Support, Feature Requests and Bug Fixing

Users of the web site are the greatest asset to a business looking to improve its software.  Many of SportSessionPlanner's most powerful and popular features have come from feedback from Users.  On the other hand, human support comes at considerable cost, and most Users do not report their problems...

Support and Feature Requests

SportSessonPlanner has two levels of support:

  1. First Line Support:
    1. Customer Account Managers (for their Club customers)
    2. Resellers (for their Club customers)
    3. Individual Subscribers (shared among sellers)
  2. Second Line Support: Development Team

Support is expensive to provide.  The simplest support case will wipe-out the profit from an Individual Subscriber, and it doesn't take many support requests to cancel the profit from the biggest Club.

And yet many of the best suggestions for new features and improvements come from Users, not to mention the advice of bugs which we are most grateful to receive.

Dealing with Support Requests

  • Having the Development Team review a bug is almost certain to have a positive resolution, but it's also the most expensive.  We will always test the User's report (seeking more information if needed), If a change to the user interface will improve usability, we'll do it.  If there's a bug, we'll fix it.  If there's a feature request, we'll scope it and suggest a solution giving time implications.  But for support requests which turn out to have an easy answer, that's an expensive process.
  • Having Account Managers as the first line of contact keeps them in-touch with the Club and the product, and captures repeated requests, but it also takes them away from Sales.
  • Self-Service is cheapest.  For frequent questions, find the best way to advise users before they raise a support request.  Where possible, resolve recurring issues so they don't trouble future users. 

SportSessionPlanner has an FAQ, and makes video tutorials about its functionality.  There are not enough support requests to justify a more heavy-weight self-service system, such as forums; and many of its subscribers prefer the personal service.

However, support is an inevitable cost of each sale.  An average support cost needs to be added into the cost of each user to inform pricing decisions.

Bug Fixing

(This is the technical part of the Case Study.)  Unlike physical products which are expected to be guaranteed fault-free, bugs are an inevitable part of software development.  Even companies like Microsoft and Google with the largest development budgets, release regular bug fixes.

Bugs are a trade-off, with allocated testing time and resource on one hand, budget and speed to maket on the other.  Perfection is unachievable because of the number of factors (types and configuration of PCs, operating systems, web browsers, plug-ins, etc).  And a "guarantee of near perfection" is un-economic because of the trade-off. 

SportSessionPlanner users have enjoyed a subsantially fault-free experience in spite of a modest budget and being very pressed for time, because of these mechanisms put in place by the developers:

  • Effort in good design and programming structure means fewer faults, and easier fixes
  • Best practice in development and deployment (version control, fault tracking, different levels of testing environment and scripted deployment, spot backups) make it easier to roll-back, detect and fix errors
  • Intelligent testing (of core functionality plus features most likely to be impacted) and risk mitigation minimise testing time and ensure most
  • Alert e-mails in place to advise when users receive errors reveal errors often before users realise a problem. (In fact affected users generally receive phonecalls from us apologising for an error they haven't reported, and letting them know we've fixed it)
  • All-hands-to-the-pump attitude, taking seriously and urgently all support requests (around the clock), and briefing customer account managers before significant releases.
  • Quick thinking and good communications to put in place workarounds while a fix is being made.

Although bugs are a part of any software project, our development policies mean that most users of SportSessionPlanner will tell you they have never personally experienced a bug.