Over the years of running busy web apps, I’ve answered a lot of support requests. Over time, I’ve noticed patterns of the same kinds of questions being asked by different people. Generally, what people think of when they think of the process for support requests is pretty straightforward: Get notified that something isn’t working properly, fix it, let the person know it’s fixed, or answer questions about how your app works. But I think you can take it a little further ,and improve your app in the process.
When people keep asking me the same questions about how my app works, or why it does something a certain way, or I get repeated support requests which are due to the customer not configuring things properly, I see it as an opportunity to make the app better. When I notice that something has been asked more than a few times, I start to ask myself how I can make changes to the app so that I never have to answer the question again.
This process is different for every app, but here’s an example of my own: On Are My Sites Up, I’ve noticed that people tend to not look at the settings too closely and end up leaving their Timeouts setting off. The Timeouts setting is a switch that sends you a notification when your site is responding slowly if it’s switched on, and ignores slow sites if it’s turned off. We used to have it turned on by default, but we found that there are a lot of customers out there who don’t actually want to know when their site is slow, because their sites are slow on a regular basis. Now it’s off by default. This change has made me end up having to answer email that I get from customers who wonder why their site went down without any notifications being sent to them. It’s because of a failure on my part to make sure that customers know what the Timeout setting is for and how to use it, so I’m working to fix that.
Right now I’m working on an update to the signup process, where the first time you log in, AMSU explains how Timeouts work and why you’d want to have it on or off, and I’ll let the customer decide up-front what setting they want. That way, they’ll know what to expect, and I’m sure I’ll be answering a lot less questions about that in the future. So, I guess what I’m saying is: Use support requests as an opportunity to improve your app, whether it’s fixing bugs (which is the more common situation) or fixing the user experience of your app (which will pay dividends for years down the road with customer satisfaction and a decreased support load.)