours.
  • Diversity – Email, chat, phone, forum, blog, the more channels you open, the better your reputation will be. Besides, email and live chat are not always available. Especially if the problem affects your customer’s internet connection 🙂
  • Language barriers – do you sell your soft worldwide? Sometimes through local partners to people who are not that good with your mother tongue? Then you should work hard on assisting them in their own language. You can either hire techies that are also fluent in a second language. Or establish a basic level support center through your local partner. Besides helping you build a great relationship with customers and to keep them coming back, it might also be compulsory (at least partially) in certain countries. For example, in Romania you must provide user manuals and quick guides in Romanian for all software products you sell.
  • Outstanding quality – the professionalism, expertise and ability to reach their customers is essential for your support staff. Also, the time it takes them to respond is crucial, as customers get impatient extremely fast and never have days to waste on waiting for a reply or a solution. Therefore you should first make sure you have enough employees to guarantee a response time of maximum 24 hours and then make sure you develop more then their technical skills. You might look into providing some “soft skills” training sessions for them. This will teach them empathy, efficiency in conversations and not to take any incident personally.
  • Adaptability – Some customers are really open to providing feedback after interacting with a support representative. They provide extremely useful input on both the product and the service. Such feedback needs to then be the base of all service enhancements you might plan for the future. Otherwise it is just a waste.

Software development, just as any other IT-related field, is a highly competitive market. Turning every little aspect of your portfolio into a competitive advantage is a smart move. Features, prices, support services, everything you do can be turned in your favor.

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