Monday, January 14, 2008

Enlisting Digital Helpers

I really love having to solve problems that come from too much business. I had a business partner one time that bragged one year about our company not having to pay taxes. I said, "You're excited about not making enough profit to have to pay taxes?!?! I think we have a problem here."

Since the last week of 2007, sales have doubled overall. Don't ask me why; I can't find a solid statistic to justify this but my best guess is that I used prMac to pump out many more press releases for the MoneyWell 1.2 release. It could be that it was a cumulative effect (as Guy Kawasaki likes to quote, "Let a hundred flowers blossom"). In any case, with increased sales (yea!) comes increase support requests (ouch!) and I haven't managed to sell off any of my teenagers, so my available time has remained static. You do the math.

There were a couple of potential solutions: I could either hire someone to help with tech support or improve my efficiency with better software. Since sales and support emails aren't really high enough to warrant a full-time tech person yet and I happen to write software for a living, I chose the latter.

I took a look at the most common support questions. There turned out to be two basic categories of problems:

  1. "I didn't get my license email," and

  2. "I can't figure out how to..."

Even though there were more "missing license" issues, each of these weren't very time consuming to handle and the solution was more technical and, therefore, more time consuming. The second issue could be solved by recording more video tutorials and the videos can be used for marketing as well as training so that's what I did first. The only hard part about doing videos is having to continually redo them because MoneyWell is evolving so quickly. Judy and I managed to get a few tutorials done over the Christmas break.

I tackled the first issue this past week. This is not a developer blog, so I won't go too deep into geek speak. From day one, I've used code from Lucas Newman (AquaticPrime) to generate a license file and attach it to an email to the customer. My web server takes care of this so that the customers don't have to wait on me to get their licenses. As soon as their payment clears, the email gets sent.

In theory, that should be all there is to it but in the age of spam, spam, spam, and more spam (cue the vikings), many people block emails with attachments—including MoneyWell and Debt Quencher license emails. Unfortunately, many customers don't even realize that their license has been blocked and wait days before letting me know that they have a problem. This was unacceptable so I had to get rid of the license file attachment on the email. The best way to do this was to have our software get the license directly from our web server.

It took a little effort to add a database back end and rework the emails, but I'm very happy with the result. Now when MoneyWell or Debt Quencher launches, the customer sees a "Trial Mode" window that also doubles as a way to get a license.

The customer simply enters the Receipt Number that is located in their confirmation email and MoneyWell locates and installs their license. No problems with spam filters, no corrupted attachments, and no loud vikings. It's all good.

Now I have more time for development and to handle the tech support issues that directly relate to the software instead of an email server. As a bonus, I also have more tracking and reporting ability for No Thirst Software sales activity.