For those of you that sell a software package that is installed within an organization (web based or not) how do you handle support? Do you hire a few people to take calls, e-mails and handle the requests? Do you outsource these tasks? I'm curious what other 1-10 employee software startup's are handling things like support inquiries, enhancement requests, implementations, etc....as the product grows.
Same could apply to web only products or cloud based SaaS (software as a service) types.
Customer Support Outsourcing Support
I believe that startups should be as agile as possible, that is their main advantage over more established businesses. That said, any layers that you put between the customer and the implementer of the software weakens your value. I would look at http://www.fogcreek.com/fogbugz/, http://uservoice.com/, http://www.livezilla.net/home/en/, http://www.bugzilla.org/, http://www.redmine.org/, webcasts hosted by developers, etc. If the developers don't hear about the pain directly, they can be unaware of it. Keep the loop tight between the parties with a vested interest in seeing the software succeed.
The only difficult thing should be balancing feature request priorities. If you think that your support calls might overwhelm your developers, then your software isn't ready to ship.
We're roughly in that size range and we handle support internally. We go out of our way to make it possible to talk with us and interact with us directly. You can:
Regardless of what channel you use to contact us if we can't resolve the question immediately, we offer to do a desktop share with GoToMeeting so we can see the user's desktop and resolve the issue as fast as possible.
Would all of this scale up to a large company? Probably not. But right now you have to ask yourself: What else are you going to do with that next 30 minutes that could create more revenue or good will? We also find out the best feedback on our product this way - not by what people say, but by what we can see. Watching someone use it through a remote desktop sharing session and seeing how they got trapped & what they need to do illuminates a lot.
We track any enhancements we think we need to back into FogBugz as feature requests. In the end it's our experience you don't need to be particularly fancy tracking feature requests because the important ones will keep showing up on their own - either they happen enough through prospect/customer interactions to be front of mind or you've made a commitment to someone to deliver it.
From all of this my recommendation is that you keep your internal, non-visible processes lightweight and flexible and emphasize finding any path to get into dialog with your prospects & customers. Later on as you have revenue and volume you can incrementally address the most important business scalability limits as you go.