Friday, 23 March 2012

iMedia support and maintenance

Web support has grown into an industry segment of its own since the early days of the Internet. There are dedicated companies offering support and maintenance contracts with promises of monthly contracts, inexpensive support packages and fantastic customer service. How do your offerings match up? Support and maintenance used to be seen as the dog-end of the business. It didn't offer the creative incentives of new development, the bringing together of different disciplines and their diverse needs, or the cache of meeting and working with new high-profile brands.

However, support and maintenance are the backbone of the industry. They give the solidity of income in the longer term to an erratic, creative, dynamic business. Sneer at them at your peril, particularly in these leaner business times.

The businesses that have got the balance right between developing new business and then keeping the clients satisfied with ongoing support and maintenance are the survivors today. But the competition from dedicated support businesses is growing. Perhaps you need to re-evaluate your packages for support and maintenance so that your clients see more benefits. Often, you don't need to do so much to make big differences to them: clearer, transparent, regularised billing, faster guaranteed response rates and so on. There is still a balance for you though so don't promise what you can't deliver. Do you have the right staff on hand for the weighting of the type of work you get? Do you invest as much in training up the support staff as your other employees? Do you demonstrate that you value the work they are doing?

Clients needs do grow and change. Often it is the support employees who recognise that the clients' needs have shifted because they are asking for more serious maintenance/changes to their iMedia applications. Have the estimated hours of support and maintenance changed significantly for some of your clients? Could you use this information to have a valuable conversation with them?

Often support employees feel unable to approach the management levels to flag up what could be a potential re-work/re-vamp rather than maintenance. That could mean business opportunities lost! Are the processes in place for your support team to flag such opportunities? Where is the line for your company between re-work and support and maintenance? Are you very clear about this? Are your clients?

We all get complacent, but this is precisely when our competitors notice a weakness before we do. Worse, our clients notice their costs for maintenance have spiralled and they only want to blame someone else rather than see they have asked for more and more. They might use it as an excuse to move companies. It won't take a lot of time and effort on your part to take stock of your support and maintenance contracts and the feelings of your staff but it might well save you lost contracts.

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