Client Support – Beyond the Help Desk

Whether you’re implementing software, building custom applications or working on a new process flow – most people think you’re done when you hand the deliverables over to your client. Your client probably doesn’t agree so let’s take a look at post-project client support.

Post-project support often takes a back seat to selling and refining processes for new work – which is a shame because effective support helps:
·      Sales teams sell more product to happy, existing clients and their referrals,
·      Engineering to build more, new software instead of handling escalations,
·      Reduce pressure on billable implementation teams to do non-billable work for the client
·      Create revenue-generating work for your implementation team -- to smooth out utilization

Unfortunately Support plans often start with self-service or a help desk. When clients need more help -- many companies then resort to some variation on Basic, Enhanced and Gold Support plans, which they try to sell to unhappy, struggling clients. This never ends well.

Instead of reacting to Support problems let’s look at an approach to designing the right Support offerings for your clients from the start. When you understand what you need to offer you can estimate the cost of Support and build it into your fees from the start. You’ll delight your clients from day one and preserve your margin down the road.

First ask, “can my client be, or become, self-sufficient?” The answer to this question determines whether you can stop at training and documentation or need to have a help desk and other people involved in Support.

If your software solves complex business problems or its performance has an economic impact for your client (payroll, legal, accounts payable etc.…) you will need more than a great self-help site. Think about adding one or more of the following:

·      User forums where users can ask each other questions and vote on features. No one will understand your users’ problem as well as someone in the same job function. Online forums that allow your users to add or comment on questions (and are searchable with your regular help) will reduce your call volume, help you build out your help library and provide valuable data for product management.
·      Rapid Response Teams that include members of support, engineering, product management and implementation focusing on complex user processes and problems. These teams work on several related issues at once, trying to find longer-term solutions instead of solving each ticket as a “one-off.”

Creating and feeding RRTs requires good analytics – where are we getting a lot of tickets? What are the stumbling blocks in our product? What processes do we need to rethink? Where do we have liability if our product fails? By aggregating issues related to a process or technology, the RRT seeks higher-level, long-term solutions that ultimately improve the product and reduce help desk requests. However, these teams are expensive – you’re taking experienced people away from direct or indirect revenue generating roles – so put together a budget that includes their Support time and make sure cost Annual Support Fees (ASF) cover the cost.
·      Fee for Service: Unlike tiered Support, fee for service can be used to solve problems for clients whose business process or needs are not shared with other clients. For some products, most clients fall into the category from time to time so forward-thinking Support plans include a set number of hours per year for this service – and calibrate ASF to cover the cost. When clients use this offering, their case is escalated to the appropriate team for billable assistance.
·      Managed Services: Sometimes called Analyst Services, this offering essentially outsources everything to your team. For a robust annual fee, your team manages your client’s data, creates and sends reports and sometimes answers questions from their clients. This is also a great option if your client is a small company that wants to look bigger – as your client ads grows their business you can scale your team to support them. Then, when they are large enough, they can develop their own SMEs and gradually reduce their dependence on managed services.

As you probably noticed from this brief summary of options – your clients’ needs may change over time as you add more complexity to your product, their business grows (or shrinks) and their clients’ needs change.

When your company or offering is new, predicting support needs and usage can seem daunting – it’s easy to decide to wait and see what clients want. But, if you don’t think about the costs of your support services and build them into your fee structure you may end up with a burned out support team and no way to raise fees to cover the additional people you need.

In the long run, you’re better off making assumptions and pricing higher support costs into your fees so you have headcount and cash to grow your support services along with your client base.


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