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ASP Forum Questions
Is there a Downside to Proficiency
"We're considering adding a (voluntary?) proficiency test to our
new-user training classes, which we think will identify users who
will need a lot of support. What could go wrong? Anything?"
Turning Off Passwords
"How can we tell when to disable password access to our Web
support site? We're setting up a new support portal, and we
don't like the idea of leaving it up to the customer to tell us
that a contact has left the company or moved to a new position."
"We're getting ready to replace a very old PBX system and
call-handling software that runs on one of our servers. We know
that the telephony world has lots of new options—hosted
solutions, Skype, etc.—but we want to make sure there
aren't some hidden problems, such as dropped calls. Any
"To get rid of long hold times, we're thinking about switching to a
call-back model, with one live agent to collect basic information
and set up a call time. Are there any gotchas that may be a problem
with this approach, especially for fairly urgent calls?"
Updating Other Agents' Tickets
"We use a traditional touch-and-hold model for support calls, which
means that whoever first opens a ticket is responsible for all
contacts with the customer. This usually works fine, but we run a
7x24 shop, so often there are status changes that occur when the
original agent is off-shift. Is it better to wait until the original
agent comes to work, or should we ask other agents to get involved in
"We're debating whether to offer prospective customers some kind of
trial login rights to our Web support site. It's a great site, but it
seems odd to provide free access to information that our regular
customers have to pay for. Advice?"
"Many of our users lack basic PC and subject-matter skills, so they call
our tech support line whenever they get stuck. As you can imagine, our
support costs are staggering. What can we do?"
"We'd like to compare the success rate of our online knowledgebase
against other companies, but we've found that there isn't a standard
industry definition of 'success rate.' How can we benchmark our
Virtual User Group Meetings?
"We have a very successful annual user group meeting, but we're
concerned that the economy will put a squeeze on travel budgets
this year. Has anyone tried to run a virtual user group event
using video conferencing tools?"
"I'm a manager in a mid-sized support organization, and I'm sure
there will be layoffs this year. How do I make sure I survive?"
Task-Specific Support Teams?
"We've recently organized one team for ongoing customer support,
and a separate 'implementation' team for new installations and
training. When one team is short-staffed, the other team helps
out—but a few managers think this encourages poor planning,
while others want us to go back to a single unified support team.
Has anyone managed to solve this problem?"
Speed vs. Satisfaction
"Has anyone seen evidence that satisfaction rates go up when the
average speed of answer improves? We're trying to make a business
case for a few more agents on the phone, but it's surprisingly hard
to find concrete data on the potential ROI."
Rich Media ROI?
"Does rich media—specifically, video how-to clips—really
help resolve support issues? We're thinking about adding video to
our knowledgebase, but it's so expensive that we want to be sure
there's a positive ROI before we go ahead."
Channels—With or Without
"My company is about to take on a few resellers to supplement
our enterprise sales force. Some of my colleagues argue that
our resellers should provide support, while others here want
us to provide all support directly. A third group says we
should leave the choice up to individual resellers. Any
Individual SLAs for Major Accounts?
"Our sales reps routinely negotiate customized service-level
agreements with big customers, and the reps insist it 'doesn't
cost anything extra' for us to respond to a customer in two
hours instead of four or eight hours. But these different SLAs
are a nightmare to manage. Help!" Suggestions?
Managing phone coverage
"I have about 50 support reps, and we've been using a central
Microsoft Outlook calendar to keep track of which reps are
supposed to be providing phone coverage during the day. As you
can imagine, a merged calendar for 50 people can get really
cluttered. Can anyone suggest an inexpensive, easy-to-use
alternative for managing staffing levels?"
Tech note best practices
"We get a lot of complaints that our tech notes are 'too technical'
(they were written for our support engineers, not for end users).
Are there best practices for writing tech notes we could adopt?"
E-Mail writing standards
"A few of our support reps have real problems writing a grammatical
English sentence. They insist that e-mail is a 'different medium,'
so punctuation and spelling aren't important. Who's right?"
"My support staff performs lots of different tasks during the day,
some of which take just a few minutes. I'd like to figure out how to
allocate their time on average, but I can't walk around with a
stopwatch and they probably won't fill out time sheets accurately.
Capturing outsourcer knowledge?
"We have a very talented outsourcing team, but I've just realized
that whenever they solve a tough problem the solution should be
added to our knowledgebase. How can we make this happen? I don't
want to pay them to write tech notes that duplicate what we
Better mail management?
"Most of our support requests come in by e-mail, and we've been
using a shared Outlook mailbox to distribute these messages to
staff members, who mostly work in remote locations. This isn't
very efficient, though, and we'd like to move to a better mail
management tool. Any suggestions?"
"We have feedback forms on many of our Web pages—the
knowledgebase, shopping cart, etc.—and each one asks about
satisfaction with the specific page's contents. Will this approach
create survey fatigue?"
"When techs work at home providing after-hours coverage, is it
customary for their company to provide a notebook computer and
Internet connection? My new boss wants me to use my own PC, but
it's often used by other family members."
Selling maintenance contracts
"We've been very successful at selling maintenance contracts
to our U.S. customers, but we're getting a lot of pushback from
our efforts to sell the same offering in Europe. Our sales reps
say that customers there don't expect to pay extra for any kind
of services—services are supposed to be part of the purchase
Waiting for auto-close
"How long should we wait for a response from the customer before
automatically closing an open incident? And should we send out
reminder notices? Right now, we're probably closing cases too
quickly, but if we auto-close after a longer period, this will
have a negative effect on our performance stats."
Tracking bug fixes for customers
"When we send a bug report to our developers, they're supposed to
enter status information in our case management system so we can
send progress reports to our customers. Of course, most of the time
they 'forget' to update the system, so everyone gets annoyed and
my support team looks like we're not following up. How can we fix
The best metrics for employee
"I took over a group of support agents who had been given bonuses
and raises for reasons that seem to have no basis in their actual
performance. I'd like to define one or two really good personal
performance metrics, but I'm not sure what they should be. Any
Getting to know a consultant
"We'd like to bring in a consultant to give us an independent
look at our support programs. But we don't want to spend a ton
of money and then end up with a report full of vague generalities
and recommendations about things we already know. Is there a
smarter way to get a feel for a consultant's works?"
Office closures and telecommuting
"We occasionally have to close our offices because of heavy snow.
Most of our employees have PCs and can keep working from home,
but a few don't. I don't feel it's fair to dock the pay of the
people who can't telecommute, but it also doesn't seem right to
pay them for not working when everyone else is being productive.
On-Site weekend compensation
"Part of my department is responsible for onsite implementation
services for our solution. The field engineers and trainers
travel approximately 75% and typically leave and return the same
week. What type of compensation, if any, should we extend if we
change our model and have the engineers spend the weekend at a
location so they can be there the following week to finish the
The legacy product problem
"We have a dozen or so 'legacy' products that still generate some
income from maintenance and parts sales, but they're a nuisance.
We'd even be happy to give them to a third-pary vendor for free,
just for the good will we'd get from our users. Has anyone tried
Wiki format for knowledgebase?
"We're thinking about adopting a Wiki format (collaborative
knowledgebase) for our Web support content. Has anyone tried
this approach or can offer advice?"
Code maintenance vs. support
"We have a customer who just bought several bundled modules from
us but doesn't plan to deploy them until next year. They're
willing to pay a maintenance fee for upgrades and patches until
then but don't want to pay for support until the software is
actually in use. How should we price this deal?"
Call Center mergers
"My company has just merged with a major competitor, and I'm
supposed to develop a plan for integrating the call centers
(which are a thousand miles apart). Help!"
"Some of our bigger clients are beginning to ask for
Sarbanes-Oxley 'certification' for patches and upgrades. This
is beginning to feel like Y2K all over again. What are other
software companies doing about these requests?"
Overtime rules for support
"We think we're in compliance with the new rules that govern
exempt and non-exempt employee pay, but all the guidelines
we've found are very general and full of 'it depends' answers.
Has anyone found a simple, clear statement (specifically about
tech support employees) that we can show to top management?"
"We're considering making the first year of support mandatory
for anyone who buys our products. We're also considering making
our support contracts 'evergreen'—that is, automatically
Using channel partners for selling
"I am trying to set up an indirect model for training
offerings through our channel network. We intend to identify
premier training partners in various geographies... We have
audited possible partners and come up with a checklist of
requirements... I am looking for fresh ideas on how to
appropriately structure the financial terms with such partners."
"Our support organization is transitioning from one U.S.
location to multiple, global locations. Issues will be
escalated to specialists across the globe. In the past, with
only one support office, the original support engineer
retained ownership, using a 'touch and hold' model. Will it
make more sense now to switch to a 'front-line/back-line'
escalation model for global support?"
"Traditionally, we've done a good job by simply answering
customer questions over the phone. But now we're serving many
more enterprise customers, and they say we should provide
better 'pro-active' services (their word). Any advice about
what services we should add—and how we should figure the
VoIP for support?
"Does anyone use VoIP for sales/support? And if so, how is
the quality? Who is your service provider? Do you use it
internationally? What problems have you encountered? Is it
tied into your CRM?"
Bug fix promises?
A member asks: "My support team would like to give customers
a firm date when a new bug will be fixed. However, our
developers say they can't make promises and may decide that
some bugs just aren't worth fixing. How can we persuade them
to be more responsive?"
"I've spent my whole career in customer support jobs at
several software companies, but lately I've been considering
a better-paid job as a corporate help desk manager. However,
a friend says people from the end-user help desk world almost
never get hired for responsible support jobs in software
companies. Am I making a dumb career move?"
What about outsourcing to a call center in India?
"I manage a medium-sized support center, and we already
offload about half our call volume to a U.S. outsourcer. I've
heard that I could probably cut my costs by 50% or more with
an Indian outsourcing firm. That kind of savings would be a
big help, but I'm concerned about managing a vendor who's
literally on the other side of the world. And I'm uncomfortable
about exporting jobs, too. Can anyone offer some guidance?"
How should I spend my public relations
"Top management wants to make our maintenance and professional
services offerings more visible, so they put $20,000 in my
budget for 'public relations.' However, I just met with the
company's PR people, and their ideas are pretty worthless. Any
How should our chargeback system
handle indirect costs?
"Our company recently put a chargeback system in place that
was supposed to allocate support costs to individual product
groups. Now the product managers are arguing that we should
only charge them for direct labor costs, while I say we
should add an overhead factor (about 50%) that captures all
of our indirect costs. How do other companies resolve this
Do survey scales affect the accuracy
of customer satisfaction scores?
"Our current customer satisfaction questionnaire asks people
to rate us on a five-point scale—5 is the best, and 1
is the worst. A friend tells me we'd get more accurate results
if we used either a ten-point scale or school-style
grading—A, B, C, etc. Would this really make a difference?"
What's the right basis for an
"Our CEO is firm believer in incentives and wants me to set
up a rewards system for our support reps. However, I'm
concerned about creating incentives for the wrong behavior.
Any thoughts about what we should try to reward?"
Should we give competency tests when
we train new users?
"When we train new users on our software, some of our clients
want us to administer a final competency exam and even report
the scores of their attendees. Is this a good practice?"
How can I get budget dollars for
"We have a fair number of overseas customers, but I can't
seem to convince top management that we should translate our
Web content into any language besides English. How can I
persuade the Ugly Americans in my company to show a little
How do we benchmark our
"I've been studying the productivity benchmarks in various
research studies (including the ASP's), and the numbers suggest
that my own reps are superstars by comparison. I guess that's
reassuring—but I don't honestly believe we're that good.
What can we expect from a chat
"I'm looking for advice or data from people who've implemented
text-based chat as part of their support operations. What have