Opinion

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Business Is Personal

Can you help your customers too much? Part 2

How do you get out from under a massive pile of service calls?

This week, let’s tackle the load we described last week – noting that there are no easy answers.

This support / service load has a cost – sometimes a substantial one. You have a few choices, including these:

  • Shoulder all of it & raise prices across your entire customer base.
  • Shoulder none of it & take the heat (Probably a lot).
  • Choose a solution somewhere in the middle & stand firm on the things you simply can’t afford to do without being paid, if you do them at all.

If your software demands hardware (such as point of sale devices), then choose a short list to support from specific vendors, certify it with your product, then support it very well with your hardware partners’ help. Make it clear prior to purchase that you cannot support other hardware, unless you’re willing to accept the cost of doing so (You probably can’t).

No matter what, you MUST communicate your decision & new support policies / approach. It’s not the time to “get all corporate” with communication. Be clear & real about it. Small businesses may not like it, but they’ll understand that you have to contain it. Enterprises will begrudgingly accept it – knowing that they’ve been getting a deal for some time. Consumers won’t like it, but you can’t replace vendor support for every piece of hardware & software ever made – much less whatever you sell. It’s time to stand up for yourself – and the future of your business.

Overwhelmed by the enterprise?

Enterprises shouldn’t need help with printers & rudimentary things. The exceptions are those with an IT team that’s difficult to deal with. They’ll call you first because you’ll actually help them. You have to be crystal clear (in advance, on paper) about the details of support / service with enterprise clients or the sheer volume of questions can bury your support team. Badly structured pricing of support can create severe pain and impact your ability to support the rest of your customers.

This is the situation “shadow IT” ultimately grew out of. It happens when a department gets fed up with IT & rolls their own solutions. They go to this trouble because they’re fed up with the inability to get help. You might end up being a part of a department’s shadow IT solution. Is your sales process designed to detect how purchasing and support are delivered to internal customers at your prospective customer? If you’re part of a shadow IT solution, your price better reflect the real needs of that department.

As with consumer solutions, a self-healing, self-diagnosing solution will save a ton of time, money, and frustration for everyone. These self-healing, self-diagnosing solutions don’t have to be perfect. If they can handle the most frequently reported issues, it’ll give your team breathing room to make headway on the rest. “That’s common sense” you might say. Yep. Does your product do it?

Avoid doing too much for too little

Think about the future you’re building. How will your team, product, service, delivery, operations, & accounting look when you have 100, 1000, or 10000 clients? When you’re scraping for revenue, it may seem silly to consider how your business model will look at 1000 clients. Do it anyway. It’s much easier to design a model that works at any size while your office is the kitchen table. The investment in time & thought will pay big dividends 9999 customers from now, if not before. You can get by on seat of the pants management when you’re small, but that sort of business model will create pain well before you’re ready to redesign it.

Operations will look different at 10 clients than at 1000. You can do it, but it’s hard to change your business model when 1000 customers are on board. Invest thought up front to make sure things make sense five years from now.

You may not remember 10, 15, 20 years ago when software companies provided perpetual licenses and never charged for support. The boldest proudly offered “lifetime support”. What they didn’t realize was that it was their lifetime, rather than yours. Their business model flipped over when their ninth year sales pace didn’t match that of their second year. Suddenly, they had updates & support to provide to a growing crowd while revenue dropped off. Their market penetration rose, but their annual revenue didn’t.

Decide what your business model will support & price accordingly. Communicate clearly what you do, what you don’t do, & how you charge.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter, or email him at mriffey@flatheadbeacon.com.