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How We Improved Customer Support By Charging For It

If you had emailed us for support 2 years ago, we would have responded via email. In theory this is a very simple and straight forward approach, but in practice both sides suffer.

Keeping track of support messages amongst the constant stream of unrelated emails was a job in itself. The more emails that came in the less focus we had.

After we’ve designed and built your website, there is a warranty phase for support requests. Once this phase passes, we charge for our time when providing support. Emails actually prevented us from charging for support. They also slowed down our response time and blurred the lines between an informal chat and a request for work.

Fortunately there was some simple methods that allowed us to stop leaving money on the table, whilst providing better customer support.

1) Tracked our time better

track time to increase post-sales revenue

Each week we’d get emails with a quick question or a simple request about something. The thing is, nothing is ever quick or simple!

Using Harvest to track our time was a big eye opener. The average time to research and then respond to a support requests was taking us 23 minutes.

Research shows that people underestimate time to complete tasks. Before using Harvest we were paying the price for our bad estimations. Multiply that 23 minutes by an average of 18 requests a week. That is a full day of unpaid work each week. If we work the standard 48 weeks in a year, there was 331 hours of work we were not charging over the past year.

2) Launched a dedicated client support portal

WordPress support system website

Emails are about conversations rather than clearly defined tasks. An email conversation can go on forever, whereas a task is waiting to be completed.

A ticket based support system would allow us to focus more on a client’s request and a desired outcome/resolution. After researching and signing up to countless trials for customer support tools, it became clear to me that there was no support system that suited companies who charge for support.

Luckily we know a thing or two about building websites, so we built our own client support system in WordPress. This allowed us to cut out all the fluff and focus solely on providing clients with a place to have our full attention.

The HD Support system allows clients to login and create new tickets for any requests they have. When we reply to a ticket clients are emailed a link to log back into HD Support. This avoids restarting the email back and forth conversation cycle.

3) Set expectations from the start

People don’t mind paying for things, once they know there is a cost from the start. Allowing someone to spend time sending a detailed email, with a list of changes, and then telling them you have to charge for the work can lead to misunderstandings and frustration.

When you open a new ticket on HD Support you begin with 3 options for your ticket type:

  • Per hour
  • Maintenance package (pre paid bundles of our time)
  • Quotation first

3 simple options make it very clear that we charge for support. This has been positive for everyone.

Some people may view an email they send as ‘just a quick question’ rather than a formal request for a response. But I guarantee you that they still expect a response to their email.

The ticket type choice that they must select inoculates any uncertainty regarding how we provide and bill for support. This sets the client’s expectations to be inline with how our business works, plus avoids any surprises for them when they receive an invoice later on. Lastly it rules out any clients who don’t value our time and expect us to work for free.

4) Explained the benefits of switching to the support portal

An announcement email newsletter was sent out to all clients explaining the reasons why we created the new support system and listing the benefits of HD Support versus email support. The aim was to encourage clients to see that we built this system to make their lives easier too.

Benefits of using HD Support such as faster response time, clear overview of their requests to us and a dedicated place ‘just for them’ helped get our first registrations within hours of the email announcement.

5) Turned emails and calls into tickets

People are creatures of habit and sometimes need a bit of help making changes. Whenever a new support request came from a client, via email or a phone call, we created a new ticket in HD Support on their behalf.

A reply to the client’s original email request would state:

“We’ve now opened a ticket on your behalf on HD Support. Here’s a direct link to the ticket should you want to leave additional comments. When we update your ticket you’ll receive an instant email notification with a link to the ticket.”

Clients just want their question answered or issue solved. How we do that is not hugely important to them but by making the first few requests a little easier for them it encouraged more clients to begin using the system.

6) Transparent and timely invoicing

increase post-sales revenue invoicing

Within HD Support each ticket has a unique id. This id is added to our Harvest time tracking entires as a clear reference. Harvest allows us to issue invoices each month for clients and it shows a clear breakdown of how much time we spent on each support ticket.

For clients who purchase our maintenance packages we create Harvest projects with a set budget of hours within. When client hours run down to 2 hours we’ll send the client a message to remind them to top-up again.

Having a ticket id to associate our work with makes for better time tracking. In the past if we got an email request for a small update, it might be carried out in short stages: research, code, test, reply, etc. Without a way to associate each stage into a single item it was easy to fall into the trap, that the work was only 5 minutes here and there. Using Harvest means we don’t have to think about time or invoicing. If we are working on a specific ticket, then Harvest is running at the same time, tracking how long we spend on that task.

7) Offered on-page support

improve customer support WordPress

After 6 months of HD Support going live, we had great feedback and adoption from clients.

The majority of our clients run WordPress websites. We created a WordPress plugin that integrated directly with HD Support and the client’s WordPress admin area on their website.

This means clients can open, read and reply to support tickets without having to leave their own website.

Updating WordPress can be daunting for some people, so the plugin also monitors the WordPress core system. If there is a core update available, the plugin displays a message explaining to clients that Hidden Depth can take care of the updates for them.

Improved customer support and increased revenue

Within 12 months of launching HD Support we had tripled our post-sales revenue from support work. The first increase was from the money we had left on the table by not tracking time and getting lost in email replies.

The second increase was the volume of client support requests for updates, questions and new work. By creating a dedicated client support system we showed our customers that it was not just goodbye once we built their website.

We are now actively encouraging clients to come back to us for help whenever they need it.

If you’re a new client with Hidden Depth, we’ll explain how HD Support works before we even start your project.

“For us there are no stupid questions. We charge for our time, so we are here to help whenever you need us”

There has been a large increase in the number of smaller tweaks and updates for client websites. The feedback we’ve got is that before HD Support people felt like they might be bothering us when asking about small things like updating their website software or changing a site’s brand colours. Now that they are paying for it they feel like it’s ok to ask these things.

Even without the large increase in support based revenue it would have been worth it.

  • Customer support is improved by being faster, easier and more transparent
  • A central place for clients to ask us anything
  • A hub for us to see all requests from clients
  • Our clients are more comfortable coming back for any type of work. This adds more value to the relationship
  • HD Support is also something very unique to Hidden Depth, which makes it more beneficial for clients to continue doing business with us long term

If you are suffering from inbox overload or feel like you are giving away too much of your time for free, then consider moving to a dedicate customer support portal. There are lots of excellent cloud based support systems out there such as GrooveHQ, Customer 365 and Intercom. If you want your own custom branded support system that is created for companies who charge for support services then let’s have a chat.

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About the author

Dave Meier is the Founder of Hidden Depth (creative design services for ambitious businesses) who loves creating products and services that provide simple solutions to business problems.