When Companies Don't Fear Customer Support, Everybody Wins

October 10, 2008

We've been designing websites for a while and have seen how other firms approach customer support. Typically, customers to "pay as they go" on an hourly basis. So, after client X pays a hefty setup fee to have their site built, they're then stuck paying for customer support by the hour.This method can become quite expensive for the client and leads to a fair amount of tension and inefficiency. The client becomes hesitant to ask for help, afraid that they're "on the clock," straining what might be a good relationship.

At New Media Campaigns, we have a different approach to customer support. We think our method is pretty easy to grasp; it just relies on a little bit of trust. We never charge hourly for support or small changes to a client's site. How are "small changes" defined? They aren't really. Some people think that it's a dangerous offer and puts us at risk to needy clients. Recently, after hearing about our policy, someone commented:

No charge tech support via phone, unless you really screen your clients upfront can be a killer... Granted, your service philosophy sort of squares that up, but no where does it state when the project ends, free phone support ends as well.

In no way is this person's opinion ill-informed; in fact, it's extremely consistent with the mainstream view of customer support. However, while our choice is outside of the norm, it is also not ill-informed and is based on our corporate philosophy and other calculated factors.

Why we think avoiding hourly charges is wise:

First, we put all of our sites on our Content Management System.This allows our clients to be in full control of their content and dramatically reduces the numbers of calls/emails we get for small changes.If there is something small a client can't handle, or if they have a question that we need to hop on the phone to talk out, we're happy to do it. Willingness to provide support atno cost does two things:

  1. Encourages our clients to try things themselves, knowing we're just a call away. Our strategy reduces required support in the long run and educates our clients.
  2. Informs us when our software needs a tweak. If several of our customers struggle to accomplish the same task, it isn't their fault. It is ours.

Second, all of our clients pay a small monthly licensing and hosting fee to cover the unlimited use of the Content Management System and also the hosting of their site. To be clear, this is not a retainer. With that fee, we understand that there will be times when theclient needs support from us and needs to get us on the phone or shoot us an email. So, the monthly fee helps offset the cost of us helping the client out when they have questions or need some help with the CMS.

The typical reaction to this policy is fear that the clients will call and ask us for a massive project like a site redesign or to build them a social network for free. However, by building a relationship based on trust and free education, clients become aware of when a change would no longer be considered minor. They're also more receptive to charges after having dealt with our no-hourly service philosophy in the past.They understand that we onlycharge when it's necessary, and that leads to a much more friendly and productive relationship.

Think we're crazy? Have your own customer support policy that has had great returns for your firm andyour clients? Let us know by leaving a comment.


Clay S's avatar
Clay S NMC team member
Hey John,

Those are great points. Our general rule of thumb is that we won't charge for the first 30-60 minutes of client needs in addition to traditional support. It's definitely tough judge when someone traverses general support to the need of a monthly retainer. It's kind of a "you know it when you see it" situation.

I can say that any client we've ever approached about moving to a retainer because their needs were to great and diverse to be covered in our support fee has been totally understanding and eager to move to something that makes more sense for them and for us. I think it's all about setting the expectation of working for them and not against them.

It's definitely a tricky situation, but I think we've landed in a good place with it. Hope that helps!
john's avatar
A client should never have to pay for an inquiry, but then what exactly does a small monthly retainer cover besides the hosting?
If I am a client and had 20 quick questions that amount to 2 hours per month, is this now free? You could reverse the variables with 20 clients that have quick questions that takes 5 minutes to answer.

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