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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.

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

      by alexander_686 ( 957440 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:37PM (#42100393)

      Only then can start figuring out how to increase the IQ of said users.

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

        by DJRumpy ( 1345787 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @11:32PM (#42101883)

        I'm not sure why they marked you as flamebait. The old saying "You can't fix stupid' definitely applies here. Any 'company' that would use a product without doing even a minimal vetting of you and your support infrastructure is just stupid not to put too fine a point on it.

        With that said however, in the spirit of open source, you should at a minimum note that support is provided with the product only with a fee and you should make this as obvious as is possible. An informed user has no room for complaint. This pay for play support info should be easy to find where they download the product, and better yet, an 'agree' prompt in order to install it. A simple 'agree' type prompt to indicate they understand that you will not be providing free support can cut short any complaints stating "we didn't know". Something as basic as that will tend to weed out a lot of 'indignation' if people have to accept the prompt in order to download and to install.

        As a 'gimme', you could also provide user forums where they can ask the user community itself for help. Most sites provide this and those types of forums will typically reduce a lot of support 'chatter' for easy questions. If you go this route, the same method should be used to inform anyone who signs up to use the forum that it is not an official support forum, but rather community supported, and any 'official' support is provided for a fee.

        Not knowing your history, I suspect some of these people are finding the lack of free support after the fact, meaning you are not making that information easily available to them (regardless of how they should have looked for it in the first place). If you make the information easy to find, I would think a lot of the nastiness will disappear. The fact that you are seeing a trend would indicate they are not finding that information easily enough, and you could probably better present that up front.

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

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @01:46AM (#42102635)

          I'm the person who originally posted the story. Unfortunately when dealing with software targeted to businesses the IT person or the consultant is the one who installs the product, rarely the one who ends up calling support , so any "I agree" check boxes during the installation are unlikely to get the message to the people who really need it.

          In fact most of the time the person calling has no idea they are using a free product, despite it being clearly displayed on every screen, and no idea if they have paid for support.

          • Re:What company (Score:4, Insightful)

            by DJRumpy ( 1345787 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @02:20AM (#42102789)

            In this case however, you can simply point that person to the places you've posted the information, and then the heat will fall on the IT consultant or person who installed it. Does your software currently warn them of such up front? You didn't indicate if it does or doesn't.

            'Agree' type dialogs do NOT have to look like a EULA and this case, they definitely shouldn't. Put a big "STOP" graphic. Avoid the legal type text. Keep it short and simple. If you make it look like a EULA, it will just get it ignored. If I had a consultant that saw an obvious prompt like this, and they didn't inform me, I wouldn't be chewing you out. The consultant would be handed his hat. Assuming a consultant wouldn't warn an employer of this seems more unlikely to me. It also absolves you of failing to notify the users in a reasonable manner. Excluding this option simply because you think it may not be affective isn't a good reason. As I said, any easy steps you can take to put the info out there further removes you from any doubt of shady practices. A simple agreement to install is the most direct, and also easy to add. Win/Win.

            Put the prompts in, and if you get calls of that nature, explain that you cannot install the product without being warned of that fact. Were I in this situation, I couldn't see myself holding you responsible.

            • If you make it look like a EULA, it will just get it ignored. If I had a consultant that saw an obvious prompt like this, and they didn't inform me, I wouldn't be chewing you out.

              I'm not sure I follow. The default assumption is that support is never free. Generally you never even get more that a very minimal amount of support even with a paid product. Support contracts are the cash cow of closed source proprietary software companies, never mind open ones.

              Sure some products have community support. Even if

              • Re:What company (Score:4, Insightful)

                by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:06AM (#42104441)

                The point is that in most cases, support is paid out of pre-allocated IT budget. The worker who makes the call because he's annoyed with the problem never sees or hears about this. For him/her it's free. Just like the toilets at his workplace. They don't care that employer has to pay for these. Ask them to pay you for visiting a toilet to cover these fees, and you'll get rage.

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

              by mabhatter654 ( 561290 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:42AM (#42104255)

              This is why a lot of OSS products still have a place for a "key". Then the support information is "greyed out" and people know its not paid for.

          • Your problem is marketing. Why Apple products are percieved in a way that similar competing brands don't? Marketing.

            You have a succeeding product that reaches many people and you are finding that such many people "build" their own mind with regards to your company. It happens what they build in their minds is not what you'd want them to build... marketing.

            Let's see it from a different perspective: it is not because it is "free". This very same people probably pay darely for products, say, from Microsoft

          • 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.

            • by q.kontinuum ( 676242 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:06AM (#42104075)

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

              My first thought to this was to implement some community building - collect the numbers of previous freeloaders, especially the yelling ones, and implement call forwarding of new freeloaders to any of the previous ones. They can discuss their problems and provide free support to each others, even without registering to a forum...

              For those who take this serious: Sorry, slashdot ate my irony tags :-(

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

            by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @06:04AM (#42103605) Journal

            How do they get the support number? Presumably there is something written next to it that says 'this is only for use for paid support contracts' and if so, why is it even published? When the person trying to call the number finds it, they should also find the thing telling them to make sure that they have their support contract number to hand when they call, or if they don't have one redirecting them to your sales number.

            And if they're not the person who installed it and hasn't checked the license, then I wonder how they do with other companies. Do they call up Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle for support for products that they don't have licenses for, let alone support contracts?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by tehcyder ( 746570 )

            I'm the person who originally posted the story. Unfortunately when dealing with software targeted to businesses the IT person or the consultant is the one who installs the product, rarely the one who ends up calling support , so any "I agree" check boxes during the installation are unlikely to get the message to the people who really need it.

            In fact most of the time the person calling has no idea they are using a free product, despite it being clearly displayed on every screen, and no idea if they have paid for support.

            No doubt the "consultant" has trousered a fee for installing and setting up the "free" software, so why wouldn't the customer think they had paid for support?

          • by swm ( 171547 ) *

            the IT person or the consultant is the one who installs the product [...] the person calling has no idea they are using a free product [...] and no idea if they have paid for support.

            This may be part of your problem.
            The customer did pay: they paid the consultant.
            The consultant is long gone, the SW doesn't work, and now they can't get support?
            They feel ripped off.

        • by realkiwi ( 23584 )

          I agree with the above. Your communication is bad. For a small fee I will rewrite the appropriate parts of your web site.

    • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:50PM (#42100559) Journal

      It might help if you told us who you were.

      It would probably help more to know how they got hold of the support line. Everywhere the number is given there should be some clear text indicating that there is a support fee required to use it. If you just advertise the line as "call us for support" and then hit them for a fee when they call it might annoy some users who are unaware of the usual Open Source model and intellectually challenged enough to not see reason when you explain.

      If you are making it clear in all the locations where the number is given then introduce a premium rate number and have that as the public one with a normal rate line whose number is private available to paying customers. If your users don't read the explanation around the support number then they won't see the explanation that they are calling a premium rate number either but at least this way the default is that they pay.

      • by MickLinux ( 579158 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:04PM (#42100669) Journal

        Publicise a 900 number support line, and note that a normal number is provided to those who sign up for paid services.

        • 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...

          • 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: (Score:3, Informative)

            by grahamm ( 8844 )

            The problem with 900, and other premium rate, numbers is that they cannot be called internationally so are only good for callers in the same country as the 900 number.

        • Hiding your paid support line won't help. People publish everything. They will find it sooner or later, and then its back to open season.

          If you have some sort of interactive voice response system, you can add a message that all support calls cost money. Include information that because the software is available free, paid support is the revenue stream.

          The simple reality is a$$holes and cheapskates make more stink and ruckus than your happy to pay customers. They will complain and tell more of their friends

        • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @11:12PM (#42101721)

          Publicise a 900 number support line, and note that a normal number is provided to those who sign up for paid services.

          Another option is to use an automatic phone answering system that requires them to key in a valid account number before they are forwarded to a human. If they don't have an account number, they can key in a credit card number to get one.

          There are a couple problems with 900 numbers. First, they are blocked by many companies. Second, the phone companies charge exorbitant rates for 900 numbers. I checked into them a few years ago, and the phone company took something like 30% off the top.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            As the one who originally submitted this question, we have considered the "account number" approach, but we can't justify anything that makes it more difficult for paying customers to get support when they need it. When you are dealing with businesses as your customers, their are multiple contacts, the person who originally paid the invoice and received the "account number" is rarely the person who needs to call support. In addition to that when an issue is urgent customers want to get in touch with us imme

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by oever ( 233119 )

              Then let them enter the company address or the account number before speaking to a human. If they cannot provide this data, they are connected to an operator that does no technical support whatsoever and only tries to resolve the contract status of the caller.

              How do you currently know if a caller has a support contract?

            • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @12:11AM (#42102167)

              As the one who originally submitted this question

              Can I ask a deeper question? Why do you offer phone support at all? I have always found that chatting with someone on the phone is a terrible way to do support. It is difficult for them to verbalize what they are seeing on the screen, and just as difficult to tell them what to type to fix it. It is stressful for your support people, and results in high turnover.

              Email or live chat, where they can cut and paste text or screenshots works so much better. At my current company we never actually talk to our customers. Email support is available for free, but if a paid-up account number is in the subject line it goes to the front of the queue. Live chat is available for paying customers. It works fine, and I have never seen the need to use a voice call. What are you doing during these phone calls that could not be done better with email or IM?

              • by Lorens ( 597774 )

                Can I ask a deeper question? Why do you offer phone support at all?

                Probably because that's what people want to pay for. When you have a human on the line, you know that human is paying attention to you and only to you, and that's what you're paying for. IM/chat support *only* doesn't sound professional. However I do agree that WebEx or something similar should absolutely be standard alongside the telephone call, quite simply because it helps the client get satisfied quicker. That makes the customer happy, and also helps the bottom line when customers are paying a flat fe

            • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

              What do you currently offer for support?

              If a user clicks on support, do you offer free support options like a community-based forums and/or mailing list? Knowledgebase? Wiki?

              Then below it show what premium support options are. You may even have to do it on your download page, or add a big "buy support contract" button.

              Does your software make any sort of note that no support is provided (but as a courtesy, there are free self-support options they could try), or the ability to buy a support contract.

              Also, if

      • by Skal Tura ( 595728 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @11:03PM (#42101641) Homepage

        it's FREE, so people tend to demand better than commercial product support etc.
        Anything FREE and you will attract the worst "customers" the planet earth has to offer, they demand extraordinarily much, and will shy from even 1$ payment.

        That's just the nature of the business, they need to find a way to deal with it, sure. But will it end? Probably never.
        Biggest thing they can change is their attitude towards these kind of people, and make sure support terms (cost) is WELL Communicated, so anyone reading the bullshit review will easily know the author of the BS review is at the very least questionable authority.

        Many people using free stuff will not even bother to glance at the terms of the free offering, and the company is by default at fault if the moon is not given in 5seconds flat.

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

      by LingNoi ( 1066278 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @11:47PM (#42101989)

      If the submitter did that then in typical slashdot fashion we'd all be sitting here arguing minor details about the company rather then answer his question.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:37PM (#42100395)

    If they don't like your product, offer them a full refund of the purchase price they paid to your company. Heck, offer them double their money back if they are not 100% satisfied.

    Unless they paid some money to someone, it's not clear why they would think they are entitled to support. I've run lots of open source software that had paid support support, and have gladly paid for support when I needed it.

    • ^ This plus make the support line cost while on the line with a tech, not while on hold. I've even seen this done within the same company, altho then it's virtual accounting and no money actually changes hands, it just appears in the budget and is used to track support calls. - HEX
    • The unfortunate conflation of the two meanings of the word 'free' have confused people. A lot of 'free' software now isn't actually free for a variety of reasons. But the costs are not out-of-pocket expenses incurred at the time the software is downloaded. And much of this software comes with some sort of support. So people get confused.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      On the one hand, offering a free product and charging for support/customizations is perfectly reasonable and legit.

      On the other hand, offering an enticing product that seems great until you try to use it, at which point you discover that it is impossible to get it working without pay-for support, is a bait-and-switch. THAT makes people mad.

      I don't know if your customers are reacting to a disgusting sense of entitlement, or if they are reacting to having just been promised the world for free only to discove

      • by Homr Zodyssey ( 905161 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:55PM (#42101183) Journal
        I saw a similar tactic recently from a non-open-source product. We are implementing a properly licensed software package. The purchased license comes with support. I contacted support because I'm trying to use their import functionality to import an xml file, and the data wasn't importing correctly. The response that I received was "There's something wrong with your xml file. If you want us to tell you what's wrong with it, you must purchase our *Premium* support package." After running some SQL traces, I figured out that it was a bug. I was able to fix it by altering one of their stored procedures.
        • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @11:11PM (#42101711)

          I saw a similar tactic recently from a non-open-source product. We are implementing a properly licensed software package. The purchased license comes with support. I contacted support because I'm trying to use their import functionality to import an xml file, and the data wasn't importing correctly. The response that I received was "There's something wrong with your xml file. If you want us to tell you what's wrong with it, you must purchase our *Premium* support package." After running some SQL traces, I figured out that it was a bug. I was able to fix it by altering one of their stored procedures.

          That's the big advantage of open-source software (as opposed to "free" as in beer software). If it doesn't work, you can fix it yourself.

          A lot of open source software has no official support channel (paid or not), so at least you had someone to call and if you were really in a bind you could have paid them for support. I've gone down more than one dead-end when trying to get support for non-free (and expensive) software that includes so called "support", I've had much better luck when paying for support for open-source software - the company realizes that they are only going to make money if they offer great support.

  • If they want free support and get irate when its explained to that that its how you may your money, they can take a flying leap.

    No great loss if they go elsewhere for their handouts. I'm sure your paying customers will still be around.

    • Re:Screw them (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:11PM (#42100729) Journal

      If they want free support and get irate when its explained to that that its how you may your money, they can take a flying leap.

      This is probably the root of the problem. Somewhere there is likely something saying free support through the online forums community or something similar and it isn't worded clearly enough for someone not paying attention to understand it.

      Most OSS software does offer free support. It is a forum that users and volunteers answer questions for or a knowledge base of known problems and solutions or a combination of the two. It's generally when you needed to interact in real time with someone that there is a charge or they refer you to a consultancy group in your area that can help for their own fee.

      I've seen similar with paid software too. I almost had a cow when I found out the $5k per year service contract with one software provider wasn't going to cover telephone support when their update broke the database structure and the program would crash on start up. Of course in this case, a manager told me they had us marked on a different service level then we purchased for some reason and comped the call. But that means other are paying for service contracts and when there is a problem if they purchase the older versions.

      The way to fix this is to make the support options more clear and almost in your face when downloading the software. Perhaps if there is a help tab you can click on, a popup or menu tree for the installed software could explain this also. Either way, by the time they down load the software, it should be clear as to what support is free and what isn't. If that fails, it should be clear by the time they find a way to contact the project by phone or whatever method.

      • I don't agree. Even if it says somewhere that there is free support, it's an obvious TGTBT claim that only an idiot would believe and get irate at, if that idiot knows that the program was free.

        I think these people do not know that the program was free. They think someone in their organization (maybe an IT person) paid for it, and the support goes with that.

        With big, complex, multi-user applications, you can't assume that the person calling the support line is the one who selected and deployed the applicati

        • IT may be a combination or either.

          What I don't understand though would be the supposed trash talking on internet forums afterwards. If it was someone who was separated from the install, I don't see why they would have an investment in it enough to trash talk the project.

          On the other hand, I was trying to get the mapi call list for a legal suit so it would in work with a communications app other then Outlook, and I ended up with lawyers showing up demanding I cease trashing them. All I said was that the cons

  • by Gazzonyx ( 982402 ) <scott.lovenberg@g m a il.com> on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:37PM (#42100401)
    Studies have been done; the people that pay the least always complain the most.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I've experienced this myself: I think those people are just assholes who think they can bully the poster's company into giving free support. They know exactly what they got and exactly what they're entitled to. They just think that if they're a big enough douche, the vendor will cave to "be nice and get a good rep". And these entitled assholes then go and give bad reviews.

      You can explain to them that this is free software and support costs extra, blah, yadda, dee, da. They know it. You can put it big banner

      • Agreed.

        I've never worked for a software company of this sort, but I have worked support for internal customers (in a very large organization) and have worked retail in a couple totally different industries.

        The public in general are filthy, disgusting, greedy, lying bastards. They will make a giant mess and act like they didn't do it, whether it's coffee on the floor or piss on the toilet seat. They will tell you anything and threaten you with everything to get what they want, even when they fully know that

      • by sco08y ( 615665 )

        I've experienced this myself: I think those people are just assholes who think they can bully the poster's company into giving free support.

        There's a whole website devoted to these motherfuckers [clientsfromhell.net]. I flip through it and, jaded as I am, I still occasionally see one that has me picking my jaw up off the floor.

    • 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 Lando ( 9348 ) <lando2+slash@NosPam.gmail.com> on Monday November 26, 2012 @11:59PM (#42102087) Homepage Journal

      When I was in business doing software development and computer maintenance I found that raising my rates had the surprising result of more customers and less complaints. Apparently when you don't charge a lot people assume that you are incompetent when faced with a challenging problem; however, if they are paying a lot more, then suddenly you are considered extremely competent and therefore the problem is very difficult.

      It's just one person's experience, but I figured I would chime in on the subject.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:39PM (#42100413)

    We are not an open source company, but we had a very similar problem. We ended up plain removing free/normal cost phone numbers, only the expensive support phone numbers remained. Problem solved itself.

  • Which open source company is this, and which product? It's pretty pointless speaking in hypotheticals, since you're presenting just one side of the story here. Reading the reviews would shed some more light on this story; and if your account is really all there is to it, there's no reason to conceal it, since observation would support your explanations.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      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 Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:40PM (#42100447)

    If you think of the psychology of this, it looks like bait and switch.
    To combat this, make it clear at the before the download how it all works.

    • by mark-t ( 151149 )

      that could be a little difficult if they are not actually hosting the download.

      The summary explicitly said that people download the software from one of "many free download sites".

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26, 2012 @10:59PM (#42101611)

        As the one who originally submitted this question, you are correct. We don't have complete control over the download experience since it can be downloaded from thousands of websites, and the vast majority of the time the IT person for the company downloads the product, installs it, then hands it off to someone else in the company to set it up. So any explanation/click through/splash screens displayed during the install process is unlikely to reach the person who eventually ends up trying to call us.

        • by whois ( 27479 )

          If you just roll with the punches you'll be fine. Allow people to complain on social media sites that your product is bad. Manage the image of your product from the download pages. Get complete control over the download experience. Take your product off shit sites that put sixteen "download here" buttons that lead to adware. Spend an afternoon sending notices to all the sites out there that they are hosting your product improperly. Centralize your downloads to github or sourceforge or someone else who

  • 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.
    • Techno Mage.

      That's asking for trouble.

    • 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.

    • Yes but, I'm sure they are trying to promote their paid-for company through the software. The aim is not merely to disassociate yourself from the software to stop whining. The idea is to keep the strong link from your company to the software whilst educating the users.

    • by dubbreak ( 623656 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:36PM (#42101007)

      Have a paid for version and a "community" version that only has public forums associated with it. Make it blatantly clear that paid for includes support (for X time period), but a community supported free version is available. If they want phone support they have to upgrade to the paid version. "Sorry, our community edition doesn't include phone support."

      This can be done with the exact same codebase for both, but it also gives you the opportunity to fork (in marketing speak: differentiate the product). E.g. New features go to the paid version first and get released in to the community later. Or, do it the other way and make your free users beta test. I recommend having at least a different splash screen and the registration info available from within the program on the paid version.

      Bottom line is you can't allow your free customers to have any expectation of live support. When they go to download your product they are explicitly deciding between paid and free and know what they are losing by going free.
    • Re:Split it. (Score:4, Informative)

      by steveg ( 55825 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @10:06PM (#42101269)

      As long as there *are* support forums.

      I recall a package that was open source, but the documentation was not. If you wanted the manual, you had to pay for it.

      That didn't strike me as in the spirit of Open Source.

      If you do have support forums where users can help users, then I think there would be less backlash against fee-based support.

  • Notice? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CaptainLard ( 1902452 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:41PM (#42100453)
    How obvious is it that support is not free? Maybe a few more notices would help. Perhaps some on the main site, by the download section, and by the support phone number.
    • "Welcome to the paid technical support line for the WizardWidget project. This services support fees will support the development of this project."

      Then go on to point the caller to the free support options: the project's community forums, mailing lists or irc channels. Then try to sell your paid support.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:41PM (#42100455)

    This is a communication issue. You have limited resources, we know, but you need to target this issue exclusively for an extended period of time and communicate to the marketplace that the software is free to access but support is paid.

    We use open source / free software almost exclusively and the one thing that we look for are paid for support contract options. We want to spend the money, but you would be surprised how many orgs simply don't want our money or communicate the support options clearly.

    Get the advertising and messaging right and commit to it on a longer term basis. If you don't offer a properly framed counter, you allow the trolls to control the message.

    And, in the end, all you can do is provide a clear message to the community. No matter how large the org, you cannot control the perception, you can however influence it. Get on the playing field and make the moves. Your real clients will appreciate it.

    • by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <[ten.tenaprac] [ta] [cjs]> on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:08PM (#42100713) Homepage

      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.

  • 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.

    • 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

      • or press "1" to be transferred to Sales

        This. You have failed to communicate: your fault.

        If you don't effectively communicate that support costs prior to an issue arising, then they're going to call.

        If you put in a pay wall for support, you are going to get calls which go on your WATS line costs, still piss people off, but at least not have to spend more than it takes for them to bitch out the sales person when they press "1".

        The other poster who guessed OpenERP as the product is either right, or you've made the same bait-and-switch decision the

  • by cupantae ( 1304123 ) <maroneill.gmail@com> on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:41PM (#42100467)

    Maybe I'm misinterpreting your post, but if you won't give ANY information to people who call, that might be what's making them irate.
    My suggestion would to be to have a pre-recorded voice which is played at the start of the call, informing the caller that this is a limited free service, and how to purchase a support subscription. The level of support given here should be roughly on par with what a capable googler could find. This would mean losing some time (= money) on freeloaders, but it might be beneficial if you can satisfy some people who might otherwise leave with a bad impression of the product and business. You might even rope a few into a subscription.

    • "What a capable Googler could find" depends entirely upon the capability of the Googler.

      Never waste time on a freeloader. They not only got the software free, and the source free, now they want phone support free? No, the only question you answer on a phone line in this situation is how to purchase your support.
  • by liquidweaver ( 1988660 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:46PM (#42100523)


    • If this is the case the number says "Contact Us" on the front page so while the rest of us understand support isn't free your typical noob probably has no clue. Not that them being jerks is justified but you should make it painfully obvious that support isn't gratis.

  • ...which plainly states that;

    "This is a free product offered with no additional support other than the documentation contained within the files."
    "Should you wish to procure additional support, options are available starting at" $X per hour or $Y per month/annum or however it is you charge.
    [..] I understand and agree to these terms. (Ticking the box activates the download button)

  • 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.

    If they download it from some random site, where do they get the idea that you offer support? Any other site that points to yours should probably say "paid support available from..." or "for those willing to pay for product support see...". I would hope anyone pointing to your company would be willing to change their wording in order to change peoples expecta

  • No suprise here (Score:2, Interesting)

    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 s

  • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:52PM (#42100575)
    You have branched out beyond specialists who understand what you do and reached the loserbase.
  • There are some open source products that imply some sort of free and open source enterprise version/support but only later you find out the enterprise options are closed source and not included and sometimes will even be dependent on those options.

    Make it very clear on your site and download list what you offer and what support costs. Also, make the full version and all options open source, you'll get a lot better feedback from others in your community. I hate it especially as I help with development in my

  • You should make sure they see at least once a week a message saying something like "upgrade to receive tech support & access to private forum/mailing list". Maybe even every time they open the program. Make them always know and realize (be conscious of it) that even though they have the "free" product, they could get support if they pay for it. If one does not know or realize about it until they have problems, it will be normal for them to become angry.
  • by bhlowe ( 1803290 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @08:56PM (#42100615)
    Very few software companies can give away their software with all the features without selling the product or having a subscription/advertising income. You're software may in fact be better than all the commercial alternatives, but I doubt it. So by attracting cheap-scape "customers", you're missing out on the most important part of developing a real client/customer relationship, namely, a customer who pays you money.

    The best part about writing software is that you can SELL virtually unlimited copies for the price of developing it once. Support and add-ons is the exact opposite-- you can only do so much and everything you do requires expensive humans to do the work. So.. if you can't start charging for it, time to cut bait and change your model.
  • The sad truth: How much people value something is proportional to what it costs them to get it. That principle applies in many areas of life. Geeks who give free computer support to friends and family know that. (My recommendation: Print a bill with a reasonable hourly rate, say £50 per hour, add a hundred percent rebate, and hand them the bill. Makes people a lot more polite if they realise that the next virus infection will cost them £100 if they don't behave well).

    The same goes
  • I work for a company that mainly deals in purchase orders. I even have to go through purchasing to use the company credit card.

    aybe these people are desperate for support but have no way to pay for it?

    • I just bought 3 HDG bolts, 1"x5". cash out of pocket for something on the job. As long as there is a one time support fee of, say , $50 or less, desperate people may still pull out their own credit card.

  • by Sussurros ( 2457406 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:04PM (#42100675)
    As an online seller I can offer these suggestions:

    Always bet on stupidity, people often come to you in a hurry.
    But hedge on cleverness, because people aren't really stupid although they always act so sometimes but only the truly stupid perservere.

    First up explain what you offer and what you don't - that's the easy part once you have words for what you don't.
    Then set up layers of explanations for those who haven't understood. Start with intelligent explanations and every onion ring should get progressively stupider. Never ever make a joke outside the first and most intelligent level of explanation.
    At any point you may make an apology, "I'm sorry we wasted your time with this product that was not ready yet." At this point the truth is no longer an issue because all you want is for the bloke to leave with his underpants on (by the way, Americans never apologise to anyone so if you're American then ignore this section).

    If they don't accept the apology then, well it's up to you, personally I speak softly and then change their perception of the world. It sounds like a euphemism but it isn't. Make them think about something else. Two brain cells can't hold three thoughts.
  • by arekin ( 2605525 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:13PM (#42100747)
    People feel more and more entitled lately. Ive done phone support for two company's in the last five years and the trend is always give me more. People become irate if you don't support a product they think you should. People become irate if there is an interruption in service. People become irate if they did something stupid to fuck up their product/service and you have to tell them what they did wrong. Hell I've even had people get mad at me because they lost service due to a bill payment issue as if it is my fault they didn't pay their bill. The reality is that people are feeling the pinch and don't want to pay more than they have to. In the words of the best customer service trainer I've trained under "its about positioning. Don't tell them what you can't do. Give them options."
  • Ask anyone who has worked in a public library: if you give something away for free people will demand the moon and bitch like mad when you don't give it to them.

  • by Pete Venkman ( 1659965 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:16PM (#42100781) Journal
    I know exactly how to fix this, but you'll have to pay me for support.
  • Hold on (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:42PM (#42101087)

    We're only getting one side of the story here. We have no idea what this product is, or how they are advertising their product. If customers are so upset that they're turning to social media to warn people away, maybe they are justified in doing so. I've seen many "Free" and "Open source" products that would not fall into what those of us here on slashdot would consider free or open source.

    Is your software easy to use, easy to install, works great all year and then when it comes to the end of the year and it's time to do the books or do taxes does it become nearly impossible to use forcing most users to seek your support only to find out now that their entire financial history for the year is basically locked behind a wall of bugs, obfuscated config files and other nonsense? Now they have to pay for support they've never needed before and your fees could be in the tens of thousands of dollars? Perhaps the users we're talking about are the businesses comptroller that figured your software was free, it was no big deal and now he needs to go to management and tell them he needs $10k to do the taxes for the year? I could see how he could be rather upset by your services.

    I'm just taking a wild guess but you're leaving us without any real details. I'm going to side with the customer on this one. If they are THAT pissed off, then you didn't make things clear to them from the beginning. The may be naive suckers, but if they are suckers... what's that make your company in the business of doing? Every company has to deal with idiots... but if there are enough idiots using your products, and you're making them mad enough that they are joining together against you and affecting your bottom line, you may very well deserve the fate you've been dealt.

  • by SternisheFan ( 2529412 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:52PM (#42101153)
    I worked for a battery backup supply company and heard the owner responding on the phone to a customer after a 12 hour blackout hit. "You paid for 6 hours of backup and it lasted 10, and you want a f%$king refund?!! Are you crazy?!!!" Moral: You get what you pay for.
  • Be honest (Score:5, Funny)

    by Alien Being ( 18488 ) on Monday November 26, 2012 @10:16PM (#42101335)

    Tell them to fix it themselves and submit patches.

    Tell them they can have their money back.

    Tell them that you could have fixed it for $100 but now you'll have to add the Moron Surcharge and now it's $10k.

    Tell them to fuck off.

  • 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 GNUALMAFUERTE ( 697061 ) <almafuerte@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @12:21AM (#42102221)

    We are based in Argentina, and, while most of our products are proprietary, they are FS/OSS-friendly ( as in, they run on GNU/Linux, offer open APIs and interfaces, are standards-compliant, etc.). Recently, we released one of our products under the GPL, and we are getting the same kind of calls.

    It's not something that worries me. Here's how we deal with it: All of our employees are Free Software advocates (That's by design, we mostly hunt for employees in LUGs, both physical and online). They understand the issue, and they know how to explain it. Our usual metaphors include food-based explanations (we create free recipes that you can download for free, and cook/modify/share as you please, but if you want us to go to your house and cook for you, you have to pay, or if you want a printed book with our recipes, that has a price too. We also use other metaphors, such as Music (the music is free to download, if you want the band to play at your party, or you want to go to a concert, you pay for it).

    Most people understand, some people don't. Those that don't are your average crappy customers, that would do the same kind of stuff even if the software weren't free. The people that call our system a scam are the same kind of customers that buy our non-free solutions and demand exceptional things, such as this woman who recently filed a complaint because she wanted us to go to her business and install free temporary replacement hardware while we processed a repair on a 4 year old system whose warranty had expired. Or the people that buy our DVR/NVR solution, connect a crappy 420TVL CCTV camera to it, configure the system in 320x240, and call complaining they can't see a license plate at 100 meters distance, and demand we send them a technician for free. Or schools that purchase our e-learning solution and demand that we go to their institution, for free, as many times as necessary, to teach their professors how to use it. Also, people react the same way with plugins and software updates. We offer free upgrades for life on many of our systems, and people call and demand specific, custom features, in a short timeframe, and then get irate when we explain that free upgrades for life doesn't mean unlimited custom development for free.

    Some customers are great, and some customers are demanding, self-entitled, annoying, loud bitches who want to scam free work out of you while pretending that themselves are being scammed by you. That's how it works, regardless of the license of the product.

    Our solution: We've split our product into two independent products. One of them is GPL and comes with NO SUPPORT WHATSOEVER, and explain that very clearly on our webpage. The other one is proprietary, and has several support contracts available. By making them clearly different products (while the codebase is exactly the same), we've cut down on complains. That, and good people with a clear understanding of Free Software manning the phones. And a lot of patience.

  • 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 ]]

FORTRAN is the language of Powerful Computers. -- Steven Feiner