From The Editor | September 18, 2018

Customer Support Tips For Small Software Companies

Abby Sorensen July 2017 Headshot

By Abby Sorensen, Chief Editor

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What once was a high school side project has turned in to a full-fledged software business for Chris Muench. PHP Point of Sale has earned more than 2,500 global customers and is now a career for Muench. As the company’s one and only employee, he admits it can be tough to go from coding to support calls, and then back to coding. “That’s my biggest challenge,” he says, “I’ll be developing a feature, then somebody interrupts me for 20 minutes, and it’s tough to dive back in to writing code.”

Interruptions for customer support are a fact of life for solo entrepreneurs, and Muench offers some sound advice for his peers at other small software companies.

Only Offer What You Can Handle

When he first started working full-time on PHP, Muench didn’t have a ticket system and would do his best to keep up with his inbox. He had a live chat option and realized that was too cumbersome. For example, it was hard to remember to disable live chat when a support call came in on the phone. Ultimately the live chat option slowed down product development too much to keep it. Muench is open to using live chat again if the company ever scales to the point where it needs a dedicate support person, but for now he hasn’t noticed any change in customer perceptions by disabling this support feature.

Invest In Tools To Streamline Support

Now, PHP’s support operation is mostly automated and is centralized in Zendesk instead of Muench’s inbox. The peace of mind and efficiencies created with this system is worth the investment in the tool. He especially likes Zendesk features such as:

  • The Macro feature which lets him set up templatized responses to quickly resolve common issues
  • The voicemail to text feature, which allows him to scan a message quickly to see if it needs urgent attention
  • The help center community, where customers can post questions that peers can help solve.

Muench suggests software startups should strongly consider implementing a third party support tool once they reach the 100 customer milestone.

Bake In Your Support Costs

Customers that download PHP get one year of support included for free, plus a year of free upgrades. Cloud customers always get free support – and that segment of his customer base has consistently been growing 20 percent or more per year. While some of Muench’s competitors charge for support, PHP has those costs baked in to its subscription pricing. Muench believes if customers have to pay to ask questions about using the product that churn will be higher – a concept that also makes sense in the B2C world. This risk of churn ultimately outweighs any additional short-term revenue he could bring in from support fees.

Block Time Strictly For Support

Muench used to tackle tickets and requests throughout the day as things came across his inbox. Now, however, he sets aside blocks of time each day strictly for support work. He starts answering tickets at 9am every morning. After that he checks tickets every three hours and will work on tickets as long as needed at each check-in point. He can anticipate that first 9am time block be the longest because of overnight tickets (PHP POS has customers all over the globe in different time zones) and because of ongoing issues he is trying to resolve.

Blocking off time strictly for support frees up Muench to do more focused, uninterrupted product development work without the distraction of tickets.

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For more on PHP Point of Sale, check out the October 2018 issue of Software Executive Magazine.