Why You Need a New Support System

It doesn't matter what type of online business you're in: it's important that your customers and prospects be able to contact you. Whether they're needing information or a problem to be solved, they want to know that they can reach you.

However, it's become quite clear that e-mail is unreliable. Not because e-mail is broken, but because many Internet Service Providers (ISPs)—AOL, Comcast, Hotmail and Yahoo are the worst—are blocking messages they believe are spam.

When this happens, of course, the customer or prospect who e-mailed you thinks you're just ignoring him. I've had this happen many times myself. Occasionally a customer will even file a claim with PayPal because they didn't receive their download link and  I "didn't respond" to their e-mail message.

So what can you do to avoid this scenario?

In my business, I use a web-based support ticket system—and I recommend you do the same. This has plenty of advantages for you, including:

  • All your support requests are tracked in one place. You can see what you've responded to and what still needs your attention.
  • Your customers can log in to see if their ticket has been updated, even if they didn't get the notification of a reply.
  • You publish your web support address on your site and in your messages to your customers, instead of your e-mail address, which means spambots won't collect your address.

There are a number of different options for you to use for your support ticket system, both free and paid. I recommend you investigate thoroughly before committing to a particular system, since you will likely be using whatever you choose for some time to come.

osTicket and eTicket are the best known of the free support ticket systems. osTicket ('os' for "open source") hasn't been well-supported for the last several years and, even though a new roadmap was published for the software in early 2008, it still appears that development has ceased.

eTicket was released to address problems with osTicket, but it soon fell into the same black hole as osTicket. I actually used eTicket for about 15 months on 7DollarTools.com, but I grew frustrated with limitations in the software and a difficult interface and switched to Maian Support, which I had been using on 7DollarSecrets.com for about a year.

In May 2008, though, eTicket was acquired by another developer and it may be that its development is revived. Certainly if you're using an older version of osTicket you should switch to eTicket.

Shortly after I dumped eTicket, Maian Support was discontinued and Ticket Desk Pro took its place. There wasn't anything wrong with Maian Support, but the developer found it difficult to continue development and support for a free product. I suspect that's what happened with osTicket and eTicket, but rather than let development lapse the developer of Maian Support chose to partner with a marketer and make the project a commercial endeavor.

At the moment, I use Ticket Desk Pro for all my support needs. I'm very pleased with the transition from Maian Support; there have been two updates in the last three months that I've used it, so I'm convinced that it is and will be well-supported. It is my current recommendation for a support ticket system. Update: As it turns out, Ticket Desk Pro never got a single further update due to partnership issues and the developer resumed work on Maian Support, which is now up to version 2. A limited version is still free, but I purchased the developer license for use on client sites.

Another system that has done well in the IM arena, at least based on how often I see it used, is Three Pillars Help Desk. Unfortunately, I have no personal experience with the software, so I can't give a recommendation one way or the other. The feature set appears to be similar to Ticket Desk Pro, although at a higher price. Yet another that I have no experience with is VIP Help Desk, but its feature set appears pretty robust for its (current) $7 price.

Whichever solution you end up with, it's critical that you begin using support ticket software. As you become more successful, interaction with your customers will make more demands upon your time; putting a system in place now will ensure that those demands don't take away from activities that generate your income.