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Ask Slashdot: Troubling Trend For Open Source Company 451

An anonymous reader writes "I'm one of the original founders of an open source company which offers a popular open source product (millions of downloads) targeted primarily to small businesses. We have been doing this for 10 years now and we fund the development of the open source product with the usual paid support services, custom development and addons, but over the last few years, we've noticed a troubling trend. Companies that have downloaded our product from one of the many free download sites have a question they want answered, so they call our support line. Once we politely explain the situation and that telephone support has a reasonable fee associated with it, more and more of them are becoming seriously irate, to the point of yelling, accusing us of fraud and/or scamming them. For some reason, they think a free product should have free telephone support as well, and if we don't offer free telephone support then it's not really a free product. These same people are then resorting to social media in an attempt to 'spread the word' with the same false accusations, which is starting to take its toll on our reviews, ratings, and in turn our bottom line. Does the Slashdot community have any suggestions on how we can reverse this trend? How do other open source companies handle similar situations?"
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Ask Slashdot: Troubling Trend For Open Source Company

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  • What company (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jaxtherat ( 1165473 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:35PM (#42100377) Homepage

    It might help if you told us who you were.

  • Split it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:41PM (#42100449)
    Just split the company into two main parts.

    Your flagship company only offers paid downloads, if you want the product, you've got to pay for support.

    You then have another site/organization that offers everything for free and only has community support forums.

    For example, if your product is called Corporate Wizard, you'd have your Corporate Wizard only host the Corporate Wizard software and you've got to pay money to download it (with source included of course).

    However, you have a community maintained "fork" called, say, Company Mage. While the codebases are 100% identical, someone who downloaded Company Mage is downloading a community maintained product with only support forums. This way, it separates the free products/no support from the paid products with support.
  • Support ID (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:41PM (#42100457)

    Setup a phone system where they have to key in their Support ID to be transferred to a support rep.

  • by liquidweaver ( 1988660 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:46PM (#42100523)


  • No suprise here (Score:2, Interesting)

    by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:50PM (#42100553)

    You find it a surprise that you build your profit model around users having problems and needing to contact you for the fix, and then being upset that you want to make a profit on giving out the fix? I don't. And I've seen too many companies who would gladly leave in some problems to help generate more "support revenue".

    I'm not even convinced that you really want to take the high road here, but if you honestly do then I would suggest the following:

    1) Make sure that your website has an extensive support section that lists all known problems and the resolution for all that are resolved.

    2) Offer free support by email / web only on an as-available basis. And really do have staff spend some of their available free time responding to reported problems. Who knows, you might even learn some important things about problems in your products that you don't know and will not learn if you insist that customers pay you to tell you about your problems.

    3) If you do 1 and 2 then go ahead and offer priority response phone support for a fee for those who feel the need for it.

  • Re:Support ID (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:54PM (#42100587)

    or press "1" to be transferred to Sales

  • Re:Split it. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:07PM (#42100699)

    Excellent Idea, my idea is essentially the same but without two sites.

    The download page of your site forces registration before you can access the download of your software.

    In registration, there are two account types, paid and unpaid. unpaid has no support, or includes 1 support call. Show paid and unpaid side by side, and make paid in the center of the screen, unpaid off to the side.

    When people call ask for their account number, if they call without one, talk them through creating an account in order to get the 1 free support call. If they call with a free account, or without one, again inform them that they're using their 1 free support call.

  • I can think of a few experiences I had where I was looking through forums, and found some irate tirade against a vendor, followed by calm responses by that vendor, either explaining their side of the issue firmly but politely, or offering to take care of the issue immediately, and appologizing (sometimes both on different threads by the same vendor).... it always gives me respect for them and makes me check them out. A couple have essentially gotten my business that way.

    This is exactly the right answer, because it turns the troll into an opportunity to show that they are professionals. Be thankful for the opportunity to be appologetic, and explain how it works for anyone in the future....and point them at the forums.

    I would add, maybe the thing to ask is, is there a better way to portray this information so that it is obvious.

    I would also mention, there are a few times when I explained to someone how an open source company offering a product and support was doing it, and several people had the exact same reaction... to assume the reasonable price was just a ploy to raise prices once you are locked in. People come with different mindsets, and what is clear to one is not always clear to another.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:11PM (#42100727)

    I noticed this as well. Doesn't it also seem odd to you that it was submitted anonymously? . Who submitted it? Was it submitted by Microsoft to tarnish the reputation of the free software movement? The lack of details make this story so suspicious that it could very well have been Microsoft or a shill.

  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:13PM (#42100743)
    It goes even further then what the original poster says, I wrote a shareware HTML editor a long time ago when such a thing was a novel idea. It gained a fair amount of attention, even being put on the cover cd of various computer mags. However, as soon as it was put on a cover CD in Germany, a crack was released. No one ever paid for it, despite millions of downloads and constant use. I still to this day get support requests from people claiming to have a legit copy.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:56PM (#42101189)

    Actually, advertise only a pay-as-you-go phone support service, and give a 900 number beside that. Always make sure that the 900 number is only displayed as part of a sentence and that the phrase "pay-as-you-go phone support" precedes the number.

    On the same pages, advertise something like "We operate an 800 phone support service for as little as $x per year or month". Make that one a link that takes people to a page which advertises the full menu of phone support services, with free 900 support at the BOTTOM of the list, and PREMIUM EXPRESS phone support at the top of the list. Most people who subscribe will choose something between those two choices so best make it only one middle choice and price it at a level that will keep your business healthy.

    You could even be nice and offer the 900 people a free answerback call if their issue takes longer than a certain threshold (one that starts to push their cost up into subscription territory.). And after you solve the 900 problem, offer them a special deal to upgrade to subscription service where you apply their 900 fees to the subscription payment. Assuming that the subscription fee - $10 is $Y, and they have spent $10 on the call so far, then give them a coupon number that they can send with a check for $Y to get a support subscription. When the check arrives, email them the 800 number...

  • It's pretty simple (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kilodelta ( 843627 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @10:16PM (#42101337) Homepage
    Just make sure you setup good support forums, faqs, etc. Then make it so that anyone gets one support call for free. Register the user when they make the first call. Make sure you explain this is their one freebie and that any additional calls, emails, etc. will be charged at your reasonable rate. It's a loss leader of course but in the long run - you'll end up selling more support to appreciative customers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26, 2012 @11:52PM (#42102037)

    I should probably add to this that more and more download sites are taking software (ours and anyone elses out there) from other sites and wrapping it in their own installer that installs malware along with it, which results in several supports calls a week, complaints and irate users too.

    However I don't think there is much we can do about this and its not related the original question.

  • by trg83 ( 555416 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @12:09AM (#42102151)
    Which HTML editor? I used a lot of shareware as a 12 year-old learning the web and HTML back in the mid 90s. It's been a bit of a hobby for me to donate or follow up on the ones that I've used. I donated to Trumpet Winsock a year ago or so.
  • by univgeek ( 442857 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @12:38AM (#42102297)

    Are the people calling you potential buyers of support? [Assuming they are not freeloaders by nature, individuals who might not want your business support, etc]

    If they are potential buyers this is an EXCELLENT marketing opportunity. They are calling you for something they need. Converting that into a transaction is a clear path that many callers themselves may expect subconsciously. It's all about positioning and expectation management!

    The key thing is to setup expectations, right from before they call, to the number they call, what they hear when they call, about the different levels of support, paid & free, how they can reach the right tier of support for their category, how they can upgrade their support tier, and how they can resolve their problem.

    For instance, if you have a support forum + support FAQ, redirect all free callers to that --- AFTER telling them that free support is community supported, with customers just like them providing support.

    If they want a specific type of support or customization, or installation support, then direct them to the relevant FREE instruction manual, and tell them that premium support for these is available for enterprise/business customers.

    For callers make sure your IVR script takes into account both free and paid users [if you use the same 1800 number, you could also give toll-free numbers for premium support users, and toll numbers for free users].

    Your script could be

    1. Premium support users: Please enter your support id to be taken straight to our support team
    2. If you do not have a support id:
                      Press 1 for free installation support options [list out website address, forum address, FAQ address, etc.].
                      Press 2 to buy premium installation support [[ Note the 'to buy' clearly setting their expectation ]]
                      Press 3 for free post-installation support options [list out website address, forum address, FAQ address, etc.].
                      Press 4 to buy premium annual support
                      Press 5 to reach sales

    Wherever you list your number make sure it's listed as 'Premium Support Number' or 'Business Support' or something which will influence the caller to understand that this is not free support. For instance you may now have 'Toll-free support number' - which is misleading!

    I guarantee if you do this right, you will have more satisfied users and potential customers!

    If you want some consulting around this to help you implement this fully, drop me a note - I've been doing marketing/prodmgmt for an open-source based software vendor for a few years. [[ prasanna at wignite dot com ]]

  • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @02:01AM (#42102697) Homepage

    You may have a public 800 number too, but have a login/pin code combination on it provided to paying customers. There are solutions around to allow for a decently secure solution - like sending a text message with a one-time PIN in order to gain access. That way you cut off most of the annoying callers.

    And a 900-number is the way to go for those one time support cases.

    In addition to this you can have a web interface for people to report cases on where you can call back if needed. Some people are actually just trying to report bugs on the product from time to time, so a channel for them to do that would be useful.

    Or you can have two 900 numbers - normal and express. Those in a tight situation will certainly appreciate a way to quickly bypass a queue.

    Of course you won't get rid of the obnoxious callers even on a 900 number but then at least you get paid for listening to them.

  • Re:What company (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bostik ( 92589 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @05:12AM (#42103415)

    Why not offer two "phone gateways" for your support? One for customers with existing support contract, and another for those without.

    For support contract line, have a robot switchboard system that requires a valid support contract code. All other callers would have to go through a premium rate number. Sure, it adds one extra step for customers who have contracts but they probably don't need to call you too often anyway.

    Keep the distinctions clearly visible in your help screen. The premium rate probably discourages useless support calls, and those who perceive a need for more frequent support can easily crunch the numbers and decide which option they prefer.

May all your PUSHes be POPped.