By Jerry Weinstock
CRM Innovation, LLC

CRM Innovation builds solutions that enhance the functionality of Microsoft Dynamics CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Like all aspiring entrepreneurs I wanted to create a company where we could write great applications that required little or no support and that would sell themselves online while we slept. So now back to reality and the actual question at hand – How to provide an appropriate and relevant level of application support without going broke.

Support for our current products

First a little bit of background to help position and personalize the dilemma. The first several products, AutoNumber, InLine Help,  we created for the Microsoft CRM application to extend its functionality required them to be installed on the customers’ Windows Server where CRM is running. Try as we might we haven’t been able to test internally all the different combinations and permutations of client environments, in particular it seems that the degree that Windows Server 2008 is locked down the more challenging it became. Therefore we would invariably get a support call to assist in the installation process as errors were being thrown. Not typically an issue as they are usually resolved in less than 30 minutes with a screen share. Generally we receive few calls after the initial support call except for those that were inquiring about functions that were generally not well described or we missed in our documentation. In summary most of the questions if not all are product support based since the applications’ are entirely self-contained applications that run within the CRM application.

Subsequently, we released a product which is a Software+Services application that lets a non-technical person create a form for their website to push data directly into their CRM system. Web2CRM then took us one step removed from the CRM application. Now we had a hosted application that connected with the company’s CRM server to retrieve website visitor form information and push data into CRM. So we eliminated the installation issues since it is a hosted application but do get some questions about getting a new account setup and sometimes what are the right credentials to enter into our system so it can access the client’s CRM system. Almost without exception if we had more details in our documentation we would eliminate most of these calls.

The support challenge – our upcoming product

The product we are about to release takes us out now two steps – Data2CRM is a visually intuitive import and migration manager S+S solution to get data into Microsoft CRM from other data files (CSV, Access, SQL) or transfer data out of a to-be-discontinued CRM system into MS CRM. Our application will now connect to two different systems – the customer’s source data files and their CRM system. We are stuck in the middle.

Support is complex

If you have read this far then you are ready to help out with the question at hand – How to provide appropriate support for Data2CRM. The objective is to differentiate between ‘product support’ and ‘process support’. The goal is to handle the product functionality issues differently than the import process issues and perhaps position/price the support types differently.  Since the product will be fairly intuitive (validated by our focus groups) any issues will likely be related to difficulties in importing actual data. In other words separating ‘product’ from ‘process’ will be more difficult to do than our other products where we provide free unlimited email and phone support as necessary.

The support team will need to be prepared to handle data-source related problems such as server/database connections via SQL or ODBC,  data transformations and submission rules. Users will likely ask for assistance with connection problems that are outside the scope of Data2CRM itself. We may end up being asked to essentially ‘teach’ users on how to do a import themselves.

Our audience

We are focused to selling through a channel of Microsoft CRM Partners and as a consequence should be very knowledgeable about the CRM product and likely have used similar products to ours to import data. However, end users may purchase directly from us or also use the product themselves even though they bought it from through their partner who might have provided guidance initially for its first time use.

Support costs impact product pricing

Possible ways to proceed –

  1. Without free support and charge for everything?
  2. Include 1 free incident and charge for everything after that?
  3. Attempt to differentiate between product and process support and charge for the later? How do we define the difference?
  4. Provide free weekly open webinars with training and Q&A and then charge for direct assistance after that?
  5. Charge differently for partners vs. end users?

When we do this how do we consistently differentiate between product and process support? Is there is some test script the user has to run first and if it fails then the error is on their end and support is chargeable?

How can we escalate questions to paid support when the same person is going to answer the question – i.e. for that issue I cannot talk to you for free you will have to pay to continue the conversation?

How do we do this and still remain customer friendly?

How do we not over price our product by budgeting for free support that we really shouldn’t be giving away?

Our plan

The questions and possibilities I posed in the previous section are questions every microISV has to ask and answer for themselves on Product Support vs Process Support. The approach we will test when we open it up the product for beta testing to our partner is to provide weekly, free, open one hour webinars for partners and end users. We will also include one free product support question and charge for process support questions that are customer environment specific. We haven’t worked up the litmus test question to define Process Support. That is a challenge yet to be overcome.

What’s your plan?

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My name is Jerry Weinstock, Business Development Manager and founder of CRM Innovation in Lenexa, Kansas. We are a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner for the Dynamics CRM and build solutions that enhance it’s functionality.

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