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Ask Slashdot: Tech Customers Forced Into Supporting Each Other? 253

An anonymous reader writes "Has anyone else noticed the trend towards 'community forums' where customers are basically being recruited to solve the issues of other customers while the companies selling the products causing the issues sit back and take a passive role in the process? Granted, sometimes the companies' employees play an active part in the forums and provide some value-add by contributing crucial, and often undocumented, knowledge that solves the problem in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case, and this leaves customers with no visibility into whether or not their problems are being addressed, and, if they are, when they might expect to receive assistance. This is bad enough when dealing with consumer electronics that cost up to a couple of hundred of dollars, but it's completely unacceptable when dealing with proprietary design tool vendors that are charging several thousand dollars for software licenses for tools that are the only option if a customer doesn't want to drop an order of magnitude more money to go with 3rd party tools (e.g., Synopsys). Who do you think are the worst offenders of this downloading of support onto the backs of the customers themselves, and what can be done about it?"
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Ask Slashdot: Tech Customers Forced Into Supporting Each Other?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:00PM (#47083083)

    Customer Support Far superior to slave wage 3rd world call center or minimum wage uneducated moron with 8 hours of training

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 24, 2014 @02:23PM (#47083725)

      Try following Google support forms. Very often you have a serious problem like all your Google sites determinedly dumping you onto the wrong language and will simply find months of customer discussions of "it's still not fixed". It's even funnier when it turns out that there is a work around but it's in a different thread started some time after the first but with completely unassociated keywords and an explanation which, while correct is clearly incomprehensible to most of their customers.

      And don't get me on to Microsoft's "if you aren't a corporate we don't give a shit" support. Or for that matter (though it's the best of the bunch so far) Ubuntu's "there is an answer but it's two versions old and nobody bothers to link to the new one" forums.

      community support can be great; look at StackExchange and ServerFault or Linux Questions; but you need someone professional to put the effort into curating it.

      • Don't mistake Google users for Google customers, their customers are generally advertisers and the users are simply there to feed the beast.
      • by lucm ( 889690 )

        And don't get me on to Microsoft's "if you aren't a corporate we don't give a shit" support.

        Clearly you never tried submitting a ticket in Office365. Within minutes someone is calling or writing back. Obviously at first it's junior helpdesk people but they actually try to solve the problem and if they can't they escalate themselves.

        And that's not only for Fortune 500 companies. You get that same service with a $5/month account. They figured out that a lot of people will turn to Office365 to replace their IT team so they do a good job with support for every customer. Unfortunately this is not the c

      • To be fair to Ubuntu, it is free and you can buy support from canonical!
  • You're just noticing this? A successful business model these days includes limiting how much you actually have to deal with your customers. It's not just tech. Forums, voice menus and FAQs are the order of the day for problem solving.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:52PM (#47083289)

      Support costs money. The goal of the business is to make money. If businesses can reduce a cost without losing profit, it would be irrational for them not to.

      Realize that businesses are doing this in response to demand. People are not flocking to a competitor's product simply because that competitor provides better support. If people did this, you bet the businesses would give you the support you want. But people don't. So, without that reward, the businesses have no incentive to provide the support.

      People flock to a product for brand name and features. So, that is what businesses provide.

      And, as willing as you might be to vote with your wallet as an individual, unless the same vote is a trend, it will not be effective. As always, your destiny is in the hands of all your peers.

      • it is interesting. some people might even prefer a product with a supportive community but slightly more 'bugs'/tricks to one which is more reliable and/or over-rigidly documented.

      • "Realize that businesses are doing this in response to demand."

        There is no negative demand. In other words, people are not demanding no service. What's really going on here is that businesses are seeing how little they can get away with as far as customer support and still sell a product.

        This isn't consumer grade, but at work we still have a number of Solaris machines in use. One of the reasons in the past that we stayed with Solaris was their outstanding support. That support has become a joke in the p

    • This has been happening forever. Did the OP just get online recently? What planet is the OP from?

    • One of the easy ways to reduce needed support is to produce software with fewer bugs.

  • I'm Okay With It (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gr33nJ3ll0 ( 1367543 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:06PM (#47083101)
    This sort of thing has been going on for years, probably as long as there have been companies and products. Can't get X to work, maybe your neighbor can, why not ask? In the case of software and other technical products, it really costs the company little to setup a forum, so why not? Also the people doing the supporting are completely volunteer, and are compensated in a feeling of helping others. If they don't want to participate, then they can stop at any time.
    • by spire3661 ( 1038968 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:30PM (#47083193) Journal
      The problem is they are taking it WAY to far. I expect to be able to get a PERSON on the phone when it comes to technical problems or warranty issues. Too often im forced to fill out forms and am directed to the forums instead of a CS rep. No amount of tech will change the fact that they will ALWAYS need people in Customer Service.
      • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:38PM (#47083227)

        Too often im forced to fill out forms and am directed to the forums instead of a CS rep.


        If I have version X of product Y then I should be able to search on product Y with a sub-search on version X.

        I should NOT be getting results that apply to product A, B or C. UNLESS the company tech support people have specifically gone through and WRITTEN an answer and specifically labelled it as applying to A, B, C and X (version 1, 2, 3 and 4).

        It cannot be that difficult to build a flow chart for the most common searches / problems that are appearing in your forums.

        • by ncc74656 ( 45571 ) *


          Most forum software search functionality sucks burro balls. This isn't just an issue for support forums for a product, but web forums in general. In most cases, though, you can use Google (or whoever) to search the forum and get the results you need.

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )


        then there's the cases where the customer service will outright lie and mislead you and the community can give you a fix for your problem.

        like getting to use "unsupported" dispensables for example... or just getting the device fixed with a new design for some part because the company just shipped a shit design(makerbot - they later started shipping with a similar part but that was almost a year too late and up until that the customer service would try you to get to use something that was just a ba

      • by jonsmirl ( 114798 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:55PM (#47083301) Homepage

        You need to put this into perspective. It is unreasonable to expect a company to provide significant human support for a product you spent $30 on at a retail store. The company has probably only made $1-2 profit from the sale, if they provide easy to access support they will lose money on every sale. If you want lots of free support go buy a $3,000 Macbook.

        Personally, I don't even bother trying to return or get support on anything under $100 any more. It just goes into the trash and I buy something similar from a different manufacturer and hope it works.

        An even more efficient form of this is buying stuff from Aliexpress/DX/etc. Prices there can be as low as 20% of US retail for similar products. Sure I occasionally get junk or the wrong product, but just throw it in the trash and try a different vendor. The overall savings is worth eating the occasional fraud or hassling with Ali's escrow to stop payment. I fully expect little to no support on these purchases and I know returns are almost impossible.

        • by retchdog ( 1319261 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @01:05PM (#47083341) Journal

          you might be surprised. when my ~$50 sennheiser in-ear headphones broke, i sent them in under the 2-year warranty and got a free replacement. they probably cost ~$5 to manufacture, so they have plenty of margin for support; they just make more money if fewer people use what they are entitled to.

          • I don't think your example really proves much?

            Sennheiser is a fairly large company that sells a lot of higher-end audio gear. It's quite possible they take a loss supporting the cheaper products in their line-up, but consider that an overall acceptable expense if it makes happy customers who eventually step up to their higher-end products.

            The real problems with support come in with the companies who really only specialize in the cheaper items. Say you primarily sell 4-port USB hubs and generic 3-button mi

            • yeah, subsidized. or maybe those $50 headphones didn't really cost $40 (lol) in shipping and retail markup, and they make plenty of profit but would prefer to keep as much as possible while not losing the business of people who have higher quality standards and not enough money to burn. yes, those people might buy sennheiser's more expensive stuff later, but that doesn't necessarily mean the return is taking a net loss.

              but, yeah, pursuing a return on a noname $3 mouse seems pointless. i guess everyone draws

              • by King_TJ ( 85913 )

                Yeah, no doubt the earbuds don't cost nearly as much to manufacture as the sale price on them. There's just not THAT much to a pair of them, no matter who sells them. But to be fair, the big difference in sound quality of the more expensive ones comes largely due to money invested up-front in R&Ding a specific pair. (You can bet companies like Skullcandy don't get sound engineers as deeply involved with the production process as Sennheiser does.) They have to roll the development costs into the produ

        • They're very happy to see that your $100 is disposable. Now instead of building products that work as expected and actually last longer than a few years, they can count on you coming back for more, $100 bill in hand. Sucker.

          • It is not worth my time to fight with them. Declare it a loss, move onto the next vendor and don't buy from the previous vendor again. I used to fight with them, now I understand the rewards from the fight are not worth the cost on low priced products. Just blacklist the vendor and move on. Of course there are probably a few vendors that are exceptions to this rule but it is not worth my time to locate them.

        • The company will lose even more money if rather than obtaining support the consumer returns the product for a refund.

      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:59PM (#47083315)

        I expect to be able to get a PERSON on the phone when it comes to technical problems or warranty issues.

        As someone that actually did tech support, I hate this attitude. I can't count the number of hours I spent reading the manual and phonetically dictating keystrokes to some idiot that was too lazy to read it himself. Email, or even an online chat session, is infinitely superior to a phone call when dealing with software issues.

        • Re:I'm Okay With It (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Nethead ( 1563 ) <> on Saturday May 24, 2014 @01:36PM (#47083501) Homepage Journal

          I love on-line support chats. HP is really good at this (okay, I'm a business customer with a few hundred desktops and a rack of servers, YMMV.) Chat allows me to cut-n-paste serial numbers or diag info directly to them. It allows me to get other work done while support is processing the request, and I'm sure it allows support to work other cases when I have to dig for info.

          The main thing is that I don't have to work through understanding the accent of a non-native speaker. The support folks are often bright and knowledgeable but my internal wiring doesn't always make the translation the first try. This gets old quickly for both ends of the conversation.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Going to a forum is actually good. I've already talked to tons of programmers who will never answer privately an email, but will gladly do so publicly in a forum. Why? Because they can do it once and never repeat themselves again. It's the most optimal way to optimise support.

        Could it be that maybe your expectation to have a PERSON on the phone (no less!) is what is outdated and narrow minded? Why not also expect them to give you a massage and send you free food as well? I mean, they are companies, they are

      • If you paid for a technical support contract, you'll get a person on the phone to assist with technical problems. If you didn't, you shouldn't expect it. Most companies operate on margins that a single technical support call handled in the US would wipe out their margin on that product these days. Everybody wanted everything cheap. Now we have it.
      • Customer support forums are great, no matter WHO provides the solutions, as long as solutions come in a timely manner.

        I think that's where each company needs to look at what it's doing for support, and using whichever method suits it best.

        For example, I've been on a few forums for specialized music hardware or software where it was highly structured. You weren't really allowed to post messages helping out the next user. Rather, you had to post specific questions and wait for one of their support people to r

      • by jbolden ( 176878 )

        The problem is they are taking it WAY to far. I expect to be able to get a PERSON on the phone when it comes to technical problems or warranty issues.

        Then when you buy make sure to pick vendors with excellent customer support. They exist and they are almost always an option.

    • Re:I'm Okay With It (Score:5, Informative)

      by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:58PM (#47083311)
      I tend to agree with you for the most part.

      There have been User Groups providing customer-to-customer support almost as long as there have been computers.

      Most of the time, the answers I receive from the community forum are received more quickly and are of better quality than those I receive from first tier support in the more formal support channels.

      On the other hand, there are some companies that use the community support as the sole means to provide support, and the community has little or no employee involvement. Those companies, the ones that use the community to hide from their customers, I do not like. And I avoid their products.

      • Like Microsoft and Google. Thread after thread after thread about the same problems and none of them get solved because the company (apparently) doens't bother to read them.

  • Terrible support.
  • by ngc5194 ( 847747 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:11PM (#47083123)
    Everything you say is true, but at least having such a forum where one can get some support is better than not, and better than having that pseudo-support scattered across a dozen boards over the Internet. Doesn't excuse such lazy behavior, of course. Generally, if a company is providing an expensive product for which I need support, and then provides crappy support, I'll be looking for an excuse to try a competitor's product next time out. You might think that this would lead companies to upgrade their support, but it doesn't seem to. One of the big problems is that most of that company's customers are idiots, so it's a huge money sink to constantly answer their silly questions with expensive, highly trained support people. So, if a producer is using the forum to weed out the Tier 1 "Would it work better if I plug it in?" crowd while jumping in and helping out when someone has a real problem, then I guess I don't have a problem with it. If such a forum is viewed as a replacement for support, then I'll likely be looking at competing products next time.
    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:52PM (#47083293)

      Merely supplying some kind of forum site centered on the product where users can gather has value. It's a bonus when they don't sanitize the content to bury problems and hide discontent; I've found that quite often if the product isn't complete crap, they're sort of self-regulating and total whiners get ignored by normal participants even.

      Maybe it is a way to cut corners on support, but what kind of support were you really expecting -- a product development engineer dropping everything to figure out your issue? That doesn't exist except at the highest priced support levels for the largest enterprises and products, and even then you are just as likely to get steered into a hall of mirrors of consultants and local partners who just want to bill more. In almost all cases the alternative to Forum-centric support is bad telephone support and a weak knowledge base, at least from the vendor. If you're lucky there may be a third party site that helps, but often this just fragments knowledge across zillions of similar sites.

      And it's not like supplying a reasonable forum is free, either. It takes software, hardware, hosting, administration and those cost money. I'll take the hive mind of other users over what the alternative is for the same money, which is like one one additional FTE -- an overworked, underpaid, clueless phone support drone.

  • 3D studio max (Score:5, Informative)

    by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:12PM (#47083129) Journal
    I had that problem with 3Dstudio max back in its heydays.

    I finally decided to bite the bullet and go legit, I purchased a full 3Dstudio max 4 license + character studio (In my country, that cost over 5000 USD back then), and I didn't receive ONE ounce of support, only mocking for not having the right equipment for their software.

    3D studio Max 4 got constant crashes with Application Error and corrupted files. And while I was in the middle of an important animation project of mine, this was unacceptable. Freezes and Crashes. Autodesk supporters blamed my computer. I did everything they said, I upgraded to Windows 2000 Professional, I upgraded my ram to the maximum possible limit. I even switched the mainboard 3 times + upgraded to the recommended intel processor. It still had the same freezes and crashes.

    After 6 month struggling with the big corporation, I got tired of 3D software and swore I'd never use it again, but once a 3D artist...always a 3D's almost like being an alcoholic, it is THAT addictive (at least to me), so I tried Blender 3D (back then it was a small runt around 2mb while 3Dstudio max was a 60mb beast), and I had less crashes, albeit it was harder to learn.

    Discovered a few bugs in Blender, and reported it to the coders (Ton Roosendaal), and got an INSTANT response, no longer than 2 days had some of his coders in his coding team fixed the bug, free of charge ...simply based on their PRIDE of their work. I was in love.

    And what can we learn from that? Today I still use Blender, albeit for professional production. I've produced high end commercial for the big brands such as Carlsberg (beer, not free...) worldwide and never looked back.
  • by TooTechy ( 191509 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:14PM (#47083133)

    In the end this reduces the cost of software to the customer.

    Customer benefits by having ready access to a database of information produced by other users (more expert than any front line help desk).

    Vendor benefits by not having cost overhead of front line support infrastructure.

    Everyone benefits by having honest information exchange.

    Vendor developers/consulting team provide secondary support and expert knowledge as appropriate.

    This is a win/win for all involved.

    Is this akin to the "To help the environment, please reuse your towels" sign in hotel bathrooms? Sure, we know this is really to increase the profits of the hotel. But in a free market with open competition, these figures ultimately produce a cheaper product for the consumer.


    • by Pop69 ( 700500 ) <billy AT benarty DOT co DOT uk> on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:27PM (#47083179) Homepage
      The big problem is that it doesn't reduce the cost of the software, it increases the profit of the software provider
      • Sure it does. If they had to provide support, they would build in the cost of said support to the price of the software. Instead, you have the option of paying for live technical support on a contract or incident basis if you so choose. You're free to pay for technical support if you would like it.
      • by tomhath ( 637240 )

        The big problem is that it doesn't reduce the cost of the software, it increases the profit of the software provider

        If it was that simple they would just increase the price. Keeping costs down so they can avoid a price increase is the goal.

    • Except it's practically never reduced the cost of software to the customer. It just, as sibling post points out, reduces the cost of the software to the publisher: the customer pays the same, and the publisher pockets the difference.

      What's reduced for the customer is the *value* of the software, especially if it's something brand-spanking-new and you know there aren't legions of other users out there who have figured out its "eccentricities" already.

      Not really "win-win" in any sense of the idiom...

  • by ikhider ( 2837593 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:28PM (#47083183)
    Adobe is filled with issues, among them when I am compelled to sign in to verify I am an authentic user each time I use the software. This does not bode well when I am in transit and have no access to wifi. I used the forums and asked about this issue but receive a robotic response that you do not need to sign in each time you use the product. My experience proved the contrary. I call Adobe tech support, who asks to log onto my computer, and over several days it feels like half of India is lgging onto my computer to try to repair this issue. I figure a reinstall would do the trick, several reinstalls later, no change. India still needs to get on my machine to try to figure out what the hell is going on and the engineers over at Adobe are laughing because they tell their outsourced labour nothing. You get the forums and get little help or call in and get no help either. Adobe has the largest market share in their industry, so they do not care. Only when an upstart gives them a run for their money will you see Adobe shake a leg.
    • But Adobe promised me if I upgraded on a special price from CS5 to CC, I'ld be able to use CC anytime and only be required to check in once-in-awhile and have lots of time after my subscription ran out to pay up or get all my files converted and back, etc. etc.

      Are you telling me Adobe lies?

  • by KliX ( 164895 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:30PM (#47083199)

    You've identified a hole in the market.

    • In many cases, if you overlap the "official" support too much, the origination company will come after you. They may not have ground to stand on, ultimately; but, the cost of defending yourself will kill your fledgling business unless you have wealthy backers who believe in your ability to succeed.
    • by afgam28 ( 48611 )

      Although most of us only have experience with open source and consumer products, and the support forums that come with them, the OP is most annoyed with niche proprietary software tool vendors:

      it's completely unacceptable when dealing with proprietary design tool vendors that are charging several thousand dollars for software licenses for tools that are the only option if a customer doesn't want to drop an order of magnitude more money to go with 3rd party tools (e.g., Synopsys)

      For these tools, your employer usually pays tens of thousands of dollars for support contracts, which are meant to include direct support from engineers. It's unlikely that any third party will have the ability to provide support for such products, because:

      1. You need access to source code and the ability to make chan

  • by theoriginalturtle ( 248717 ) <turtle&weightlessdog,com> on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:31PM (#47083201) Homepage

    It's more than just some brilliant VP deciding to reduce the cost of support by basically saying, "let's let the users tell each other how to fix our product."

    The really nasty part of this, and you'll see this on any "community forum" for any product of any complexity, is the amount of BS and crap information being repeated as gospel, without correction or clarification from the vendor. One guy who has a flukey problem posts a sketchy "solution," other people extrapolate from it, n00bz try to apply it to completely unrelated issues and fail, they complain about not getting "support," whine when the board veterans and few people who DO know something don't immediately reply to their vague posts, the n00bz leave, the veterans fall away, and "community support" rapidly becomes "no support."

    Oh, unless you buy a support agreement, but then, since their few remaining support techs don't hear about some or many of these bizarre problems, they don't fix them, meaning paid support is worse than nothing.

    I've seen this occur over and over in situations where "community support" isn't accompanied by skilled, consistent moderation AND intercession by the paid support techs and the developers. If you completely leave the users to try to "support" themselves, you end up with no users to support.

    • by bungo ( 50628 )

      I've seen this happen with some of the Oracle support forums, and I really hate it.

      What Oracle are doing now is that when you log a support request for some products, they first direct you to the customer forums to find an answer before you can complete entering the support request - and you have to acknowledge in the support request that you are aware of the customer forums.

      The problem is that unless your problem is really simple, the forums are a waste of time, and when I have to log a support request, i

  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:32PM (#47083203)
    I find that company support rarely is any good. Right off the bat if you call all they want is feedback for their MBAs, where did you buy it, when did you buy it, are you considering buying another in the next 6 months, how many people work at your company, etc. All this to ask how to reset the router to factory settings.

    Or I can google "How to reset my ABC router to factory settings."

    Then you get the brain dead people who just don't care. The other day I was a bell aliant and I asked them if their FiberOp has a real IP..... "what is an IP?" Then "Yes it probably does."
  • This could actually be good for open source, if company's are providing support through forums, then people will be used to this model when using open source without any "official" support.
  • Sounds familiar... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rane_man ( 1153291 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:44PM (#47083251)
    I work as a network technician for a K-8 school. My job, and the job of my small team, is to provide infrastructure and other equipment to our staff and students. Thankfully, we have an eager bunch who are anxious to learn. This proves beneficial to us because, frankly, we'd never get anything done if every student (or teacher) who didn't know how to cut/paste came running to us for support. That's not to say we don't assist people, or that we don't have busy days, only that smaller, more well-known problems can be handled by our staff--or, in this case, our community. Granted, we're also not some big company selling our product to consumers and then wiping our hands of any and all responsibility. Like with my humble tech team, a reasonable amount of service should be expected, but I strongly believe end users should be able to educate themselves. That said, I'm still gonna mash "0" until I get a human :)
  • by smillie ( 30605 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:45PM (#47083253) Journal
    The company I worked for 20 years ago bought some expensive software and the people who came out to install it couldn't make it install. A call to their own tech support was no help. Boss called me up to look at the problem. When I looked at their install batch file I saw the problem was the install script assumed the hard disk was at C:. When you have more than 2 floppies in the system the first hard disk is at E:. The system had three floppies. I modified the install script while the two company reps watched and the install when fine. A forum having other people with a similar hardware setup might have been a help.
  • US companies have been engaged in a race to the bottom for some time now. Laying people off and borrowing money to buy back stock and keep the price up (and fatten that bonus). The constant layoffs and off-shoring have really eaten into the company's abilities to support or even produce quality goods. I used to work with an "enterprise" product for which we paid millions in licensing fees (yes, millions). The support was awful and the product quality seems to be constantly eroding. I don't know what replac
  • The quality of support you get from forums. mailing lists, and IRC channels is almost always far better than that directly provided by the company. Support teams that are competent enough to not just be warm bodies reading from a script simply don't scale well, because support employees at that level of competency expect (and deserve) to be paid as much as developers.

    The vast majority of support queries on the other hand are repeats of the same questions, over and over again from customers who can't be bothered to use Google to search for their problem which means companies have to have a filter in place. That filter can be a forum, a web form that forces you to view every single article in the knowledge base, or a team of barely trained monkeys who are underpaid, and will burn out within 3-6 months from being asked the same questions over again by customers who are, on average, so dense that they don't mention the device in question isn't even turned on until they have already nodded along and gone through 30 minutes of "troubleshooting".

    The use of community based support shouldn't itself be a concern, but how that support is implemented, how it's managed, and how the company uses that community based support to triage and escalate issues should be. In the most effective, and customer friendly cases, community support basically is used to to weed out the people who can't bother to help themselves from the people who have real problems, and the latter will get real support from "power users" or even actual developers.

    The key to making that work in favor of the customers that actually need help is good moderators. They need to be jaded, vicious bastards who will stamp out any hint of noise amidst the signal, who aren't afraid to humiliate someone who posts the exact same question without reading the post directly below it where someone else asked the same thing.

    All of this, should of course be accompanied by the best paid support you can find, at whatever rate allows you to pay your support staff a good (at least $25 USD/HR) wage plus medical, mental health, sick days, vacation and other benefits, and generally keep them happy. This should be a "tierless" support team if at all possible - the people you put there should be able to handle anything that comes their way, or act as a liason between customer and developer when necessary. The rate for this level of support should be high enough that your support team shrugs off people asking "dunb" questions as suckers who wasted their money rather than banging their head in frustration.

    Chances are, the same support people can be providing paid phone support and "escalating" cases from the forums for free support when it's needed & deserved. Everybody wins in this case - lazy people can pay to be lazy, people with no time to wait for a solution can pay for one, and people who are willing to work to find a solution can get the help they need free of charge.

    • by tragedy ( 27079 )

      That filter can be a forum, a web form that forces you to view every single article in the knowledge base, or a team of barely trained monkeys who are underpaid, and will burn out within 3-6 months from being asked the same questions over again by customers who are, on average, so dense that they don't mention the device in question isn't even turned on until they have already nodded along and gone through 30 minutes of "troubleshooting".

      Or a decent FAQ or knowledge base.

  • by BigDish ( 636009 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:49PM (#47083277)

    I work for a company that does this for one of our products (not our main product, but a mobile app) simply because the app would otherwise be unprofitable. We typically sell the app or $3, and this app is to control an external device (not ours), so can require some configuration of the customer's environment. It's not something simple like a game, but it actually interacts with other things on the customer's network.

    It's not a great situation, but there's just no way to support the users that need help setting up port forwarding on their router, re-configuring AV software, etc, on a $3 app. If we provided regular 1:1 support on a $3 app, it wouldn't make business sense for us to sell the app. If we raised the price to something like $20, I'd bet no one would buy it and we would STILL have many customers that want their hand held through everything.

  • by frog_strat ( 852055 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:51PM (#47083281)
    I learned pretty quickly that the engineers skilled in making customers go away looked better when management did their metrics. Sometimes there were complicated problems (customer building a custom PCB made an error in assigning IRQs or memory mapping error). Customers figured out to ask for me specifically, which did not help my metrics. It is really a shame when companies design their process to make people fail. What an effin mess.
  • I've done work for a local charity to select, install and implement a local open-source solution. The problems came when the national HQ with a national IT department started arguing with our choice of an open-source solution, recommending a proprietary solution on the basis that "you'll be able to get support". It wasn't just that they wanted $1200 per year per seat (as opposed to nothing per year per seat), but also that they were based in Flagstaff, AZ and had no (zero) offices anywhere in my country or
  • by scamper_22 ( 1073470 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @01:08PM (#47083361)

    Real support costs money. Most people aren't willing to pay the proper cost for it.

    The next best example of something we all own and often need troubleshooting is a car.

    Routine car things are costly enough (oil change...). But that's the equivalent of running a virus scan or defrag.

    If you ever have a real problem where something isn't working, it is costly. Diagnostic work? Even costlier and no guarantee it will work.

    And the PC is ever more complex as you mod it will all kinds of stuff. Custom hardware. Custom software installed on it. Custom configuration.

    Now, how much do you think it will cost you to fix a problem with your car that had it's engine replaced with a more powerful model, software modded... and all the other fancy things car modders do? Yeop... it's going to cost you a hell of a lot more.

    And with cars, the normal answer is to just replace parts as a whole.

    If you have a problem with some application crashing. Would you consider it valid support if they just said, let's try replacing your ram or upgrading your video card. Cost $500. And no guarantee of working.

    And yes, car manufacturers do offer warranties. But they're typically void if you do anything to mod the car.

    You'd no doubt not find that acceptable. You want them to fix the software.

    Computers are just that complex. And for the rest of the industry, it is heavily cost driven.

  • Don't mind offering and reading wiki solutions. But I admit I prefer it on neutral turf to when it's hosted by the troublesome product maker, who sometimes edits or deletes angry comments
  • Support (Score:4, Informative)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @01:24PM (#47083441)

    People have no idea how much tech support costs. I used to run a tech support department in the 90s (on the technical side, not a manager) and it was always funny when customer would claim to have been "Ripped off" because they waited on hold for 10min.

    How much did you pay for the device?
    Take that, the figure out how much profit the manufacture is getting. 1/3 of the sale price would be very generous.
    Figure out how long you were on the phone with support.
    Assume the support worker is making minimum wage: $7.25 (they made more but lets just assume)
    multiply... subtract...
    The manufacture pretty much loses all profit as soon as you call them.
    They first tried putting support on-line. But the people who needed support were usually so un-tech savvy they couldn't even open a browser. (this was the 90s)
    So then they tried IVR (phone tree support) but people were too impatient and just skipped it.
    They tried raising the price of the product but people wouldn't pay.
    Then they tried charging for support. People flipped out and every call turned into an hour long bitch session.
    Then they moved support out of the country so they could hire bellow minimum wage. But then the customers started screaming because people "Didn't speak English" That kind of bugged me because I trained staff from Jamaica and India, and they were all very intelligent people. Far more skilled than the people calling in and complaining.

    Finally they just put up forums and said "screw it" and shut down support all together. I got laid off, got a hell of a lot better job and the general public just ended up forgetting that there was ever such a thing as phone support.

    • by gnupun ( 752725 )

      Finally they just put up forums and said "screw it" and shut down support all together.

      Or, management and the bean counters figured out that forum support costs less then offshore support which costs less than onshore support. So it's business as usual, cutting costs while keeping the product retail price the same or increasing it.

    • I think part of the problem is, people simply have no idea how many other people are calling in with issues on the same product!

      At one of my old jobs, I remember constantly getting called on by the boss to help with his HP printer issues -- both in the office and sometimes at home. He'd volunteer to drive me out to his place over lunch (and usually buy me lunch as compensation) to take a look at it for him.

      Truthfully, most of his issues were bugs that MANY, MANY people using multiple HP wireless printers w

  • "Has anyone else noticed the trend towards 'community forums' where customers are basically being recruited to solve the issues of other customers while the companies selling the products causing the issues sit back and take a passive role in the process?"

    Like the forums that existed on CompuServe over 20 years ago, and probably elsewhere before that? No, never noticed them.

  • Most customers at the retail or just above level are not willing to pay what good support costs. There are exceptions and there are companies that make money on support. But in the end Word (a low support product) beating Word Perfect (a high support product) because people valued price and some slight additional features over support is the general case. People in general are only willing to pay for light support for most of their products.

    I think the current model where people buy light support with a

  • Their tech support is the WORST. so the only way I ever find answers is via forums. Sadly they make the best Bluetooth components for motorcycle helmets in the world, but they piss on their customers badly because they have no real competition, everyone else is in the dark ages technology wise.

  • by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @04:19PM (#47084201)

    I had (still have) problems with Dazzler video-to-usb. After long campaign to get video to work but never can get audio feed. Customer support is useless so that leaves the forums, which most are bankrupt. Most of posts are people with same problems, most solutions are copy/paste from same post from whereever (which does not address problem). But all these forums you gotta register with account name and password.

    There used to be usenet where anyone can post and read, and since it was not technically sophisticated, you can't really copy/paste same crap over and over (you had to type your writings like a typewriter). This was also before the marketeers and spammers overran everything. sob!

    • There used to be usenet where anyone can post and read, and since it was not technically sophisticated, you can't really copy/paste same crap over and over (you had to type your writings like a typewriter). This was also before the marketeers and spammers overran everything. sob!

      The Newsgroup 24hoursupport.helpdesk was my hang out, any question was a good one and someone would usually be able to answer it. It's gone political now from what I see and of little use.

      On subject the Newsgroup 24hoursupport.helpdesk was created by a company to provide support for their product, and taken over when they abandoned it many many years ago.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell