How Should I Set Up My Software Support Team?
Customer service is a vital component of any plan for business success. For software companies, that service must include competent software support as well. If you’re the owner of a software firm, however, it can be difficult to decide which path your company should take to provide that assistance. Do you create an in-house support team, hire an external firm to carry out the work or set up an offshore software support team? Each approach comes with its own set of challenges, so it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each to help you decide which route is best for your company.
Why Provide Software Support?
As you consider your best options for creating a software support team, you should think about why you’re providing assistance in the first place. Ultimately there’s only one real reason to provide support: your customers expect it. The fact is that they are going to have questions about your product and they will expect you to provide the answers they need quickly and proficiently. Good customer support is the one factor that will help differentiate you from the countless software providers in the market. The key is to decide how much support you need to provide and the best way to accomplish that goal.
We’ve written before about how to determine the right level of post-purchase technical support, but the approach you choose will largely depend on your company’s customer service values. How much emphasis do you want to place on support? What do the words “great service” mean to you and your team? Will different technical questions require different teams and management styles? It’s a good idea to get everyone involved in these discussions as each member will play a role in bringing those company values to life as you implement your support plan.
Three Approaches to Customer Support
Depending on the objectives you seek to achieve, each of the options below has their advantages and disadvantages. Examine the pros and cons of each so that you can evaluate which approach will best align with your company’s customer support goals.
As per the name suggests, this approach involves setting up a software support team in-house and managing all customer enquiries within your company. Establishing a designated team within your firm allows you to provide the best support for your customers since your team will have immediate access to the knowledge base they need to do their jobs. When your team is located in-house, you have direct oversight and control of their goings-on and can ensure that you are meeting the company’s stated goals. If they need training on emerging issues or processes require updating, then you have the power to carry out the necessary changes without delay.
One of the biggest drawbacks of this approach, however, is that this is by far the costliest software option that you can pursue. It requires the greatest expenditure of resources since an in-house team requires training, supervision and resource-intensive nurturing. For much smaller and mid-sized firms, those costs can easily outweigh the benefits. For companies that can manage it, though, creating a designated team within the firm should always receive strong consideration.
Another option involves outsourcing the customer support capabilities to an external provider. For most companies, this can be the least expensive option which makes it an attractive choice for many. Firms that choose this path can reserve their resources to be used in other key areas such as additional software development or important growth and expansion needs.
There are some disadvantages to consider. The fact is that any third-party provider is almost always going to be less knowledgeable about your products and that typically remains true no matter how much training and education you provide. There are also inherent control and supervision issues that will come into play whenever you rely upon external providers. Since their work ethic and management is outside of your control, it can be difficult to oversee the support given to your customers and ascertain if it’s the level that you expect.
This approach has been widely used in recent decades and is becoming more and more popular as companies look to move their operations to less expensive overseas locations. This is by far the cheapest option and typically requires the least amount of resource allocation. It also tends to place little stress on your team, freeing them to pursue your firm’s core competencies rather than addressing tech concerns.
On the other hand, there are downsides to this approach. Since most low-cost support options are located in countries with different cultural environments, there are almost always language and cultural barriers involved. Customers often prefer a more localised approach to their customer service, and that can create dissatisfaction with the overall level of support service that those companies provide.
Other Factors to Consider
In addition to choosing who provides your software support, you also need to identify the channels you want to use. E-mail support is the most common and readily available channel for many companies. It can facilitate resolution for most minor and moderately-involved software challenges but is not typically the best option for dealing with more complex needs. Phone support tends to be more conducive to meeting those needs. Of course, live chat can be just as effective as phone support and can make it easier to handle multiple client requests with less personnel.
In the end, you must determine which option best aligns with your vision, your company’s support structure and your customers’ needs. The fact is that each of these options will provide customers with the software support they need to make your product and brand a success. It all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and the amount of time and resources your firm is willing to allocate to the effort. The good news is that taking the time to assess your options properly will enable you to ensure that your company pursues the best available path for creating a top-notch software support team for your customers’ needs.