In my previous post, I shared the importance of providing awesome support for our apps.
We independent developers tend to have little to no budget and wear so many hats there often is not enough time to in a day to get it all done. So how can we provide awesome customer support without breaking the bank or the clock?
Our process has evolved over the years as our product offerings and customer base have grown. Based on our experience, here are some of the key steps to take to minimize the time and cost required to provide a top-notch support experience:
Minimize Support Channels
Decide which support channels you are going to offer and stick to it: email, phone, live-chat, website contact form, social media? Keep the number of avenues to a bare minimum.
We provide support via email and find this is sufficient for 99.9% of cases. In the rare case that a phone call is necessary we will make it happen.
We have one generic email address for all support cases. It is available from our website on our support and contact page, on the App Store, and within our apps so our customers can easily find us.
- No need for a full resource dedicated to customer support.
- You can respond to support cases based on your schedule and in an order based on priority and severity.
- There is time to understand the issue and research possible solutions.
Implement an Issue Tracking System
This is an absolute necessity if you want to scale your business and continue to provide awesome support with limited resources.
There are a few low-cost to free tools available for issue or bug tracking that you can use for customer support purposes. Fogbugz, a web based hosted solution, is what we use for customer support and development feature and bug tracking. It’s free for 2 or fewer users. Other tools I have used throughout my software career that are decent include JIRA and SerenaTeamtrack. The Software Testing Help website has a list of more options.
- You rarely lose track of an issue.
- You can automate much of your support workflow.
- Your entire team has access to the support queue.
- There is a history of customer interaction and bug reporting that you can use for release planning and defining product roadmaps.
Spend the time to setup as much automation as possible in the tracking system to streamline the workflow. Here’s some of the automation features we use in Fogbugz:
- Automatically open an issue when an email to our support email address is received.
- Send an auto responder to the sender acknowledging the email.
- Automatically assign new issues to first level support – yes, that would be me!
- Notify first level support when a new case is issued.
- Automatically categorize issues by app based on email subject and content.
Communicating and setting expectations in a timely manner is essential especially if you do not offer phone or live chat support.
Set up an auto responder that lets your customer know you received their email, provide a link to your FAQ for answers to the most frequently asked questions, and communicate your support response time policy.
It’s easy to ignore requests for help that are unclear or make no sense. Don’t ignore them! Always respond and ask for more detail, things like screenshots or exact steps taken.
If available, allow customers to view the status of their requests.
Provide Other Resources for Help
Create an FAQ page on your website and keep it updated. With a tracking system in place it’s easy to spot frequently asked questions that you can add to your FAQ. Because there are so many advantages to opening a dialog with your customer base through a support request you don’t want to eliminate that contact completely so don’t include everything on your FAQ page.
If you have a User’s Guide, make sure it is accessible from your website and from within the application. Quick Tip dialogs are also useful and should be readily accessible from within the Application.
My tendency is to immediately respond to any request that comes in; however, with limited resources this is a big productivity killer.
Schedule a set time frame each day for responding to support. I like to do it first thing in the morning and a quick check just before my work day ends.Try to limit support responses outside of this time frame to only those that you can answer very quickly or the severity is such that the customer cannot proceed.
What about the angry and/or rude customer? If it hasn’t happened yet, it will even with the best of products. When it does it’s important to remain calm and respond in a professional manner so that you can get to the bottom of the real issue. This may take some practice and patience.
This was in an actual email to our support desk:
“please get back to me before i tell the world how horrible this thing is.” – Anonymous angry customer
Not exactly the kind of email you want to get, right? Here is my response, after I walked away for a bit:
“I am sincerely sorry for your experience. We work very hard to provide top quality apps and top-notch customer service. This is definitely not normal behavior.
While I understand and appreciate your frustration, the threat is not necessary.
If you would like to work through this in a respectful manner, I would love to get to the bottom of it and get you up and running.
If not you may contact Apple for a refund at http://www.apple.com/support/mac/app-store/“
Everybody has a bad day now and then and with the ability to hide behind email, sometimes it comes out in email more so than it would in person. It’s good to acknowledge the frustration, it’s real. It’s also ok to let them know you prefer to work through their issue in a more respectful manner. It’s a way to acknowledge there are real people behind the emails. More than not, the customer will come around but in the rare occasion they don’t it’s best to move on.
It’s all-around awesome
We consider customer support to be a feature of each of our apps. With just a few steps and no financial investment, we’ve improved and streamlined this feature for our company and for our customers.
As a two person company, Kevin and I both wear many different hats during the day while still being able to provide support for our 8 iOS apps, 2 Mac apps, 1 Apple TV app, and 1 Apple Watch app. Our response time for support inquires is 2 business days though we typically respond sooner. The average number of support inquiries we receive per month is about 60.
An awesome customer support experience plus a quality product makes for a happy customer. Happy customers tell others about our awesome product and company. With enough happy customers telling others we’re able to continue to build awesome apps for our awesome customers!
“This is old fashion service at it’s best and something I have not experienced for many years. I would strongly recommend this product and the support offered.” – Marg T., Home Inventory customer
If you find these steps helpful or have additional tips to help provide awesome customer support without breaking the bank or the clock, send me a quick note at firstname.lastname@example.org.