Providing good support as a small team.

Support is 24/7, 365 days a year, whether you're selling flower bouquets, or running a web design firm, it's the one thing we all have in common. Inundated in requests? Welcome! We feel your pain. One of our long-term web hosting clients Josh who runs a web development firm offering wordpress plugins & design, recently posted a blog post on this very topic. Support is hard, but not impossible.

Here's a few key things to keep in mind when offering support digitally, or alternatively through tangible methods like telephone & in-person. I'm going to detail a few basic points on what good support is, and, then below offer ideas for helpdesks, forums & everything in between.

Be clear on when support is available

Avoid confusion. Be upfront about your support hours & support limitations. Much like your open & close times (if you have them), avoid frustrating people trying to reach support & not knowing whether you're going to be there. Having clearly defined terms of when support is available is key. If you're going to be away on holiday, make note of it well in advance (and publicly).

This might sound tedious, but, if you've ever interacted with companies you know precisely how frustrating it is sitting in a phone queue, or waiting for an email from someone.

Boundaries & support limitations

Going above & beyond for clients can feel wonderful, but if there's a particular boundary you're not willing to go beyond consistently, define it well in advance. For us, fixing SMTP settings on someone's remote printer is that boundary. We do it, and it feels great, but we have no doubt it'd prove better for both us & our clients alike if we didn't involve ourselves in the process. Another example being, if you're a designer & don't necessarily want to get your hands dirty doing web hosting related stuff, or, a developer whom avoids logo design, make those points clear upfront. There's nothing wrong with saying that you're not the greatest at something, as long as everyone knows those limitations upfront.

You can always make exceptions, or refer people in the right direction, but try not to waste people's time with subpar work or support.

Limit support mediums. Less is more.

In the decade that I've been doing web hosting, the biggest key in providing great consistent support I've found, is limiting support mediums. If you've got twitter, facebook, instagram & $insert-new-social-medium here accounts -- people are going to reach out to you on them for support and they're likely going to be disappointed if you don't respond quickly & thoroughly. Make it clear where the best support can be had for your service. Limit the number of places that people can get support, but provide the best possible support through those avenues, which in turn, prevents people from seeking you out on those mediums.

You might find yourself tweeting to a company one day (I tweet to Bank of America more often than I call my mom), but it's not because twitter is the best avenue for support -- it's just the easiest route to get in touch with an entity vs. email, or digging around on their convoluted site. Find yourself doing that frequently, or, find your users doing it? It might be time to clean up your 'contact us' page, or, start offering support over twitter :)

The goal is to provide great support, so, try not to spread yourself thin by trying to do it in 300 different places, as it could prove difficult to be consistent. Consistency is key. As always, go where your users are.

Live support & telephones

Understanding when live support is advantageous to you & the customer both is extremely important. Live support (telephone or livechat) is great, but nothing's more frustrating than seeing "Livechat is offline" or waiting in a phone queue. Define availability clearly, otherwise, it can be a frustrating experience for both customers & support representatives alike. Fused has never had livechat available, and we've all but killed converted our phone system over to a click to call system because phone queues are awful. Yet, no medium can be greater to resolving issues quickly & promptly than a quick thirty second phone call. Find out what fits your organization.

Email is equally as painful, but it doesn't have to be. Helpdesks offer a good middleground, & perhaps you might consider offering support through forums?

Your mileage may vary. Now, onto our next post...