Price Points: Charging for Customer Support

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No one denies that the help desk is a valuable resource: For IT problems large and small, end users usually can rely on the help desk for a fix. However, as indispensable as it might be, no one really wants to pay for this service. In fact, if you were to start charging your customers for support that had heretofore been free, you might find that your customers wouldn’t use those services at all, or even opt for a competitor who still offered them gratis.

If you start charging your clients for help-desk assistance, and it winds up costing you their business altogether, that’s obviously a net loss. But it’s not cheap to run support, either, and the money for it has to come from somewhere. Here are a few suggestions for figuring out how to charge for the help desk without alienating your customer base:

Let Them Know Well in Advance
If the initial charge—or increase to an existing charge—is sudden and appears arbitrary to your customers, then they’ll be much more likely to take it badly. Thus, you should send any announcements regarding a restructuring of payment agreements at least three months in advance either via e-mail blasts or printed form letters. Even better, send your customers multiple notices leading up to the change.

Be Prepared to Raise Service Levels
When you send out these announcements, it’s great to be able to say that you’ll be adding a new element to the help desk. New or increasing expenditures are much easier to justify to your customers if you can explain to them that you’ll be improving the quality (better technologies or quicker call-resolution times) or quantity (additional staff) of your support services. For example, you might tell them that you’re going to enhance your help desk by adding e-mail or instant messaging functionality to your already existing call center support.

Offer a Grace Period
When dealing with new clients or launching new products, you might want to consider giving customers support for free initially, when they’ll need it the most. This might not seem to be financially sound, as this probably would be the time when you’d be getting the highest call- or e-mail-volume levels. However, this strategy is designed to help build the provider-consumer relationship from the get-go. You’ll be doing them a great service by offering them free access to the help desk when they need it the most. Of course, if you start charging them for it after three months (or six months, or however long), you need to be as explicit as possible about that. It’s best to formalize details like that by working them into any contracts negotiated between you and your clients.

Divide the Support Services into Grades
Customers will feel much better about paying for something if they believe the price was set just for them. Clearly your clients—who differ in what solutions they purchase, the size of their workforce and so forth—aren’t all going to use your help desk with the same regularity. Hence, you could evaluate their characteristics and formulate a ballpark figure about help-desk usage, then devise what they should pay. Furthermore, if you have a significant number of customers, it might be advantageous to come up with different levels of support service that they can choose from (e.g., a “Gold” package for the most frequent users, a “Silver” one for the second tier and so on).

Make It a Value-Add
Another way you can charge customers for the help desk is by going the stealth route. Just tally what you’d charge them for support and then tack that amount on to the total cost of a given suite of products and services. Obviously, you should be as conservative as possible in your estimates in order to keep the price down. The last thing you want is for help-desk costs to contribute to killing a deal by boosting the sum total past what a client is willing to pay.

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