As an independent app developer I have had an opportunity to learn quite a bit about consumer behavior, how to run a business, and what it means to interact with the end user. When developing a product or service, support is often viewed as a cost center, not a revenue generator. This may seem obvious, but one of the things I have found is that support can actually be used to indirectly generate revenue.
Whether it's bugs, user error, poor interface design, or even enhancements, users seek out help after they have made a purchase. This is a golden opportunity to take what may be a less than ideal experience and turn users into advocates for your product. I have had countless instances where irate users contact me for support of my apps and because of an excellent support experience, end up giving the app favorable reviews, or in some cases, even referring friends and family to make a purchase. In a crowded marketplace, support can be a key differentiator between products.
As you are making decisions on how best to interact with your users, it is important to consider how you can make your support operation scale and align with your goals. Some important considerations might include:
- How much do you charge for your product or service?
- What percentage of your users do you expect to seek support and/or give feedback?
- What expectations do your customers have for support? Conversely, what expectations have you set?
- What methods of communication will you be willing to allow for users to interact with you?
For example, I have an app, Webmail++, that I sell on the App Store for $2.99. I offer in-app support that generates a standard email template that I have the user fill out. I make it really easy for the user to contact me on this channel. The reason I do this is because the user has paid what they think is a premium amount for an app. I try to respond to these emails within a few hours of receiving them, sometimes minutes.
Many users are very surprised by this for a couple of reasons. First, they are surprised that someone even answered. I am dead serious. People's expectations are that their support requests fall into a black hole somewhere never to be seen again. Their request was just a placebo of sorts to make them feel justified in being upset about a problem they have. Second, the promptness of a response demonstrates that I take seriously the things I do.
Fortunately, I don't have many support requests; support requests/sales per week comes out to be 2%. In this instance, support costs are minimal, but in any case I view support not as a dirty word, but as an opportunity to win over the customer and gain valuable feedback.
One last example involves another app called Trip Receipts. This was an app created over a few days to scratch a particular itch I had. I really embraced 'iterative development' by creating a minimum viable product and getting it into the app store as soon as possible. I created a very bare site and relegated support to a link at the bottom of the page in small font. I sell this app for 99 cents. I knew up front that there were going to be rough edges and things to improve over time, so I wanted to minimize support impact so that I could spend more time refining and quickly making enhancements.
By setting a low price and making the user hunt for support, I am setting expectations that support isn't necessarily going to be 'top drawer'. Interestingly enough, I have still gotten a few support requests, but they were more geared towards enhancements than reporting issues. (As a side note, these were enhancements that were slated for later iterations, anyway.)
In closing, when you're creating a new product or service it is important to consider how you are going to support it. Make sure that you have made some sort of assessment on how you expect to handle support and in turn reinforce those expectations with the end-user. And remember, support doesn't necessarily mean putting a strain on your revenue. It can actually be a means to boost it and your brand.