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Reduce Support Costs

If you sell a product or provide a service that requires support, providing that support will keep your customers and clients loyal. You can save money by using the Web to provide support, even when staff is unavailable.

The Cost of Support

To get an idea of what you can save by offering Web-based customer support, you need to know some of the costs of providing support. Here are a few of the costs you may already be incurring:

  • SUPPORT PERSONNEL are folks that sit around waiting for the phone to ring. When a call comes, they answer questions. The more people you have, the more your personnel costs are. But if you don't have enough of these people, your customers will have to wait too long for answers to their questions. (And those poor support people won't get any rest at all!) Some balance needs to be made. And what if you want to provide 24/7 support? What will those support people be doing in the middle of the night when they only get one or two calls per hour?

  • TELEPHONE SYSTEMS are required to connect your customers or clients to your support staff. Depending on the size of your staff, the system you need could be very costly indeed. And if your company generously offers toll-free telephone support, add in the cost of all those toll-free calls. Whew!

  • FAX-BACK AND FAX-ON-DEMAND SYSTEMS offer another way of getting support information to customers or clients. These systems can also be costly, especially if the system calls the customer's fax machine to send the information.

  • MANUALS, USER GUIDES, AND TECHNICAL NOTES are documents you pay writers like me to produce. (And some of us don't come cheap.) Preparing these documents is only part of the cost- printing and distributing them adds to the cost. And if you decide to include only the basic manuals with your product, you might find yourself mailing or faxing more advanced documents to the people who need them. That increases costs, too.

  • Updates are revisions that make your product work better. They're especially common in the computer industry, where software products are often released before they're ready and bug-fixes are required. But other products-or product manuals-could require updates, too. In most cases, you'll want your customers to get updates because they can solve problems customers may already have.

Example: TriGeo, Inc.

TriGeo, Inc. is a small Idaho-based company that develops and sells weather, Internet, mapping, and environmental software. It also acts as a retailer for weather stations, which it bundles with its software at competitive prices.

TriGeo may be small, but it's big on technical support. Its management understands that in a narrow yet competitive market, providing good technical support can make the com-pany stand out. (It certainly worked for me; I bought my weather station and software from them after their prompt and friendly responses to my pre-purchase questions.)

Figure 4

The TriGeo, Inc. support page includes links to many support documents.

TriGeo doesn't have a big staff or a fancy telephone system. Instead, it provides a wealth of technical support information on its Web site. The main support page (see Figure 4) offers links to pre-purchase support documents, such as product briefs, as well as post-purchase support documents, such as user manuals, application notes, and FAQs. The same page also includes telephone and fax numbers and an e-mail address for technical support personnel-just in case you don't get your answer on the Web site. TriGeo promises to call you back within one business day and they haven't broken that promise to me once yet.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) A list of questions and answers often asked by customers. Answering questions before they're asked is a good way to minimize support costs.
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