Even geeks need to call for help sometimes, and when we do, it’s rarely for something that can be solved by turning the machine off and on.
The sort of software problem which trips up professional programmers tends toward the complex, and often comes in configurations that require encyclopedic knowledge of everything from NTFS and IIS permission settings to DNS routing maps to understand. It’s not something that lends itself to adequate resolution by having some underpaid drone read off a script, or tell the user to check out the support forums for ideas.
Another feature of enterprise-level software? It ain’t cheap, often costing hundreds or thousands of dollars, often with license renewals every 12-18 months. Over a ten year development lifetime, it’s not uncommon to lay out four or even five figures with a software vendor for a single piece of development software.
So when you’ve just dropped a grand or more on an development package only to get told that doing anything beyond posting a question in the forums is beyond their ability to support, it’s a frustrating experience indeed. But sadly, too many makers of software geared toward developers think this is an acceptable way to go.
Luckily, there are still a few companies which seem to take support seriously, and I’ve had occasion to do business with all three of them in the same week.
The Windows installer-creating software field desperately needs shaking up, with behemoth InstallShield very comfortably occupying the mediocre throne, atop $699 “express” versions to create very simply products, up to $4,999 “Premiere” editions (with suggested $1300 annual “Gold maintenance” support plan!) for creating full-featured programs.
We’d tried using the Express version years ago before discovering that it was inadequate to the task of installing–much less patching and updating–ComicBase. We wound up switching to the ill-fated Wise Installer, which did a respectable enough job, but whose company was bought and sold like a paid woman at a biker rally, ultimately being discontinued.
Attempting to move to a something more modern (capable of installing .Net 4.5, for instance), we made an extremely ill-advised investment in a cross-grade to InstallAware, only to suffer through such anguish-inducing customer service that we were ultimately left with a dead loss on the $1000 we paid, and not even left with an installable version of the installer tool (!). There’s a future blog entry–if not a couple of chapters in a book on how to alienate customers–in covering the saga.
Having been previously burned, we were wary of the den of scum and villainy which seemed to comprise the Windows Installer tool market when we discovered Caphyon Ltd. who makes a product called Advanced Installer 12.2. Accordingly, we gave their product a full test during the 30 day demo period, using it to recreate the surprisingly complex ComicBase 2015 installer package (which must install all manner of system files, .Net Framework components, thousands of graphic files, and other bits and pieces).
Unlike some of their competitors, Advanced Installer didn’t claim to be able to read in the existing .msi file we use now (InstallAware claimed to be able to do this, but failed to make a usable installer from it). As such, we basically had step through the entire complicated installer process from scratch, while looking at a copy of the old Wise installer for reference.
Surprisingly, we were done within an hour, and without any of the interminable “compressing files” and “scanning files” lags which bedeviled the original creation of the installer using Wise.
Unfortunately, we ran into a fatal error when attempting to build the final installer, so we reached out to Caphyon’s tech support for assistance. We got an email back within a few hours asking to examine a copy of the installer file, which we promptly sent over. Within half a day, we received back a fixed version of the installer file, along with a request to help them investigate further to make sure no future customer ran into a similar problem.
It’s worth noting that at this point, we hadn’t even become a customer yet, yet they resolved our highly technical problem efficiently and with speed and professionalism. This is the way that support for professional-class products should go, but too often does not.
Kudos to the support team at Caphyon. (And may the others in this space learn from them as they hopefully steal away your underserved customers).