Stacking the Deck: Getting the Most From Third Party Support

In our previous entry on documentation, we talked about just what happens when customers have product questions or issues. Do they immediately pick up the phone and call your support line? Do they log onto the forums you set up for your customers to talk to each other? Do they email you directly?

As a general rule, no. Most users, especially ones who are very comfortable with the internet, turn first to Google. They’ll search for the error message they’re getting, and start clicking on the highest entries. But unless you’ve dedicated considerable budget to SEO on your support site, the first place they’re going to end up is likely a public forum like Stack Overflow or Expert’s Exchange.

If your application becomes popular enough, all the top support hits for your most common problems will end up being on these sites. This is actually a great advantage to developers, to some extent. Users providing support to other users amplifies your brand and your market at no cost to you. It behooves you, though, to make sure that the experience your customers have on the web is one that reflects well on you as a company.

Here are a few considerations once your application starts experiencing user-to-user and third-party support via these public sites:

  1. At least in the beginning, keep an eye out for users posting about you. Building up a knowledge base online can be extremely important, whether it is on your site or another. It helps to have your support personnel patrol these sites, or sign up for alerts where possible, so they can swiftly respond to question and comments.
  2. Control the conversation. People respect the opinions of the people who solve their problems. If you have a lot of users out there who are helping other users, but downplaying your product (or worse, suggesting they switch to a competitor!) those responses will do more damage than a stack of bad scores on an app store or review site. Make sure you’re providing solid answers to problems clients are having, and keep the discourse positive.
  3. Mark out-of-date information. You should keep track of where people are asking questions about your product, especially in threads with lots of views or comments. When you make a change to your product that invalidates a reply, or changes the best practice for an issue, drop a note or a comment in affected issue threads. Users reading those threads are already frustrated and probably nervous. They might be reading a post from 2013, two major releases ago, that happens to have the same error as the unrelated problem they’re having. Make sure that the people who find those posts are at least given a sign post to the real issues.
  4. Maintain support to boost your sales. When it comes time to buy or upgrade a product, people generally buy what they know. Make sure your application is out there, and is well-supported and well-remembered by both business and technical users. Building customer loyalty means that they’re going to want to use that product in the future. With mean tenure dropping every year, your users can be your greatest evangelists and sales people. Take good care of them, and they’ll take good care of you.

About the Author:

Rhiannon is the head of marketing and documentation services at Deep Core Data. A writer and editor for over 10 years, she is also a professional singer and not quite professional gamer. Her favorite blog posts are about tips and tricks to improving software, writing, and general business.

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