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Good Support Strategies
Contributor: Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable


Providing good Internet support is a common feature of any successful company, and forms a high priority in many purchasing decisions. Discover what makes for an effective support policy, how support is as much what you sell as the creative service or product itself, and what tools can help in the delivery of great support.

Keeping Customers

A company that provides good support is significantly less likely to loose custom, and far more likely to prosper over the longer term. Here's a telling breakdown from a recent report as to why customers go elsewhere
:

- 45% because of poor service
- 20% because of lack of attention
- 15% for a better product
- 15% for a cheaper product and
- 5% other


Internet Support

The scope of this article is limited to support delivered over the Internet. In particular the kind of support that a creative studio, software developer, or creative freelancer offers. For businesses in the creative sector, providing support can be time consuming, as each client may have very specific needs relating to a particular commission. It's very important that at the outset in any business-client relationship, the client is made fully aware about what support they can expect.


Support Policy

I've created a template below that covers the essential features of a Support Policy. Be especially mindful however that your policy is deliverable. That is, whatever support you decide to offer must be within the limits of your capabilities:

MY SUPPORT POLICY

My Company endeavors to respond to questions in a timely manner, and to resolve problems in due course, taking into account the severity of the problem. All issues will receive our best effort, but we cannot guarantee a resolution of all support issues, nor can we guarantee their resolution within a certain time frame.

Please read this document carefully to understand the full terms of our Support Policy.


SCOPE OF COVERAGE

My Company's support will cover: [define coverage - for example, what questions and issues you're willing to respond to]

Support will not cover: [define non-coverage - here's where you say what you don't support]


HOURS OF SUPPORT

Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm [define local time]

Note that support is also not available on the following days:

[define holidays and religious festivals your company wishes to observe]


METHODS OF SUPPORT

Online Support Center

The online support center is your one-stop destination for everything support related.

http://www.mycompany.com/support/

* NOTE: Support ticketing is only available to commissioners.

Community Forum

My Company provides a support Forum. If you've tried searching our FAQ's and your question is still not answered, head towards the Forum where you'll find advice from ourselves and general users. This is a free support resource and is available at:

http://www.mycompany.com/forum/

Unsupported Methods of Support

The following methods are not supported: direct email support, phone support.

Reasons for not providing support

1. Support requested is for an unsupported or related area.

2. Abuse of support representatives.

We do not allow any abuse from clients to our support representatives in any way. If such a situation occurs, you will be given a reminder, and then, if the issue continues, ticketing options will be removed from your account.


SUPPORT PERIOD

At the time of purchase customers receive a free support period of 30 days [amend as required]. After the free support period, My Company reserves the right to request service fees from clients seeking ticketed support.


My Company
http://www.mycompany.com

My Company Tag Line


Support Options


So what is good support and why is there a need to provide it? Let's take a simple example of a freelance photographer. You might think a photographer takes pictures, provides the image files or prints, and that's fairly well the end of the matter.

A client may however have a support question about where to hang a photograph so as not to cause it damage from light, especially if they've paid a great deal for it to be hand printed by the photographer. If they feel confident that they can ask this kind of question, or that the photographer provides information and resources on their website, they will be engaging in a deeper association with the photographer, and will be more likely to return for a further commission at a later date.

A photographer might also provide additional services like high quality reprints and digital albums for their clients. These additional services broaden the relationship of the photographer and client. Support for such services might take the form of:

1. Static web pages and documents which provide support information,

2. Phone support (if limited to a handful of support requests per day),

3. Email support, or

4. Support Ticketing: a more sophisticated and dynamic online support area that delivers support ticketing which significantly improves the support experience from a clients perspective, and provides a more robust framework to track and respond to client support requests (an example of which follows below).

In all the above examples it's important that the mechanism of support allows the client to express themselves clearly, and in as much detail as allows the support professional to quickly and easily respond. Phone support for example, can be speedy for the client, but is very time consuming and costly as compared with email. Make sure when defining a support strategy, that you've thought through the pros and cons of each support option, and that they are practical and affordable.

Support Response

Support takes place on a two way street, and effective support staff try to nurture this environment. Support works when all parties remain calm and professional, and express themselves clearly in a personable, concise, and informative manner.

The support staff must have the ability to see their clients point of view. That doesn't mean they need to agree with them, nor assume them right, but they do need to have an open mind of what the client is saying.

Clients will often contact support in a negative frame of mind, and may well be aggressive or accusational. The job of the support staff is to reassure the client their issue is being addressed, and to rise above the initial poor attitude the client may at first communicate. Support professionals must be effective communicators in their given medium. If support is by email or an online ticketing system, the respondent must be able to express themselves very well in a written medium.

I've come across instances of a factually correct support reply to my first support request, but have also been given the strong impression I'd not be too welcome in making further requests. Here's an instance when support failed in one important regard. Customers who are treated with respect, irrespective of their initial attitude, will be far more likely to continue a relationship with a company. The bottom line is that being polite pays.

Most customers will accept errors, faults, and failings when there is a willingness and effort to resolve them quickly. The support process then becomes a powerful force that cements the relationship between the customer and company.

An Example of Great Support

Developing a support strategy is the simple part, delivering one is another matter entirely. Ascad Networks - www.ascadnetworks.com, the developers of an excellent online ticketing system called Support System, are a shining example of how good support can lead to benefits for both the customer and company providing support.

Designed to be an all-in-one online helpdesk, Support System v2.1 features a powerful ticketing system, an advanced live chat system, a knowledge-base builder, and a built-in frequently asked questions manager. Support System requires Unix or Linux servers with sendmail. You can find an online demo of their system at:

http://adsupport.ascadnetworks.com/demo.shtml

After buying Support System v2.1 I discovered some serious issues relating to licensing that I wasn't happy about and contacted Ascad Networks about them. I began communicating with Jonathan Belelieu, the lead programmer, and Michael from sales about my concerns, and within a week
I was given an updated version of Support System that wholly met my concerns. As a result of our exchanges, the licensing procedures for the program where improved.

It would have been very easy for Ascad Networks to have said: 'there's nothing wrong with the program, you agreed our terms, tough', but they didn't. We came to a solution, partly as a result of my persistence, and partly as a result of their going the extra mile and responding in a way that went far beyond the usual level of support one might expect. Great support meant that everybody won.

Conclusion

It's easy to think of support as a chore, an extra. Don't. Your support provision is vital to the future success of your company. As a creative professional, support should be part of what you do. Offering support is a powerful vehicle in connecting you to your customers, and discovering the shortcomings of your service or product. Never forget that support provides an invaluable opportunity to improve upon what you do. Your underlying motto should always be that great support comes as standard...

     
       
 
Authors background

Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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