$100 Drupal Site Series: Part 5 - Support
Through out this series, the cost of labour has been identified as one of the biggest risks for this project. As most people who have run a tech business know, support can turn into a massive black hole of wasted time. Today we will look at how to manage support in a way that helps you avoid any direct customer contact for support.
Documentation and Online Resources
People like documentation, or even better videos, to walk them through a process. Invest the time up front to create documentation to help your customers use your platform. Only offer a single admin theme, such as Root Candy or Rubik or something you create yourself, this way the UI remains consistent and users are less likely to get confused. When developing the documentation, assume the user has no Drupal experience and talk in generic lay person terms, not "Drupal babble". You should include links in the Drupal interface back to your help system, so people can access contextually appropriate help. Consider having a FAQ for each discrete piece of functionality so people can get some idea of what it does without having to play with it for half an hour.
A lot of the documentation you generate will be specific to your business and only available to your paying customers, but some of it will have generic value to the Drupal community. For the more generally useful content, publish it in a public place, such as your blog, company website or contribute it to the appropriate section of the documentation on drupal.org. You will be benefiting greatly from the work of the Drupal community, you should be looking for opportunities to give something back.
The flexibility of Drupal means that you should be able to build a documentation system that suits your needs. You probably want to start by extending the book module.
From time to time people won't be able to find what they need using your online documentation. If you have a solid user base, a forum can be a good way of crowd sourcing your support resources. This doesn't mean you can just put up a forum and hope that your users will all help each other solve their problems, you need to be in there responding in a timely manner too. If you have some users who are contributing regularly in the forums, acknowledge that in their profile and even offer them some free time on the service - after all they're saving you money.
Some users will want a more personalised approach to support. This will most likely involve email. When a user emails support directly, they will expect a timely response. This has the potential to add significant costs to your business, especially if you have a global customer base. One way to deal with this additional cost is to charge for it, offer packages of X incidents per month for Y dollars and put them on recurring billing. Most customers will forget to remove the recurring billing, but stop asking questions once they are up and running. There are various support systems available, I'll leave you to find the one which works best for you.
Chat and Telephone Support
Real time support channels such as chat or telephone can really eat into your bottom line. You need to have people sitting there waiting to take the "call", whatever time the customer contacts you and they may not call for a day. Accents and cultural issues can make it difficult to communicate effectively via the telephone. I would avoid offering any telephone support to customers.
A mailing list can be an effective way of communicating with your users. I'm not suggesting something like MailMan or Google Groups, I am talking about a one way announcement list. Check out MailChimp or Campaign Monitor to take care of this for you. Each month send out a newsletter with some useful tips, new features or announce other improvements to the service. Consider including case studies in the newsletter, which you can also feature on your sales site.
The cheapest way to build a business is through referrals or word of mouth. You need to look after your customers, so they become your sales team. Manage their expectations in terms of the support you offer them. Don't be afraid to cut a time sink loose, apologise, give them a refund and encourage them to find another solution. Support vampires can cost you a lot more than they're worth.
We are almost in the home stretch now. In the next post I will cover some of the business considerations in terms of what you offer to customer and how to upsell. The final post in the series will come later this week and will be a summary of the previous posts.