The perils of making customers pay for support

There’s a lot of talk doing the rounds lately on whether you should charge customers for support, and how much. It’s not surprising either – after all, great customer service does not come free.

If you are a Managed Service Provider, or your core business is providing some kind of service for your clients, this story is not for you. But if “customer support” by itself is more of a value add on top of the stuff you actually sell, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself this question at least once: should you be making your customers pay for it? After all, the human resources, infrastructure and training, the things that go with great customer service, don’t come free.

If you have a freemium model (like a lot of SaaS companies, including us), it gets even trickier. Free users aren’t free at all. In fact, they usually cost about the same to acquire, and sometimes way more to serve. They ask a lot of basic questions. On average, they need more hand holding. As a result, the cost of servicing them is disproportionately higher than that of even paying customers.

So why do we, at Freshdesk, offer Free Priority Support to every one of our customers? Why do we not force users to get their wallets out before we put on our rubber gloves and start supporting them? Why do we even publish our support phone numbers right on top of our website?

Here are a few reasons why we believe exceptional service is a right to every customer. And why businesses that look at Customer Service as a cost, or ‘just another service revenue stream’ is killing itself AND its customers.

1. You’re making customers pay you to help grow your business? Seriously?

Every customer has an opinion, suggestion or idea. And a free customer’s idea has just as much chance of sparking your business to glory, as a paying customer’s. In fact, some of the ideas we’ve got from our free customers have helped shape our roadmaps and capture interesting use cases we hadn’t thought of before.

2. What comes in as a ticket only makes you stronger.

Every support query ends up making your product just a little bit better – in terms of usability, features, behaviour, and bug fixes. Which means there’s all the more reason to open the support doors to everyone. Of course, that means a flurry of tickets flooding your support desk, but that’s a growth problem that every business should actually be looking forward to. I’d rather have more customers wanting to talk to me than fewer, any day.

3. “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake….”

Most businesses end up making the cardinal mistake of assuming they are indispensable. Unfortunately, even if you have the most earth-shattering, life-changing, paradigm-shifting product out there, your customers were probably doing just fine without it most their lives. And if history has shown us anything, people don’t do business with jerks for very long. The one unique and indispensable value that you could offer to customers though, is by showing them that you care.

4. Relationships work out of love, not switching costs.

Customer service can be a huge hidden channel to engage and build a relationship with users. Of course, you could invest on other switching costs and create barriers that hold your users from bailing on you. But once you lose out on the love customers have for you, it’s only a matter of time before they move out (and the next thing you know, they’ll be asking for your house, car, custody of kids and alimony).  The more your customers get to “know” your product, the more involved they are. And that is a bigger switching cost than contacts, data and carriers.

5. Cutting off support channels is self-amputation.

The biggest business challenge you need to cross is getting users invested in your product. Charging customers just to help them get started with your product is plain stupid. And it is stupider to charge them just to even listen to the problems your product is giving them. Your customer service is a critical communication channel between you and your customers. And unless you are connected to them, you can’t build products that make their life better in any way.

6. So, I should pay just to get you to talk to me? That just sounds wrong.

The ugly truth for most businesses is that the majority of your users on the lower plans may never upgrade. But the uglier truth is, it is probably your fault. If your free guys don’t “get” you, they don’t upgrade. If they don’t love you, they won’t upgrade. When you charge customers before they can reach out to you, you are putting up roadblocks to learn, use and understand your product. And that isn’t going to earn you any brownie points.

7. The unbearable lightness of being….nice.

There is no shortcut to being nice. Every one of us wants to do business with companies that we love – that we believe genuinely care for us. Offering exceptional service to customers is a great way to show them you care about making them successful. And when your customers succeed, you do too.

Try to keep in mind that when the day ends, your customers are not figments from a digital universe, but from your own. They come with the same frustrations that you do. Be nice and be sincerely nice. It doesn’t make sense to first force customers to pay before you sit them down on a comfortable chair and give them some special white glove treatment. Remember, if you are making them pay to listen to their problems, it is called therapy, not support.