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HDI Community  >  ASP Forum
The ASP Forum is no longer active. Please visit the ASP's LinkedIn forum for lively discussions of how to manage customer support operations.

ASP Forum Questions

  • Is there a Downside to Proficiency Testing?
    "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."

  • Call-Handling Systems
    "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 recommendations?"

  • Call-Back Gotchas
    "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 the case?"

  • Free Access?
    "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?"

  • Dumb Customers?
    "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?"

  • Benchmarking Knowledgebases
    "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 results?"

  • 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?"

  • Job Security?
    "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 Support?
    "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 advice?"

  • 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?"

  • Tracking time
    "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. Help!"

  • 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 already have."

  • 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?"

  • Survey fatigue?
    "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?"

  • After-hours equipment
    "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 overseas
    "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 price."

  • 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 this problem?"

  • The best metrics for employee performance?
    "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 suggestions?"

  • 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. Advice?"

  • 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 implementation?"

  • 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 this approach?"

  • 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!"

  • Sarbanes-Oxley certification
    "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 employees
    "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?"

  • Mandatory support?
    "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 self-renewing."

  • Using channel partners for selling training?
    "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."

  • Overseas escalation?
    "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?"

  • Enterprise 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 ROI?"

  • 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?"

  • Career advice?
    "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 budget?
    "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 advice?"

  • 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 problem?"

  • 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 incentive plan?
    "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 localization?
    "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 more enlightenment?"

  • How do we benchmark our productivity?
    "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. Your thoughts?"

  • What can we expect from a chat feature?
    "I'm looking for advice or data from people who've implemented text-based chat as part of their support operations. What have you found?"

  •    Flash Surveys

    Flash Survey
    Feb–Mar '14

    How do you measure the relative cost per incident of phone, email, chat, and web support?

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Dec–Jan '14

    What has been your experience with support-related tutorial videos?

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Oct–Nov '13

    How often do you read support-related blogs, books, or articles?

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Aug–Sep '13

    What access do you allow to your online KB?

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    May–Jun '13

    How would you describe your current business focus?

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Mar–Apr '13

    What do you expect will happen to your support headcount in 2013?

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Nov–Dec '12

    How do you price your maintenance contracts?

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Sep.–Oct. '12

    Do your resellers usually provide tech support?
    We don't have any resellers
    We pay resellers for selling support, but we fulfill the contracts
    Resellers are expected to sell and service all support contracts

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Jul.–Aug. '12

    How do you handle your SaaS support?
    Free support with subscription
    Separate maintenance contract
    We sell lots of add-on services
    No SaaS offering yet/still researching

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    May–Jun. '12

    What's the single most important use of your customer sat surveys?
    Show top management that we're doing a good job
    Identify specific customers who need follow-up
    Identify high-frequency product problems
    Help define new ways to deliver services and deploy resources

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Mar. – Apr. '12

    What do you expect will happen to your support headcount in 2012?
    We expect to grow our staff
    We expect staff reductions
    We'll probably stay about the same

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Jan. – Feb. '12

    How do you measure employee morale?
    Formal internal survey
    Informal feedback from managers
    Conversations with staff
    Not a priority now

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Nov. – Dec. '11

    When you set salaries for your team, what's the most important influence on your decisions?
    Data from surveys
    Discussions with peers
    Budget constraints

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Sept. – Oct. '11

    Do you conduct follow-up customer interviews based on survey responses?
    Only occasionally
    Yes, mostly with low-satisfaction customers
    Yes, with both low- and high-satisfaction customers

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    July – Aug. '11

    How often do your customers complain that you don't live up to your SLA standards?
    Never / almost never
    Once or twice a quarter
    At least once a month

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    May – Jun. '11

    Do you offer a live chat option on your Web site?
    Not now, but in the future
    No plans to

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Mar. – Apr. '11

    What do you expect will happen to your support headcount in 2011?
    We expect to grow our staff
    We expect staff reductions
    We'll probably stay about the same

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Jan. – Feb. '11

    What education level do you require for new hires?
    High school or GED
    BA or BS, any major
    BA or BS, selective majors
    Masters or PhD

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Nov. – Dec. '10

    Do you include testing as part of your live training classes?
    Yes, always included
    Yes, if client requests
    No testing

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Sept. – Oct. '10

    How do you request funding for Web support site upgrades?
    Wish-list of specific projects
    General allocation for Web support in annual budget
    No formal process

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    July – Aug. '10

    Do you have an incentive plan for front-line support agents?
    Yes, based on several metrics
    Yes, based mainly on satisfaction
    No formal incentive plan

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    May – June '10

    How do you price your international support contracts?
    Same price worldwide
    Significant regional differences
    Non-US contracts are highly customized

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Mar. – Apr. '10

    How do you deliver most of your end-user training?
    Tutorial in product or Web site
    Live instructor-led webinar
    Live classes
    No training provided

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Jan. – Feb. '10

    What do you expect will happen to your support headcount in 2010?
    We expect to grow our staff
    We expect staff reductions
    Probably no changes

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Nov. – Dec. '09

    What's the term you use to describe your company's fee-based support plans?

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Sept. – Oct. '09

    How do your support agents handle requests for services outside the scope of tech support?
    Agents are allowed to sell some fee-based services
    Agents refer all fee-based work to the PS group
    Agents say "we can't help you"

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    July – Aug. '09

    How do your support reps know when they should decline to help a customer?
    We have a "scope" document that covers most situations
    We provide some general guidelines
    They can answer anything, if it doesn't take too long

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    May – June '09

    What do you expect will happen to your soft-skills training in 2009?
    We expect to grow our budget
    We expect to spend less
    No change

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Mar. – Apr. '09

    What do you expect will happen to your support headcount in 2009?
    We expect to grow our staff
    We expect staff reductions
    We'll probably stay about the same

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Jan. – Feb. '09

    How many support conferences did you attend in 2008?
    Three or more

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Nov. – Dec. '08

    How do you generate your list of frequently asked questions?
    List is based on actual counts of calls or Web hits
    List reflects our general support experience
    List reflects all recent customer questions

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Sept. – Oct. '08

    Where do you find most of your mid-level managers?
    Promoted from within company
    Recruited from other companies
    We're too small to have managers

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    July – Aug '08

    Does your company provide on-site support and service?
    Yes, whenever necessary
    Only during installation
    Usually provided by resellers
    Rarely or never

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    May – June '08

    How often do you use webinars for introductory customer training?
    Offered to everyone
    Only if requested by customer
    Planning to offer in the future
    Probably never

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Mar. – Apr. '08

    How do you handle overseas maintenance plans?
    Same plan worldwide
    Different plans by region or country
    We don't offer maintenance

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Jan. – Feb. '08

    Should customer sat scores be used as a basis for incentive bonuses?
    Yes—this is a key performance metric
    No—incentives bias the results
    Still thinking about this issue

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    Nov. – Dec. '07

    Has your support group worked with outside consultants in the last year?
    Once or twice
    Several times

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    October 2007

    In 2008, what do you expect will happen with your support headcount?
    More than 25% growth
    0% to 25% growth
    No significant change

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    September 2007

    Are your revenues from services and maintenance up or down over last year?
    About the same
    No services or maintenance revenue

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    August 2007

    When was the last time you talked with a customer about a non-technical pain issue?
    Within the last 30 days
    Within the last three months
    Within the last year
    Can't remember

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    July 2007

    What's your career goal for the next five years?
    Stay in support or services
    Product development
    Marketing or sales
    Corporate management
    Retire from the rat race

  free polls

    Flash Survey
    June 2007

    How do you pay level-one support employees who work on weekends?
    Mostly comp time
    Reps are paid hourly whenever they work
    Weekend coverage provided by salaried staff; no overtime
    Reps are paid a salary plus weekend overtime
    Bonus at manager's discretion
    No weekend shifts

  free polls