In my last post I mentioned a few things you should ask your web conferencing vendor (or your prospective supplier). I thought I would expand on that topic today.
The last time I broached this subject was all the way back in 2006 in a post entitled “How To Grill A Web Conferencing Vendor.” That article concentrated on product features and the process of formulating an RFP. Now I want to concentrate on the thorny issue of support.
You should have a clear and unambiguous understanding of your vendor’s resources and policies when it comes to support. Do not accept vague reassurances or promises that “they’ll be there when you need them.” Know what is in place before you sign a contract rather than being surprised later.
Here are some specifics to ask:
1) What hours is live support offered? If you offer webinars to global audiences or find yourself racing at night to set up a next-morning event, your vendor’s local 9-5 hours may prove to be a problem.
2) How can you contact support? Will they take a phone call? Do they have a live chat option online? Or do you have to email them? What is the promised response time? Vendors prefer email, then online chat, with phone as a last resort. Users have the opposite preference order. It is much easier to talk through a problem than to type it out.
3) Do they use outsourced support reps or do you get to speak with an internal support/engineering employee? Outsourced support is not necessarily a bad thing. This is often the only reasonable way to offer after-hours support or support for larger communities. But there should be a clear way to escalate a problem situation that is outside the first-level representative’s expertise. How fast can they get you to an internal specialist if needed?
4) Does the vendor offer attendee-level support for people having troubles joining your webinar? This can be a HUGE benefit for webinar hosts. Make sure attendees have a ready and manned live chat or phone option for troubleshooting login problems. Make sure attendees aren’t asked for a support ID or other irrelevant information. They should be processed as quickly as possible to handle volume peaks right at the start of an event.
5) Do you have an account manager or other designated representative who can help escalate your issues or respond to catastrophic problems? A good ombudsman in the web conferencing company can be invaluable (or at least give you the warm fuzzy feeling that somebody cares about your problem and is giving it attention).
6) Is there a way for you to check status of reported bugs? Can you see whether an issue is slated for fix, is pending review, has been verified, has been fixed in production?
7) What is the average historical release cycle for product updates? Let’s say you find a true bug and the company validates it and knows how to fix it. What’s the earliest you could expect to have relief as a user? Companies that put out one release a year will be problematic.
8) Do you get notification of product fixes and new changes placed into production? A company that incrementally upgrades their product all the time but doesn’t alert you to changes can throw off your scripted instructions to hosts and attendees or invalidate workarounds you have put into place to accommodate past bugs.
9) Is support offered for various geographies? Can attendees or users access a local support office staffed during their business hours in a common language for their region? If your US-based corporation does a lot of business in Europe, the Middle East, or Asia this can be a serious consideration.
10) Is support standardized for all customers, or are there support tiers at different price points? It’s amazing how some vendors don’t even mention support options during initial negotiations. They may offer some of the features mentioned above for an increased annual support fee or even a single-event premium. Find out if this is an option.