A trend in software delivery is to charge users additional fees for customer support services and training. Each time a user or company calls into their provider’s support line, they get a bill (or they pay in to a service plan granting them a set number of support calls). In some ways, this trend is understandable: customer support, particularly skilled support, can be an expensive proposition for a service provider. So you could argue that it makes some sense to eliminate those charges from the upfront costs of software and only charge for those who require it. There’s a cynical pragmatism in this calculation that is leading this model to become par for the course.
But if customers have to pay a service provider additional fees to receive service, is it truly serving customers at all?
You Have a Right to Expect Service
Companies deserve to work with software providers who are true partners and have some skin in the game – if their software doesn’t deliver, or needs training, support and upgrading in order to better deliver – why should the client have to pay for that? A true partner provides these things because they are primarily concerned about the clients’ success, not their own bottom line.
Paid Service is a Disincentive for Improvement
Your pain points as a customer should not be profit centers for your provider. If a software company charges for standard training and support, then what is their incentive to produce clean, user-friendly software?
Cost is often another argument used to justify pay-as-you-go customer service. Yes, it is expensive to maintain a well-staffed, well-trained customer support team. And it should be. Because the more a client has to rely on support in order to navigate software, the less user-friendly that software is. Thus, having to assume more costs for customer support is an incentive for providers to improve their product and deliver usable solutions, as it will be more profitable in the long run to provide better products than it is to add more support.
Easier Lines of Communication
Customer support is the front line when it comes to product feedback and identifying improvement. A software provider that is serious about continually improving their offering should encourage customers to contact them with any known issues. It shouldn’t charge people for that feedback and shouldn’t set up barriers that prevent issues from becoming known.
Untrained Users = Unsatisfied Users
Even more than pay-for-use customer support, charged user training is par for the course with some software providers. But, if a software program has any level of complexity, those who attempt to use it without training can be dissatisfied with it due to lack of knowledge, not an actual flaw in the program. The very thing you might need from the program may already exist, you just don’t know how to access it.
From a service provider’s perspective, why would you want untrained users? Your customers will appreciate your product more if they know how to properly use it. The features you spend money and time developing to set your product apart from the competition might sit there unused due to lack of knowledge about how to use them, ultimately degrading the stickiness of your software overall.
Pay-for-use training is a barrier to training. In some companies, such expenditures can require forms and multiple signatures, particularly at a user level. In fact, it can sometimes be harder for a large company to get a small expenditure approved than a large one. In such a corporate structure, users aren’t going to reach out for training in a pay-for-use model, as doing so would be a larger hassle than the problem they’re currently facing.
Proper Client Support is Achievable
When we started Tinbox Energy Software a few years ago, it was important for us to include customer support and training as part of the software license. It is a core value of the company to this day and it’s what has distinguished us from our competition when doing a cost comparison. Our commitment to inclusive support and training does eat into profit, but the truth remains that our clients like the fact that they do not require a purchase order and added headache that goes with raising one, every time they require product support. Over time, the clients with whom we partnered stayed with us, in large part due to our support model. The regular feedback we receive from our clients during support calls, assists in making a product better for our clients. Closing the loop with our developers, support and application staffs on support calls are better able to communicate the areas for focus it comes to quality releases. In the end, that short-term pain of lower profit margins at the start of our company has resulted in long-term success. When customer support is not run as a profit center, then the measure for success is customer satisfaction, not incoming revenue. This is what a true customer service provider partnership looks like. You already paid for the service. Should you have to pay to understand it as well?