Support for custom applications?

By Technical Support

If the software you support can be customized extensively, the resulting applications may be completely different from the vanilla version, and your customers may want you to support them. What are the options?

Say no. Many vendors choose this apparently safe route. They only support the vanilla application and expect the customer to provide the troubleshooting and programming expertise to debug problems on the customized application. I say this is “apparently” safe because the reality can be that the support staff expands vast amounts of effort and time coaching and helping customers come up with the test cases from which they can work.

Team with a third party. A popular route, especially when the customization is created by a third party is to ask that third party to take over the support of the completed application. This should work well because the third party is familiar with the details of the application (at least if it built it) and has the technical skills required to perform debugging and enhancements. On the negative side, the relationship with the customer is mediated by a third party (which could be completely fine if you have an indirect model) and naturally the third party could heap all sins upon you if there’s a problem, even if the issue lies in the customizations. You also leave money on the table doing this.

Provide support using a custom quote. Some vendors are bravely trying to provide support to custom applications themselves. This is clearly risky unless they have a pretty good idea of how the application was customized in the first place, so typically such arrangements are limited to customizations done by the vendor’s Professional Services team, or vetted and approved by it. Vendors in this situation also need to ensure that they have a good handle on source code control. The pricing for supporting the customized application is established once the application has been inspected and is additional to the support of the base application.

Provide support using a standard quote. Here’s a new idea: rather than requiring a custom quote for supporting customized applications why not automate the pricing to some percentage of the customization work (this would require that the vendor’s own Professional Services group perform the customization.) The advantage of this approach is to streamline the buying process (and renewals). The main concern is to maintain an appropriate level of funding, especially for small-scale customizations that don’t cost very much upfront but may require significant levels of additional support. Are you experimenting with this idea? Tell us about your experience.

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