Optimising Customer Support

On the Business of Software forum, I asked:

What are proven strategies for 1-person companies to keep up with the daily deluge of user e-mails?

Here’s a summary of the excellent responses:

Change the Product based on Common Requests
Examine common requests and consider how you can change the product to eliminate them.

Have a Forum
Customers will often look in the forum to see if someone else has asked the same question.

Test-Driven Development
Have a battery of ever-growing automated unit tests, so repeated failures of the same type are

Have a good pool of beta testers who can point out the obvious stuff which is all too
easy to miss – that’s invaluable.

Use Defect-Tracking Software/Customer Support Software
Having a good system, such as FogBugz, in place to respond to emails helps.

Virtual Personal Assistant
A virtual personal assistant can offer Tier 1 user support.

Have a FAQ
A FAQ is very important. Whenever you get the same request or question more than 2
or 3 times add it to the help file.

Raise the Price
Low price = high support costs. If you can sell 1 copy for $39.95, or 2 for $19.95…which will cost you less down the road?

Optimise Workflow
Check email only twice a day.

Optimise User Interface
People suck at following directions. Computers do not. Optimize accordingly. Spend extra time on coding and UI to have the computer do more of the work.

Make it harder to fail and easier to recover from failure
Example possible failure: people might confuse your registration key with a transaction number, so you prefix the reg key with a unique string and pre-fill that on the form. This sharply cuts down on the number of people who fill in your Paypal transaction ID in the field, find it doesn’t work, and then immediately mail support.

Use Snippets for Common Emails
Snippets are very helpful in getting a reply out quickly.

Relentless, continuous improvement…
…in program, website text, and support emails as you learn what isn’t working.

Thanks to all whose text I have shamelessly reshaped. Let me know if you want acknowledgement via a link to your site.