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Ask Slashdot: Troubling Trend For Open Source Company

Unknown Lamer posted about a year and a half ago | from the freeloading-hippies dept.

Businesses 451

An anonymous reader writes "I'm one of the original founders of an open source company which offers a popular open source product (millions of downloads) targeted primarily to small businesses. We have been doing this for 10 years now and we fund the development of the open source product with the usual paid support services, custom development and addons, but over the last few years, we've noticed a troubling trend. Companies that have downloaded our product from one of the many free download sites have a question they want answered, so they call our support line. Once we politely explain the situation and that telephone support has a reasonable fee associated with it, more and more of them are becoming seriously irate, to the point of yelling, accusing us of fraud and/or scamming them. For some reason, they think a free product should have free telephone support as well, and if we don't offer free telephone support then it's not really a free product. These same people are then resorting to social media in an attempt to 'spread the word' with the same false accusations, which is starting to take its toll on our reviews, ratings, and in turn our bottom line. Does the Slashdot community have any suggestions on how we can reverse this trend? How do other open source companies handle similar situations?"

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451 comments

What company (2, Interesting)

jaxtherat (1165473) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100377)

It might help if you told us who you were.

Re:What company (5, Insightful)

alexander_686 (957440) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100393)

Only then can start figuring out how to increase the IQ of said users.

...and where they got your number (5, Insightful)

Roger W Moore (538166) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100559)

It might help if you told us who you were.

It would probably help more to know how they got hold of the support line. Everywhere the number is given there should be some clear text indicating that there is a support fee required to use it. If you just advertise the line as "call us for support" and then hit them for a fee when they call it might annoy some users who are unaware of the usual Open Source model and intellectually challenged enough to not see reason when you explain.

If you are making it clear in all the locations where the number is given then introduce a premium rate number and have that as the public one with a normal rate line whose number is private available to paying customers. If your users don't read the explanation around the support number then they won't see the explanation that they are calling a premium rate number either but at least this way the default is that they pay.

Re:...and where they got your number (5, Insightful)

MickLinux (579158) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100669)

Publicise a 900 number support line, and note that a normal number is provided to those who sign up for paid services.
 

Re:...and where they got your number (2)

YukariHirai (2674609) | about a year and a half ago | (#42101035)

It would probably help more to know how they got hold of the support line. Everywhere the number is given there should be some clear text indicating that there is a support fee required to use it.

I would expect something along the lines of Googling " phone support" and calling the number they get. Even if it is stated everywhere the number is supplied that there's a fee, people are remarkably unobservant when it comes to useful information like that. Hardly anyone ever reads all the information that would be useful for them, at most they read what gives them the answer they want.

Give them a refund (5, Funny)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100395)

If they don't like your product, offer them a full refund of the purchase price they paid to your company. Heck, offer them double their money back if they are not 100% satisfied.

Unless they paid some money to someone, it's not clear why they would think they are entitled to support. I've run lots of open source software that had paid support support, and have gladly paid for support when I needed it.

Re:Give them a refund (1)

Jonah Hex (651948) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100495)

^ This plus make the support line cost while on the line with a tech, not while on hold. I've even seen this done within the same company, altho then it's virtual accounting and no money actually changes hands, it just appears in the budget and is used to track support calls. - HEX

Great idea! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100537)

Heck, offer them double their money back if they are not 100% satisfied.

what I had in mind was offering them an Extended Warranty since the current warranty is zero years, they could extend it for say 180 days with an option to extend it to a year.

It sounds like that would be the mentality of those folks.

Re:Give them a refund (2)

Omnifarious (11933) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100629)

The unfortunate conflation of the two meanings of the word 'free' have confused people. A lot of 'free' software now isn't actually free for a variety of reasons. But the costs are not out-of-pocket expenses incurred at the time the software is downloaded. And much of this software comes with some sort of support. So people get confused.

Was it a bait and switch? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100693)

On the one hand, offering a free product and charging for support/customizations is perfectly reasonable and legit.

On the other hand, offering an enticing product that seems great until you try to use it, at which point you discover that it is impossible to get it working without pay-for support, is a bait-and-switch. THAT makes people mad.

I don't know if your customers are reacting to a disgusting sense of entitlement, or if they are reacting to having just been promised the world for free only to discover that they can't claim it without paying up.

Aside: it might not hurt to attach the phrase "to purchase support services, call:" to every place that your number appears.

Re:Was it a bait and switch? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100751)

...offering an enticing product that seems great until you try to use it, at which point you discover that it is impossible to get it working without pay-for support...

Is that much different than a product that is impossible to get working period, that has no support at all? Either way it seems like it would be a crappy product, regardless of support availible.

Screw them (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100397)

If they want free support and get irate when its explained to that that its how you may your money, they can take a flying leap.

No great loss if they go elsewhere for their handouts. I'm sure your paying customers will still be around.

Re:Screw them (4, Insightful)

sumdumass (711423) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100729)

If they want free support and get irate when its explained to that that its how you may your money, they can take a flying leap.

This is probably the root of the problem. Somewhere there is likely something saying free support through the online forums community or something similar and it isn't worded clearly enough for someone not paying attention to understand it.

Most OSS software does offer free support. It is a forum that users and volunteers answer questions for or a knowledge base of known problems and solutions or a combination of the two. It's generally when you needed to interact in real time with someone that there is a charge or they refer you to a consultancy group in your area that can help for their own fee.

I've seen similar with paid software too. I almost had a cow when I found out the $5k per year service contract with one software provider wasn't going to cover telephone support when their update broke the database structure and the program would crash on start up. Of course in this case, a manager told me they had us marked on a different service level then we purchased for some reason and comped the call. But that means other are paying for service contracts and when there is a problem if they purchase the older versions.

The way to fix this is to make the support options more clear and almost in your face when downloading the software. Perhaps if there is a help tab you can click on, a popup or menu tree for the installed software could explain this also. Either way, by the time they down load the software, it should be clear as to what support is free and what isn't. If that fails, it should be clear by the time they find a way to contact the project by phone or whatever method.

This isn't surprising (5, Insightful)

Gazzonyx (982402) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100401)

Studies have been done; the people that pay the least always complain the most.

Bullies: they KNOW exactly what they got. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100617)

I've experienced this myself: I think those people are just assholes who think they can bully the poster's company into giving free support. They know exactly what they got and exactly what they're entitled to. They just think that if they're a big enough douche, the vendor will cave to "be nice and get a good rep". And these entitled assholes then go and give bad reviews.

You can explain to them that this is free software and support costs extra, blah, yadda, dee, da. They know it. You can put it big banners across the download link and they'll STILL insist that they're owed something.

Re:This isn't surprising (5, Interesting)

Kenja (541830) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100743)

It goes even further then what the original poster says, I wrote a shareware HTML editor a long time ago when such a thing was a novel idea. It gained a fair amount of attention, even being put on the cover cd of various computer mags. However, as soon as it was put on a cover CD in Germany, a crack was released. No one ever paid for it, despite millions of downloads and constant use. I still to this day get support requests from people claiming to have a legit copy.

Had a somewhat similar problem (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100413)

We are not an open source company, but we had a very similar problem. We ended up plain removing free/normal cost phone numbers, only the expensive support phone numbers remained. Problem solved itself.

Troubling Trend? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100425)

Or you had a bad day at work...

Name names (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100431)

Which open source company is this, and which product? It's pretty pointless speaking in hypotheticals, since you're presenting just one side of the story here. Reading the reviews would shed some more light on this story; and if your account is really all there is to it, there's no reason to conceal it, since observation would support your explanations.

I call bullshit on this story (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100727)

I noticed this as well. Doesn't it also seem odd to you that it was submitted anonymously? . Who submitted it? Was it submitted by Microsoft to tarnish the reputation of the free software movement? The lack of details make this story so suspicious that it could very well have been Microsoft or a shill.

I call bullshit on this comment. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42101017)

I noticed this as well. Doesn't it also seem odd to you that it was submitted anonymously? Who submitted it? Was it submitted by the FSF to tarnish the reputation of proprietary software? The lack of details make this comment so suspicious that it could very well have been RMS or a shill!

Easy, offer no phone support. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100437)

Or email support, for that matter. A FAQ/WIki should be all they need.

think about the psychology (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100447)

If you think of the psychology of this, it looks like bait and switch.
To combat this, make it clear at the before the download how it all works.

Re:think about the psychology (2)

mark-t (151149) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100745)

that could be a little difficult if they are not actually hosting the download.

The summary explicitly said that people download the software from one of "many free download sites".

Split it. (5, Interesting)

Darkness404 (1287218) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100449)

Just split the company into two main parts.

Your flagship company only offers paid downloads, if you want the product, you've got to pay for support.

You then have another site/organization that offers everything for free and only has community support forums.

For example, if your product is called Corporate Wizard, you'd have your Corporate Wizard only host the Corporate Wizard software and you've got to pay money to download it (with source included of course).

However, you have a community maintained "fork" called, say, Company Mage. While the codebases are 100% identical, someone who downloaded Company Mage is downloading a community maintained product with only support forums. This way, it separates the free products/no support from the paid products with support.

Just don't call it... (2)

davidwr (791652) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100531)

Techno Mage.

That's asking for trouble.

Re:Split it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100597)

Mod parent up. In my world, this is THE solution in a case like this.

Re:Split it. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100699)

Excellent Idea, my idea is essentially the same but without two sites.

The download page of your site forces registration before you can access the download of your software.

In registration, there are two account types, paid and unpaid. unpaid has no support, or includes 1 support call. Show paid and unpaid side by side, and make paid in the center of the screen, unpaid off to the side.

When people call ask for their account number, if they call without one, talk them through creating an account in order to get the 1 free support call. If they call with a free account, or without one, again inform them that they're using their 1 free support call.

Re:Split it. (1)

countach (534280) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100737)

Yes but, I'm sure they are trying to promote their paid-for company through the software. The aim is not merely to disassociate yourself from the software to stop whining. The idea is to keep the strong link from your company to the software whilst educating the users.

Paid Edition vs Community Edition (5, Insightful)

dubbreak (623656) | about a year and a half ago | (#42101007)

This.

Have a paid for version and a "community" version that only has public forums associated with it. Make it blatantly clear that paid for includes support (for X time period), but a community supported free version is available. If they want phone support they have to upgrade to the paid version. "Sorry, our community edition doesn't include phone support."

This can be done with the exact same codebase for both, but it also gives you the opportunity to fork (in marketing speak: differentiate the product). E.g. New features go to the paid version first and get released in to the community later. Or, do it the other way and make your free users beta test. I recommend having at least a different splash screen and the registration info available from within the program on the paid version.

Bottom line is you can't allow your free customers to have any expectation of live support. When they go to download your product they are explicitly deciding between paid and free and know what they are losing by going free.

Notice? (4, Insightful)

CaptainLard (1902452) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100453)

How obvious is it that support is not free? Maybe a few more notices would help. Perhaps some on the main site, by the download section, and by the support phone number.

Re:Notice? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100631)

How obvious is it that support is not free? Maybe a few more notices would help. Perhaps some on the main site, by the download section, and by the support phone number.

I would agree, unexpected fees == greater anger. I doubt it's just the fault of 'irate customers' - they are irate for likely feeling cheated with huge fees that aren't very clear. One thing is for certain, when there's a problem, you better look to yourself first. Blaming customers does nothing (not that you are pointing the finger, but you do seem to be saying 'we are open source and doing great things, how in the world could they be mad at us?')

I also don't like this business model - at all. Any lack of trust on customers will lead to bad mouthing. Customers basically have to take a leap of faith that the software is made as bug free as possible. When that trust is broken/shaken, it's not hard to imagine a company putting out subpar software in order to collect on support fees, and winning them back is nearly impossible.

Just like in news media - their tenant of reporting the 'unbiased news' is at direct odds with 'the bottom line', it's very very hard to believe 'unbiased news' wins out.

Further you are facing the 'opensource' label - where FREE is practically implied in every form. Therefore, using the term 'open source' and not expecting whiplash when you charge something is naive. My guess is there is no trend, but it's always been there.

Should be stated in the 'on hold' message. (2)

robbak (775424) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100791)

"Welcome to the paid technical support line for the WizardWidget project. This services support fees will support the development of this project."

Then go on to point the caller to the free support options: the project's community forums, mailing lists or irc channels. Then try to sell your paid support.

Provide a response through clear messaging. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100455)

This is a communication issue. You have limited resources, we know, but you need to target this issue exclusively for an extended period of time and communicate to the marketplace that the software is free to access but support is paid.

We use open source / free software almost exclusively and the one thing that we look for are paid for support contract options. We want to spend the money, but you would be surprised how many orgs simply don't want our money or communicate the support options clearly.

Get the advertising and messaging right and commit to it on a longer term basis. If you don't offer a properly framed counter, you allow the trolls to control the message.

And, in the end, all you can do is provide a clear message to the community. No matter how large the org, you cannot control the perception, you can however influence it. Get on the playing field and make the moves. Your real clients will appreciate it.

Re:Provide a response through clear messaging. (4, Interesting)

TheCarp (96830) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100713)

I can think of a few experiences I had where I was looking through forums, and found some irate tirade against a vendor, followed by calm responses by that vendor, either explaining their side of the issue firmly but politely, or offering to take care of the issue immediately, and appologizing (sometimes both on different threads by the same vendor).... it always gives me respect for them and makes me check them out. A couple have essentially gotten my business that way.

This is exactly the right answer, because it turns the troll into an opportunity to show that they are professionals. Be thankful for the opportunity to be appologetic, and explain how it works for anyone in the future....and point them at the forums.

I would add, maybe the thing to ask is, is there a better way to portray this information so that it is obvious.

I would also mention, there are a few times when I explained to someone how an open source company offering a product and support was doing it, and several people had the exact same reaction... to assume the reasonable price was just a ploy to raise prices once you are locked in. People come with different mindsets, and what is clear to one is not always clear to another.

Support ID (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100457)

Setup a phone system where they have to key in their Support ID to be transferred to a support rep.

Re:Support ID (5, Interesting)

rubycodez (864176) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100587)

or press "1" to be transferred to Sales

This. You have failed to communicate: your fault. (1)

tlambert (566799) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100805)

or press "1" to be transferred to Sales

This. You have failed to communicate: your fault.

If you don't effectively communicate that support costs prior to an issue arising, then they're going to call.

If you put in a pay wall for support, you are going to get calls which go on your WATS line costs, still piss people off, but at least not have to spend more than it takes for them to bitch out the sales person when they press "1".

The other poster who guessed OpenERP as the product is either right, or you've made the same bait-and-switch decision they did about the support, where you advertise the number in the accompanying documentation / site / help screen / splash screen, and then use that as your upsell technique.

If you've done what Cygnus used to do, or what Crossover Office currently does, and intentionally not fix bgs in the free version of the product, then I probably don't like you very much on general principles, but even a bait-and-switch is pretty slimy, even if unintentional.

Re:This. You have failed to communicate: your faul (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100957)

No, there is no communicating with whining ingraits with no money. driving them away is the goal; automated voip solutions to do that are cheap, plop them into trash voicemail to wither and die.

You call may be monitored for quality reasons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100463)

And full transcripts posted on a website somewhere .....

Limited, nagging free service. (4, Insightful)

cupantae (1304123) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100467)

Maybe I'm misinterpreting your post, but if you won't give ANY information to people who call, that might be what's making them irate.
My suggestion would to be to have a pre-recorded voice which is played at the start of the call, informing the caller that this is a limited free service, and how to purchase a support subscription. The level of support given here should be roughly on par with what a capable googler could find. This would mean losing some time (= money) on freeloaders, but it might be beneficial if you can satisfy some people who might otherwise leave with a bad impression of the product and business. You might even rope a few into a subscription.

Re:Limited, nagging free service. (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100673)

"What a capable Googler could find" depends entirely upon the capability of the Googler.

Never waste time on a freeloader. They not only got the software free, and the source free, now they want phone support free? No, the only question you answer on a phone line in this situation is how to purchase your support.

Re:Limited, nagging free service. (1)

cupantae (1304123) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100811)

"What a capable Googler could find" depends entirely upon the capability of the Googler.

No. I'm saying what a capable computer user (i.e. somebody who would be able to find official documentation, forums and tech help sites) could find through Google.

Never waste time on a freeloader. They not only got the software free, and the source free, now they want phone support free?

Don't bring a moral or emotional side into it. It's not important that these people are out of their minds, unreasonable, or whatever you think they are. What matters is solving what is perceived to be a real problem. If you choose not to take advantage of the interest these people are showing in the product, good luck; that's your decision. But there's no sense in coming off rude to them. You want your company to be popular. So I think it's at least worth considering trying to keep these people from becoming angry.

Won't work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100853)

My suggestion would to be to have a pre-recorded voice which is played at the start of the call, informing the caller that this is a limited free service, and how to purchase a support subscription.

We tried it - for another reason. When people are on hold, they zone out or do something else. That's why when you finally connect, you have to say, "Hello" a couple of times before they realize that there is actually a human there.

If X is the name of the company offer X Care (1)

trout007 (975317) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100487)

for a yearly subscription.

Re:If X is the name of the company offer X Care (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100541)

That's misleading advertising. It makes it sound like if you pay them, they will care.

If YDOWE is the name of the company... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100569)

...

Sounds like you represent (3, Interesting)

liquidweaver (1988660) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100523)

OpenERP.

Re:Sounds like you represent (2)

jsimon12 (207119) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100609)

If this is the case the number says "Contact Us" on the front page so while the rest of us understand support isn't free your typical noob probably has no clue. Not that them being jerks is justified but you should make it painfully obvious that support isn't gratis.

Simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100525)

Make the default download link to a 'paid' package and take them through a checkout process that allows them to remove the 'paid' element. That way, your 'customers' consciously have to opt-out of paid support in order to get their wares.

Works for budget airlines, hotels, some online electronic retailers, car hire companies and many others. To the genuine Open Source seekers it may be a minor pain but they'll forgive the extra step for free software more easily than customers who don't understand the concept of Open Source to begin with.

Re:Simple solution (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100837)

I generally skip sites that do that. Perhaps having the download goto a page that allows them to select the paid and free versions with an explanation between the two then into the shopping cart? This is what most "free" antivirus venders to. They have a check mark column of the benefits for the paid version and a column with what is included in the free versions.

How about responding in kind? (0)

bogaboga (793279) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100527)

"...Does the Slashdot community have any suggestions on how we can reverse this trend?

Yes! wWell, I do.

How about going negative on them as well? It's worked for decades in the USA, (think politics).

It has advantages [wikipedia.org] with some notable examples [wikipedia.org] .

Once those folks believe that you can "bite back", they will fall silent. After all, they know that what they are doing isn't good by any measure. Trust me.

Build two versions. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100529)

I suspect it's a matter of expectation management and salesmanship.

I would suggest separating it out into two "products", a free OSS version and one that has support. Direct the free version to online forums but never accept telephone support calls for it.

Add a bit of different branding and packaging to clearly identify the supported version and provide them some kind of priority login.

In the free version provide a way to get professional support but give them many options to "solve the problem themselves if they don't have enough funds to pay for it."

Licensing info with the number (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100535)

From where are they getting your phone number if they are downloading the software from a third-party website? If the phone number is in your product somewhere (maybe in an About page) then make sure you put some reference to your licensing info and free structure in the same place. Something like, "This product is free to download and try. We fund development of this software via paid support contracts. To contact our sales team, please reach us at _______. To contact our help desk, you can reach us at __________. Please be sure to have your customer ID number ready." When they contact the help desk, ask for their customer ID, if they don't have one, forward them to the sales team. If they get irate, refer them to your licensing notice included in the documentation.

Pull all the sources and link to one source.. (1)

Dan B. (20610) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100543)

...which plainly states that;

"This is a free product offered with no additional support other than the documentation contained within the files."
"Should you wish to procure additional support, options are available starting at" $X per hour or $Y per month/annum or however it is you charge.
[..] I understand and agree to these terms. (Ticking the box activates the download button)

Have TWO download options, put them side by side (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100545)

One is "Product X"
The other is "Product X WITH SUPPORT" (Or full package, or whatever marketing term people would use in a similar situation)

In the download page, include them both options side by side, similar to how various software includes both the paid and unpaid versions side by side. Make it unmistakable that the free version does not include free support. Obviously, it's also a good business decision to have as many people buy the support beforehand, whether or not they ever use it.

If you want, you can force people to create an account before they can even access the free download. This is another opportunity to label the account type as "Unpaid, without support" (or the marketing term equivalent) versus "Paid, with support"

Than, when people call, the first thing you can ask them is their account #. Those that have an unpaid account can be immediately informed that their account is unpaid and that they will have to upgrade it to receive support.

Why do they go to you? (1)

gr8_phk (621180) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100547)

Companies that have downloaded our product from one of the many free download sites have a question they want answered, so they call our support line.

If they download it from some random site, where do they get the idea that you offer support? Any other site that points to yours should probably say "paid support available from..." or "for those willing to pay for product support see...". I would hope anyone pointing to your company would be willing to change their wording in order to change peoples expectations prior to calling. The same should be true of your own web site or advertising. IMHO you need to change the expectations prior to them calling. Honest advertising in other words.

No suprise here (2, Interesting)

frovingslosh (582462) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100553)

You find it a surprise that you build your profit model around users having problems and needing to contact you for the fix, and then being upset that you want to make a profit on giving out the fix? I don't. And I've seen too many companies who would gladly leave in some problems to help generate more "support revenue".

I'm not even convinced that you really want to take the high road here, but if you honestly do then I would suggest the following:

1) Make sure that your website has an extensive support section that lists all known problems and the resolution for all that are resolved.

2) Offer free support by email / web only on an as-available basis. And really do have staff spend some of their available free time responding to reported problems. Who knows, you might even learn some important things about problems in your products that you don't know and will not learn if you insist that customers pay you to tell you about your problems.

3) If you do 1 and 2 then go ahead and offer priority response phone support for a fee for those who feel the need for it.

Re:No suprise here (1)

rwwyatt (963545) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100659)

Useful advice on/., Now I have seen everything!

Re:No suprise here (1)

arekin (2605525) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100873)

This is a really bad argument. If he offers free support hows does he pay his workers? If he offers no support then no one uses the product. But you say if he offers paid support hes at best dishonest. He might as well fold up shop here. From a customer service worker here I can assure you that they wont read the documentation. They will move directly to the bitching department. You are right about one thing options are necessary. Support documents wont be read but having them helps. A support forum where other users can help each other with issues goes a long way as well. Whatever you do don't use customer satisfaction surveys as a measure of job performance. When customers start docking the employee for adhearing to policy, the employee will start offering free support to keep their metrics up.

So.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100565)

Let me get this straight...
Your usebase has expanded for years. Maybe decades. And you're now suprised that a good chunk of them are morons?

Did you really think you'd always have competent computer users calling you? Why would you think that... Have you LOOKED at the internet lately? Or the world?

It's only going to get worse too. Computing is no longer the realm of the intelligent and at least partially respectful. The masses are here.

If you want the money to keep rolling in you're going to have to put up with more and more of them.

(captcha:despair ooo thats spooky. and sad.)

That's actually good news! (4, Funny)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100575)

You have branched out beyond specialists who understand what you do and reached the loserbase.

Make it very clear from the outset (1)

guruevi (827432) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100579)

There are some open source products that imply some sort of free and open source enterprise version/support but only later you find out the enterprise options are closed source and not included and sometimes will even be dependent on those options.

Make it very clear on your site and download list what you offer and what support costs. Also, make the full version and all options open source, you'll get a lot better feedback from others in your community. I hate it especially as I help with development in my free time when there are enterprise hooks that I have to think off which do absolutely nothing for me, I only publish gpl code, not lgpl.

Also, make sure your documentation is clear and the product works out of the box so they don't have to call you for simple things.

Dont assume users know "free" has no support (1)

MTO_B. (814477) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100581)

You should make sure they see at least once a week a message saying something like "upgrade to receive tech support & access to private forum/mailing list". Maybe even every time they open the program. Make them always know and realize (be conscious of it) that even though they have the "free" product, they could get support if they pay for it. If one does not know or realize about it until they have problems, it will be normal for them to become angry.

EULA disclaimer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100599)

They are installing the software, and free or not, you have a EULA for it. Maybe make it a little more clear at the installation stage that you do not provide free phone support or technical assistance and give them a link to a web page that would have your fee schedule. This hardly seems like it should be a trend to worry about.

Make it more clear (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100611)

You should make it clear no support if offered unless paid before they are able to download your software. This can only help your business as well. While there still will be the occasional dumbass, these should be rare occurrences. If customers still complain, point them to the in your face notice about support. If an idiot does complain and try to spread this "news", threaten them with libel as it is false information which would shut up most dumbasses (but even then, there will be even the rarer complete dumbass). At that point, you can either live with it or follow suit with libel.

Change the business model (3, Informative)

bhlowe (1803290) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100615)

Very few software companies can give away their software with all the features without selling the product or having a subscription/advertising income. You're software may in fact be better than all the commercial alternatives, but I doubt it. So by attracting cheap-scape "customers", you're missing out on the most important part of developing a real client/customer relationship, namely, a customer who pays you money.

The best part about writing software is that you can SELL virtually unlimited copies for the price of developing it once. Support and add-ons is the exact opposite-- you can only do so much and everything you do requires expensive humans to do the work. So.. if you can't start charging for it, time to cut bait and change your model.

Re:Change the business model (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42101057)

You hear that Red Hat? It's time to pack it in, your business model doesn't work.

Psychology (1)

gnasher719 (869701) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100633)

The sad truth: How much people value something is proportional to what it costs them to get it. That principle applies in many areas of life. Geeks who give free computer support to friends and family know that. (My recommendation: Print a bill with a reasonable hourly rate, say £50 per hour, add a hundred percent rebate, and hand them the bill. Makes people a lot more polite if they realise that the next virus infection will cost them £100 if they don't behave well).

The same goes quite obvious for "Open Source" or more general, for "no payment" software. It costs nothing, so they have no respect for the developer.

Payment methods are a problem (1)

rwwyatt (963545) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100637)

I work for a company that mainly deals in purchase orders. I even have to go through purchasing to use the company credit card.

aybe these people are desperate for support but have no way to pay for it?

Re:Payment methods are a problem (1)

MickLinux (579158) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100733)

I just bought 3 HDG bolts, 1"x5". cash out of pocket for something on the job. As long as there is a one time support fee of, say , $50 or less, desperate people may still pull out their own credit card.

Balance them out (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100661)

You've clearly got a pool of satisfied customers who formed your initial pool of ratings, that are now being drowned out by the uneducated customers you're now facing. I would look at a few approaches:
  - Encourage your satisfied customers to leave a review. This works best with a sincere request, not a common email signature. Hinting that they indicate that your "paid support" is fantastic may help provide clarity to people reading reviews.
  - Create a free support channel, something like a forum. When properly managed and seeded it's common to see power users answering the questions of others. The goal here isn't to cannibalize your paid support, but to (hopefully) capture some non-paying people and have them happily use your product.
  - Support your support staff. If they're dealing with an increase in very negative calls, they're probably more stressed. It's imperative that your support quality not drop, help them.
  - Make sure you're keeping track of their complaints. They may not understand your business model, but there still a percentage of the people needing your product. There may be ways to improve instal/configuration/whatever to solve their problems before they call.

good luck, keep up the good fight.

Don't "sell" to the bottom feeders (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100665)

The people who want to use free software rather than pay money for business solutions are the bottom feeders. They will never be happy until they take you for everything you're worth. They do not value your time or effort at all which is why they are looking for a free lunch.

The solution is not to feed the bottom feeders. Ask a reasonable price for the software and you will remove the bottom feeders and be spared their grief.

As an online seller (2)

Sussurros (2457406) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100675)

As an online seller I can offer these suggestions:

Always bet on stupidity, people often come to you in a hurry.
But hedge on cleverness, because people aren't really stupid although they always act so sometimes but only the truly stupid perservere.

First up explain what you offer and what you don't - that's the easy part once you have words for what you don't.
Then set up layers of explanations for those who haven't understood. Start with intelligent explanations and every onion ring should get progressively stupider. Never ever make a joke outside the first and most intelligent level of explanation.
At any point you may make an apology, "I'm sorry we wasted your time with this product that was not ready yet." At this point the truth is no longer an issue because all you want is for the bloke to leave with his underpants on (by the way, Americans never apologise to anyone so if you're American then ignore this section).

If they don't accept the apology then, well it's up to you, personally I speak softly and then change their perception of the world. It sounds like a euphemism but it isn't. Make them think about something else. Two brain cells can't hold three thoughts.

Re:As an online seller (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100887)

by the way, Americans never apologise to anyone so if you're American then ignore this section

Sometimes, Americans apologize, though. But, usually not, since it is a sign of weakness.

Do not mix support and development (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100697)

It's easy: Our website (sequelpro.com) does not have a "support" area and the "contact us" page directs you to the issue tracker or our email address (with a short list of reasons why you might email us) or the IRC channel.

None of them (including email) will get you any serious support, unless we can reply in one simple line.

We never promise to give support, and we never do give it. We are an open source project and our only income is donations (which are quite significant). If somebody else wants to make money selling support, well they are welcome to do so. Our license certainly permits that. But we aren't going to get into that business.

I think support and development should not both be run by the same company. Perhaps the company doing support could provide finantial aide to the one that develops the software, and no doubt they could work really close together on a daily basis —perhaps even owned by the same umbrella company. But they need to be clearly separated and with a different website and a different name.

Re-twat their twats (1)

Heebie (1163973) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100705)

If they're using idiotic twatter, re-twat their twats, followed by a quick explanation of why their twat is so wrong. If they're using other social media, do something similar. Those, along with making the fact that support is NOT free extremely evident. include language in the license agreement that outlines that support is not free, and make sure they have to agree to same before they use the free product. Alternately, take some features out of the free product, and require that they be licensed. (or don't add some new ones.) I don't personally like this option.. but "ya gotz ta get paid!" You could also charge a small fee for downloading, so that it's no longer called "free" product. Again, not particularly likeable, but it'll shut the people who think "It's a free product so support should be free" up. (although the "We paid for this so support should be free" camp would start whinging.) Someone suggestion of suing for libel above might work if you have deep enough pockets, and the twatter who's dis'ing you doesn't. Whatever your company decides on, good luck!

A polite installation agreement screen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100717)

During the install,
A polite screen that explains that while the software is free to use, and the manuals are also free to read, support for the software provided by a 3rd party requires a fee should you choose to use it.

Android Suffers The Same Issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100721)

I develop for both iPhone and Android. Android users are by far cheaper and bitchier than iPhone users. Somehow, their problem is my problem and my time is free. OTOH, iPhone people pay and seem to enjoy what they get. I have no answer for you, but I certainly understand the problem.

Yes, we all know it's Google (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100731)

Everybody who's anybody knows by now that Android isn't really free, but that doesn't mean the anger is over.

Like television (1)

Sussurros (2457406) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100795)

Like television - and yet we still watch it.

Separate your brand (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100741)

have you considered separating your company brand from your product, in a similar way to canonical and ubuntu ?

Its a problem with all phone support. (2)

arekin (2605525) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100747)

People feel more and more entitled lately. Ive done phone support for two company's in the last five years and the trend is always give me more. People become irate if you don't support a product they think you should. People become irate if there is an interruption in service. People become irate if they did something stupid to fuck up their product/service and you have to tell them what they did wrong. Hell I've even had people get mad at me because they lost service due to a bill payment issue as if it is my fault they didn't pay their bill. The reality is that people are feeling the pinch and don't want to pay more than they have to. In the words of the best customer service trainer I've trained under "its about positioning. Don't tell them what you can't do. Give them options."

They'll ask for the moon... (1)

RatBastard (949) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100749)

Ask anyone who has worked in a public library: if you give something away for free people will demand the moon and bitch like mad when you don't give it to them.

only support forum should be free (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100779)

a support forum should be free. phone support should be charged at a reasonable yearly or monthly fee

An Easy Solution... (3, Funny)

Pete Venkman (1659965) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100781)

I know exactly how to fix this, but you'll have to pay me for support.

A few reasonable options (1)

corychristison (951993) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100815)

I've never been in this situation before. However, here are a few easily implemented reasonable options.

1. When people call play an automated message, asking to enter their support contract ID. And offer an option (pound key)to connect to sales if thry do not have one. This makes the assumption you already have a customer portal/database with unique numeric ID's.

2. Take the number off the site, only have it available in Customer Portal.

3. Advertise your "free version" as the Community version, set up a Message Board and Wiki with free information. Message board maintained by the "Community". Sell the support package as a pay-to-download or aimilar (I don't know your software, so I'm not sure how applicable it is).

Really all 3 combined would be ideal.

Well, are you scamming them? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100819)

Namely, is the documentation or state of your software unnecessarily deficient, making it require more support than technically necessary?

Reviews can be expected to deliver a fair evaluation of the software out of the box, regardless of the price of the box. "You want carrying handles on that box? That will be extra." is not going to impress people.

"It's free, asshole!" is not a convincing argument if what you get for free also is unexpectedly useless given the way it is marketed.

So be doubly sure not to work with misleading marketing and hidden fallacies. As others pointed out, the zero cost point attracts wagonloads of unreasonable assholes, and you want to make sure that nobody can mistake them for anything else given the facts.

Yes, not fair. Nobody said this kind of business model was easy.

Predictable and expected. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100845)

This is simply the result of more users becoming familiar with social media. They are used to instant, free advice from yelp, their friends on facebook, and so forth.

In other words, the quality of the users is going down. You have younger people being the "social media experts," with no clue about how your business/FOSS works, even if it is given plainly written in front of them. Their expectations have been all fouled up.

All you can really do is hire some "social media experts" (aka sock puppets) to try to counter the irate loudmouths tit-for-tat. It's a losing proposition. But that's the new cost of free software. You can no longer adjust the expectations.

Welcome to Humanity... (1)

Genda (560240) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100875)

You provide something to someone for nothing and they think they're entitled to even more for nothing. Welcome to monkeys... who grab everything that isn't nailed down and run off to the hills with it... you ever seen what happens to stores during a riot? You set the expectations at the beginning. So here's a bit of useful information. The nature of an upset is that there are several parts to it. Almost always there is the experience of a promise or expectation being broken (even when the promise is unspoken or even assumed on the part of the person who's is upset.) Next there is a goal, intent or desire which has been denied or caused to fail. Last there is a breakdown in communication, misunderstandings on both sides and a body of assumptions that are invalid almost certainly by both parties.

The solution is surprisingly simple. In plain no nonsense terms right on your webpage, explain your business model. Have it be fun, make a cartoon that walks people through the conversation.
A) We are awesome good guys who made this product for you to use for free so we can build a business around supporting it.
B) Though we're awesome guys, here to save you time and share a world class goodie with you, we're in the end business people, and we have to get paid some way. Imagine we're in the car business and we've given you a free car, we aren't going to charge you for the car, we will be charging you for servicing the car.
C) You might think that unfair, I mean we gave you the cool free car, why not service it for free too, well we could, and then we'd go out of business in a week and you'd be stuck with the car and nobody to service it. Bad for you, bad for us.
D) If you don't want our free car with paid for service, please feel free to go across the street to the guys who will only be too thrilled to sell you a car, sell you service, sell you options, sell you insurance, sell you undercoating and left winded bacon stretchers and gawd knows what else. I think you'll find we're an incredibly good deal, we just aren't 100% free for everything under the sun, and really if you think past the "I don't wanna pay nuthin!" mentality you need dedicated engineers who will be there to support you, which means you need us to get paid so we'll be here for you.

So here's our promise. Our product is free, our service is fair in price and excellent in quality, and our value is second to none. If that's not enough, please by all mean don't use us. We only want customers who are clear about the value we provide and willing to share our passion with our product and their success.

When your sales people (you have sales people?) talk with prospective clients, have them show the cartoon. Make it a point that your value proposition is spectacular, and that you are good businessmen too, you don't gouge your customers and they keep coming back for service. Explain to them. Nobody has a problem with razors. That brand new Trak 47 Shaving System you saw on the Superbowl halftime costs only $6 and then you have to come back at $15 a pop for the replacement blades. Or that printer from Lexmark that only cost $45, but the complete set of factory standard ink cartridges cost $65, and man when you use the factory ink the prints are freaking gorgeous. Its all about value and fair trade. We give you the free part so you'll come back for the pay part. That's not only fair, it's a great deal and you'd be a fool to pass it up./p>

For Customers who are currently upset. Have an honest no nonsense conversation. Do you like the product? Do you think it should be supported? How do you think we should pay for that support? Do the math. You can pay for the product, or pay for the support, or wait a hundred years and hope somebody will make a program and record a thousand hours of free support for downloading. Of course during that 100 years you'll miss out on a trillion dollars of business. That ain't us. With us you pay for support. Or you can just stop using the product and we'll be happy to suggest an alternative. Thank you for doing business with -Fill in the Blank-.

Re:Welcome to Humanity... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42101003)

B) Though we're awesome guys, here to save you time and share a world class goodie with you, we're in the end business people, and we have to get paid some way. Imagine we're in the car business and we've given you a free car, we aren't going to charge you for the car, we will be charging you for servicing the car.

So our business depends on us delivering lousy cars.

Bad message. Better charge for gasoline/mileage or other constant costs of operation rather than costs of failure.

Funny thing about free stuff (1)

epp_b (944299) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100929)

The more you offer for free, the more people expect for free. Something to do with perceived value and all that. It's a documented psycho-social phenomenon. People are stupid.

Clearly, they are calling with the expectation of free support -- you need to change this expectation. What I would suggest is to do everything you can to ensure that customers are aware of the support fees and rates *before* they call.

Where are they getting your phone number? Your website? The software "about" screen? Documentation? Put the pricing info in all of those places.

business models (1)

slew (2918) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100935)

cigarettes: give out free samples, charge after they get addicted
drug dealers: give out free samples, charge after they get addicted
jenny craig: give meal (not nutrition) advice, charge for food
musicians: give aways songs for "free" on the radio, charge for recordings

So how do these businesses deal with people that complain loudly about being charged in a way that might damage future business? Usually give out a few discounts or freebies to grease the squeeky wheel. Yes that's just like hush-money, or payola, or protection money or whatever you want to call it, but that's what you gotta do sometimes (if you are in business for real).

I've found that many of the people that need to ask this type of question are often intransigent hardasses (a common personality trait, esp on my wife's side of the family) instead of customer oriented business people. When they find they have a "customer" that is a hardass, they respond by being a hardass and they wonder why they start to get a bad rep. Sure it may seem like you are giving something away for free, but sometimes that's the cost of doing business...

What would I do? Get their email addresses, contact name, telephone, type of business and as much identification information as you think they can stomach for future reference, then offer them a one-time discount (or a bundle for future support, or training), or maybe even a freebie (if you think they'll be back for more), maybe shoot them some swag (coupons, promo material, whatever), but make sure they know that next time it will cost them full price. If I had a trainee, maybe I'd send the call over to them. Call it a marketing expense, or an investment in your future profitability, if it will help you sleep at night, but there's very little way around these type of "customers" in the internet/social media age.

If you haven't factored any sales/marketing into the cost structure of your business model that you could bill this type of customer expense to and/or you don't have tiered support model, (e.g., blogs/email, live/phone, training classes, personal hand-holding), you probably aren't doing it right. Usually businesses tier customers for a reason: some customers are cheapskates, but you make it up from the ones that don't care as much about the cost.

You put bugs in to make money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100937)

Long time ago my software house offered free software with paid support for small companies, or paid software and yearly license fees with free support for large companies.

And we'd get told that we deliberately put in bugs and there was no incentive to fix them because the support calls were how we made our money.

In reality we lost money on the free edition due to the calls, but thought it worth doing because we supported the idea of small businesses.

Reasonable solutions that have been done partly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100949)

Make sure that the number states and shows how much it'll cost them to use. And simultaneously offer an online alternative with common and not so common questions and answers. Make it part of the error tracking systems if you have any. As long as people see that they can get it for free, but paying cash gets a real person, with intimate experience with the programs, it seems to be worth more in their eyes. Especially if those answering the phone are/ or sound like/ native speakers of their respective countries.

Don't use the word "free" liberally (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42100953)

Word such as "free" and "public" often come with certain connotations of entitlement. Those words may exist in your marketing material (website?). You have probably seen other companies with open source products change their terms like "community edition" and use other language to avoid stating that there is no upfront cost to acquire the software providing it is only supported by only the user.

Good luck.

Call it Open Source and ... (1)

macbeth66 (204889) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100959)

not free software. As you clearly point out, it isn't really free, is it? Software always has a cost, either in terms of dollars up front or on the backend. You do it yourself or pay someone to do it.

Spoken like a true capitalist (0, Flamebait)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about a year and a half ago | (#42100987)

Well, here we have yet another case of insular thinking from a capitalist who can only see her own side of the situation. It's like this, 1%-er: people download some free software that promises to solve their problems. The software is confusing and poorly laid out. They do what comes naturally: ask the company to stand behind their product. The company replies with a crafty, "pay us, we will only help you for $$$, this is the only language we understand, otherwise get lost and back to your hovel, peasant." The customer is then rightfully angry that such a bait-and-switch has been pulled. Do you get it now, Corporate Master?

Make sure someone isn't rebranding your product. (1)

Cassini2 (956052) | about a year and a half ago | (#42101013)

If you have a third party selling your free software for a price, it might explain a great many of those phone calls ...

Good Customer Support (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42101021)

Perhaps part of the problem is that you're looking at it as support and not sales. You're trying to sell a service to every person that calls. Do not have your support staff answering phone calls that should be going to sales staff.

Additionally, I feel a well trained staff and clear talking points can really help in customer support/sales. The key is to have a small speech quickly and clearly outlining who you are, why you're asking for money, and how much value they get from that subscription. Take a look at how your employees are approaching these calls and start to outline specific phrases and ways of dealing with these potential customers that right now are becoming a burden instead of a source of additional income.

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