Anyone who tells you doing customer support is easy, is either lying, naive, or insane…or some combination of all three. It’s a hard role that will try your patience on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.
How do I know? I did it for 2.5 years. My experiences ranged from being the person you talked to when you wanted to buy a domain, all the way up to tracking and identifying trending issues to either get the operations center and developers out of bed at 1am, or provide detailed steps to reproduce a bug identified by our customers. I preferred the latter of those two. Developers are grumpy at 1am.
That was almost 4 years ago now.
So why am I doing customer support again?
I didn’t really choose to go into support. I actually choose to write a plugin, and then build paid extensions for that plugin. By proxy, that means I’m choosing to do customer support. When you decide to build anything that you distribute (especially if it’s a paid product) you are choosing to be a customer support representative for yourself. No matter the plugin, app, SaaS, or anything else…support comes along for the ride. Accepting this ahead of time and planning for it will save you the heartbreak later.
Support as a feature
Have you ever looked at your favorite grocery store item? They all have a phone number to call if you want to leave “Questions, Comments, or Concerns”. Have you actually called that number to tell them their product was great? Probably not. Do you buy these products solely based on the fact that the phone number is there? Probably not.
The software world is different though. Before we purchase a piece of software, we want to know it’ll be supported. We want to know that we can hold someone accountable for mistakes we find. Sometimes, that comes is pretty harsh criticism. How you handle feedback (both positive and negative) can, and should, be one of your best selling points.
Just recently I started as a Support Technician for Easy Digital Downloads, a project I’ve contributed to as well as written paid extensions for. One of the first realizations I had was that people came to these forums expecting great support. It’s something the team prides themselves in and it’s reflected in the reviews left on WordPress.org. With so many people listing it in their review, it’s clearly a feature of the plugin.
My thoughts on customer support as a developer
Customer support is the most difficult task you’ll have to encounter writing software, and it’s simply because of the following fact:
No one wants to hear they have an ugly baby.
The fact of the matter is, that there are bugs. When they are called out publicly it hurts a little. Being able to take criticism, requests, and being general cannon fodder is a fact of life. Doubly so when you are putting your “life” out there for people to use and see. I’ve seen biggest enemies become life long customers, and fanboys be scorned for life in a single key stroke.
Make the best of it, be humble, and always be gracious. For every 1 critique, there’s another 10 that never said anything. Use the feedback to make your project better.