Sustainable Software and Customer Support

I’ve been having trouble with Dropbox on my laptop. No matter what I do (reboot, pause and resume, etc.), it keeps syncing away saying “20 files remaining”. The process continually eats CPU which destroys my battery life and constantly makes my machine hot.

I finally dropped a note to Dropbox support to see if they could help me. Here is the response I received:

Hi Alex,

Thanks for writing in.

It doesn’t look like there’s a Dropbox for Business account associated with this email address.

Please write in from the email address connected to your Business account, as that’s the only way I can troubleshoot with account-specific information.

Below is a link to one of our help center articles outlining general troubleshooting tips for syncing issues:

As I mentioned earlier, happy to tackle any account-specific issues you are running into if you write in from the email address associated with your Dropbox for Business account.

I was surprised to see that a company the size of Dropbox is unable to provide any type of per-account support to non-paid users.1 I don’t blame them, I’ve struggled with this myself. Their response is not dissimilar to the Product vs. Customer Support approach I’ve taken with the WordPress themes and plugins I’ve written and released. However, I didn’t expect this approach from a big money VC-backed company.

The iOS indy development community is starting to talk about sustainable pricing again, spurred by the line in the sand recently drawn by Q Branch for their Vesper note-taking app.

On a recent episode of ATP Marco talked about how he manages the support email he receives for Overcast. Basically, while nearly all of it is read, most of it goes unanswered as he focuses on improving his product; largely in reaction to these emails. According to the financial information he released, I think he’s doing the right thing – at his current price-point and volume he can’t afford to provide2 customer support (he can’t take the time to reply to the emails).

The “pay for support” model that is bandied about in the Open Source world doesn’t work in the consumer space.3 When someone runs into trouble with software they almost always blame the software. Their perspective during the support transaction is “I’m helping you, the software vendor, by reporting a deficiency in your product.” And many times they are right, even when the solution is to improve the UX for an existing feature or product element.

When striving to create sustainable software, the most important building block is happy customers. This necessarily includes the ability to provide support. Not matter how :scare: easy :/scare: it is to use, providing support enables more people to successfully and happily use your product.

I’m saying that most WordPress plugins and themes are not sustainable. I’m saying that most iOS apps are not sustainable. And I’m saying that most VC-backed/freemium services are not sustainable.

This situation isn’t good for customers or software developers.

  1. The included link actually was useful – it’s likely a file permissions issue, however I don’t know that a blanket permissions change over all the files in my Dropbox is a good idea. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure it isn’t. 
  2. Including outsourcing or hiring someone to do it. 
  3. I think it actually does in the business space, which is cool.