We offer a free, cloud based B2B application - it offers the same and more functionality than most if not all of the paid equivalent applications out there at no cost. We offer awesome support (most tickets are replied to inside a few hours and resolved within 12 hours - again, free) and have over 2,200 clients using the system.
As we have grown we get more and more clients whom we just cannot please - they want to be able to customise the application to their colour scheme, they want it on premise, they want to be able to have it in their language, a setting is not relevant to them so they want it removed, they think a required field shouldn't be required, they want a feature added which they need in their business but which is not core to the application we offer, they expect phone support (for free) and so on.
In some cases, we act on the feedback and make changes where we feel it helps the application and is in keeping with the overall aims of the application but, in others, we just don't feel it warrants the time, effort and expense to make the change or even that the change could be detrimental to the objectives of the application.
How do you deal with this? Is this a direct symptom of the application being free, is it a cultural thing that people now expect so much for nothing, is it just people or is it just me taking it personally when I should ignore it? I ask mainly as we are about to embark on monetizing the application and want to try and understand if this is going to decrease or increase once people are paying real money for the system.
It grinds sometimes especially when you are working 18+ hours a day, 7 days a week offering something totally free and people just don't seem to appreciate what it costs in both time, effort and money.
Obviously you've identified that some of these feature requests are in-line with the key-aims of your application and implement them where you see fit.
To answer effectively, you really need to tell us more about the business model. As a free B2B product, how do you make money? Is it through advertising? Are you using this 'service' to channel traffic to a subsidiary business selling another product or service?
I wouldn't implement client-specific requests lightly. What kind of issues will it cause when you have a thousand slightly different versions of the code base that need updating to your latest version without breaking any of the minor edits? Is the code base even structured to support such modifications? Is it worth the overhead of making your product super-configurable to suit every possible eventually for every client?
As I said, without knowing more about the business model, I suspect you're best off ignoring client-specific requests and only implementing those that will benefit every client and that are inline with what you've set out to do. (Basically, carry on as you are).
Without knowing more about your business model it's hard to say. However the simplest and most effective technique I know to reduce support costs for free tiers is not to have them. Charge instead.
Free tiers always get the highest support costs - since you get the folk who are price sensitive first, and value sensitive second.
We suffer the same here. The freebie users sucks most of our support resources, are extremely demanding, feel offended extremely fast if they are told that freeware use does not include hours of free personal consulting. As a thank you, they relentlessly poison the whole "social internet" with bad reviews for years. We really have lunatics not giving up to complain for more than 6 years because they didn't get free support. I don't know whether it's a cultural thing but we have identified US users as the worst in this particular regard. A saying says "Each village has an idiot and the internet now connected them all". Charging for support doesn't help. They simply ignore it and still demand free support. I have no clue what drives them having this demanding attitude to espect something they never had paid for. Perhaps, the nature of freeware attracts a strange sort of individuals. We rarely have issues with paying users and support.
Are you tracking analytics and finding out if the customers are leaving as a result of their complaints?
If not, you pull a management GFY. Reassure them that their feedback is valued as well as their patronage, address any concerns, address immediate issues, and address immediate issues. Letting them know how hard you're working on building a product for them might be helpful too, some people forget that some companies are 8 people in box, not a full on call center of twitterbots. Perhaps rolling out a blog to let them know what you're doing and where you going might be helpful here.
If you're working that hard, it may be time to address any issues of scalability that your business model may have. The best part about being an entrepreneur is worklife balance...which to me still means working 24/7, but working on fun stuff instead. Good luck, what's your company btw?