On Hold

I’ve spent a few hours of the last few days on hold waiting for customer support representatives (CSR). It’s a task that drives everyone nuts. Services like GetHuman.com are pretty useful, but still hardly a solution.

A few companies now have “call me back” functionality where they will essentially just call you back when the CSR is available rather than make you wait on the line. It strikes me as strange that more companies don’t rush to implement this ASAP. For starters given most of these numbers are 800 numbers, they are footing the phone bill. They also need to have the capacity to have all these calls on hold for sometimes an hour. These costs can’t be trivial. I would think a system that keeps customers happier and reduces your telecom needs would be a win/win. I’m also betting some patent prevents this from being an easy to implement solution.

This is why when given the choice I prefer the online chat option. I can work with it in the background. It’s quiet, not disruptive and much more pleasant.

MozSource Support Launched {beta}

MozSource launched beta tech support via email. They claim that all questions will be answered within 48hrs. This is a beta, and only $4.99 per incident. A few notes on how this can potentially benefit Firefox growth:

Great for consumers

$4.99 is pretty fair for tech support, assuming that the quality is good. It’s definitely competitive. This will make people who are a bit concerned about switching but heard good about Firefox feel better. It’s reassuring to know that for under $5.00, you can get help. That’s comforting.

Corporate

Here’s where I think the offering is a little weak, I see a few things that would need to change:

Contracts

Rather than per incident, the ability to do it by contract, either in bulk (say 500 incidents), or yearly based on the amount of installs. Most companies hate to depoy software without support there, no questions asked. Things like a contract that say your guaranteed a year of support give the warm and fuzzies. I know in the past this has been the main argument against open source software “who supports it?” Companies want someone like MozSource, but they want them on a speed dial.

Express

Express service. Corporate isn’t willing to wait 48 hours, they will want something more like ‘priority support’. i.e. no more than 1 business day. When a company relies on Firefox or Thunderbird, they can’t wait 48hrs to know how to fix it. They want to know quickly.

I’d be curious to see how anyone finds their service. If you do use them, feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line.

I guess someone agrees with me

According to this, Mozilla Foundation at least agrees with me, that from both a marketing, and end user support point of view, tech support suck, and it’s only going to get worse as more people use Mozilla products.

I mentioned this first a few days ago on the Mozilla Marketing mailing list, drawing a few +/- comments.

Personally, I’m inspired two take two successes, and put them together for even more benefit. Here’s my somewhat brief half-butt analysis. Yes, I’m writing this rather quick, I’m in the middle of many things at the moment, but hopefully someone will read/understand it.

Current Situation

Mozilla tells users to get support a number of ways. Lets look at them one by one.

Expensive Phone support – good for corporate users, who need contracted professional support, but what end user will plunk down that cash? I don’t think many, if any would be willing to. Especially since phone support has such a bad reputation these days do to oursourcing (imagine spending that money to speak to someone you can’t even understand).

Mozillazine Forums – either register and give a third party (which an average end user knows nothing about) your information during signup, or keep checking your post to see if someone replied. Not very efficient. Don’t even know the quality you get, since anyone can/not reply.

IRC – how many average end users know how to use IRC? How many have IRC software already (Seamonkey include it, but how about Firefox or Thunderbird)? Do you see an average end user on IRC? I think not.

Newsgroups – newsgroups are not very well known by many people. Most people started using the net well after newsgroups passed their prime, and instead went right to forums. So another strange technology they need to use. Again, could mean more software, if they are just a Firefox user. And newsgroups have a terrible association with spam thanks to it being the #1 thing to avoid if you don’t like spam according to most general audience computer news columns.

Knowledge Base (new) – Best decision mozillazine made, besides making the website itself, and the forum. But it’s still growing. Personally, I think it should be made as a development project to match the product cycle of the browsers. When browsers go stable, stop new articles (without review), proofread, edit, revise. And when a release goes final, a non-edit copy of the KB goes on mozilla.org’s website as a searchable FAQ. That would maintain a higher level of quality, and allow it to feel more official for the end user.

What others do

Phone Support – Free is hard/impossible when giving out a free product like mozilla does, so it would have to be fee based. Keeping costs low is hard

Forum – Forums work great, but they can be slow and cumbersome. They are great for development and community building, as Mozillazine has so elequently shown us, but they aren’t perfect for support.

Email – Email Ticket based support seems to be the most popular. A user submits a form, and a representative reads and replies. The ticket number associates all messages together.

Chat based support – Various Java based protocols

The ultimate solution for Mozilla

I’m going out on a limb here. I know the Mozilla community is filled with many who spend hours a week helping in various support matters, from the Forums, IRC, newsgroups, and mailing lists. There arepreferred hundreds of man hours a week, but it’s inefficient. I propose consolidating support into 3 main methods, all community run:

Knowledge base – I discussed this before. This should be the preferred way (push users to browse this before using any other method). This already exists, and is running. Phase 1 complete.

The second and third require recruiting members of the community. We should establish criteria, which I will discuss briefly later.

Support Ticket – lets implement a support ticket based system, there are several open source projects available we can use to provide the method to allow such a system. Most of users questions are answered either in bugzilla, or the Knowledge Base. I’ll venture to say the “top 25” questions occupy more than half of all questions asked. Mainly duplicating the popular bugs.

Chat Based Support – this might be a neat mozdev project for someone who wants to do something really geeky with web apps. Create a server, with XUL, and DHTML Chat windows (DHTML for non-mozilla users). So a user can open up a chat with an operator standing by. This would make a great replacement to end user support on IRC. Again operators would pass a criteria, and most questions would being the “top 25” category.

How to Q&A services, and recruit

Regarding this criteria, we should develop and administer tests to those willing/able to help out with support, and consolidate the support provided in the Forums/newsgroups/IRC. We could require a potential volunteer to take a multiple choice test, get 1 mozilla.org person to approve your application, then your in a “intern” status. All your corespondents is cc’d to a sponsor (already a full support volunteer) while you train. After a few weeks, that sponsor can certify you as a volunteer, and your a full fledged volunteer. This will allow for some quality assurance.

In addition, whenever a support ticket is closed, or a chat session is done, the enduser should be prompted to rate the volunteer from 1-5. So that we can see who ranks well, or poorly. Perhaps even do a “Volunteer of the Month” program.

Periodically, everyone may come up for a retest (when the test is updated, based on the top 25). And there may be a required “inservice” on IRC. Perhaps hold them once a month, you need to attend at least 5 a year. And a mailing list.

These two method will be a lot more efficient. Volunteers today unofficially spend countless hours on the Forums/newsgroups/IRC providing support. If we could channel and focus this effort, we would make much better use of it.

Conclusion
Support is inefficient and very unofficial, to remedy the solution, we should focus on finding a way to harness all the resources available.

The Apple community has many “Mac User Groups”. Perhaps if Mozilla users would group into a similar situation, it would also prove useful? Like the Apple community, Mozilla two has a very community oriented atmosphere.