A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, there was SciChart v1.0. This was a bright new component with few features but promise of delivering accessible, high speed charting to the WPF platform for the first time.
Our control was in its early days, had little documentation and was constantly evolving. In order to handle requests from users on how to do certain things, we simply had an email address: info [at] abtsoftware.co.uk.
People would email us, but typically we would get 3 or 4 a day, and the CEO had time to respond to all emails personally! Those were the days! Pretty quickly it became apparent that email was not going to cut. The volume of email was already starting to build up …
In July 2012 we introduced the first SciChart public forum. We encouraged our users to move their support requests off email and onto the forums in order to ease the burden and volume of support on email. We started to find this an excellent resource as it achieved a number of goals:
However, it didn’t take long for this to become flooded. It took two years for us to hit 5,000 posts (20 pages of forum, 50 threads per page, average 5 posts per thread).
We also found that a hard-core of users were using the forum in earnest but a large proportion would still use email. So again, something had to be done.
Now over two years on from the release of SciChart v1.0, we had thousands of end-users and were receiving up to 30 support requests a day. We commissioned and built a Ticketing Helpdesk. This allowed users to create tickets, which would funnel to us and be viewable on a dashboard. Email could now be routed through tickets. We created some 60+ KB articles on common topics and decommissioned the forums. Our work was done! Or so we thought …
Fast forward 90 days. We have received over 600 requests (450 support, 150 sales) through the ticketing system in 3 months. In many ways it has greatly helped us by funnelling all requests through one place, however, losing the public aspect of the Forums was a mistake. We lost our visibility, and our google indexing and the potential for users to help each other.
At SciChart something I’ve observed over and over again is that support is our glass ceiling.
Suppose on any day we receive a rush of enquiries. Sometimes we get flooded after a release. New (trial) users in this period are not served as well as they should be, so they consider alternatives. We often see a sudden jump in sales after a release, followed by a jump in support requests and a dip in sales. The pattern is cyclical.
If we are to grow, we have to crack the glass ceiling of how many users we can effectively support. There are several ways to solve this problem. For instance:
An increased price per unit increases the Revenue:User ratio, reducing the volume of support at expense of reducing volume of sales, but hopefully not revenue.
We don’t want to do this. We believe our product is fairly and competitively priced. Plus, we like you guys and like the volume of enquiries, sales and feedback. We don’t want to price you, or ourselves out of the market, we would prefer to increase our efficiency instead.
Many companies hire armies of non-technical support staff, trained only in the documentation or sometimes seemingly in advanced time-wasting techniques, to assist users with developing with their controls.
We don’t want to do this either. We have made a name for ourselves by providing personal, expert technical support and we want this to continue. We don’t want to compromise the quality of our support.
Believe it or not, this is a technique employed by many software companies! They will provide documentation, a help file, some tutorials, then proceed to ignore your emails or requests unless they are sales emails. I’m sure these people get sales! Users will eventually read the manual, right?… However I personally wouldn’t want the reputation of my company to be built on this premise.
What if we could increase our capacity by having more experts? We can’t hire them without significantly raising prices (reducing Volume : Revenue), experts are expensive. What about incentivising them?
What about if we increased the accessibility of information, making it easier for people to find what they want? A lot of the information exists, but people don’t find it (or don’t search ;-)). How can we improve this?
So we have gone through the forums and cleaned every single post. 5,000 posts in a week. We deleted over 40% of obsolete questions (e.g. bugs which have been fixed) and updating the remaining 60%. The forums were then migrated by script over to Q&A format (e.g. similar to Stackoverflow.com) and the questions have now been opened to the public. You can ask a question, post answers, comment, vote on answers and accept best answer just like your favourite Q&A site.
What’s more, we’ve built a unified search engine which gives results from both the Knowledgebase and the Questions. This will be integrated with the website soon.
There’s a mass of knowledge out there in our users. Some of you have come up with ingenious workarounds and feature extensions we never thought possible. We want to incentivise you, our community, to answer each other on the Community Q&A pages and help us raise the glass ceiling.
If you can free us up to develop more software, there is no limit to what we can achieve, with you, in 2D and 3D visualization.
We are still deciding the details, but we plan to give reputation-based incentives such as discounts in our store, or even listing you, or your company as a SciChart Technology Partner. We will be monitoring the questions and ensuring content is valuable, applicable and up to date.
Finally, watch the video below to see what we’ve done! Thanks!