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  1. #1
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    Support Contracts - What to do with unused allotted time?

    I offer support contracts to my clients who I create websites for.

    I have 3 support packages and each one offers a different amount of allotted support time per month for a set fee per month.

    I have one client who before the first contract was signed (a year ago) asked that any unused support time be transferred to the following month.

    I said that this was not possible and drew comparison with UK mobile phone contracts where any unused minutes in a month are lost.

    Now the client is looking to renew the contract after the first year and the client has asked that at the end of each month any unused support time is used up by us by proactively finding out what improvements can be made on the client's website and then making the improvements. The downside of this is that you only find this out at the end of the month.

    Do you think this is a reasonable request? Or do you have any suggestions on the best way to deal with this and left over support time?

  2. #2
    Programming Since 1978 silver trophybronze trophy felgall's Avatar
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    Offer them the alternative of just paying for the actual support hours that they use - at a higher rate.

    That will help make it more obvious to them the smaller number of hours that your support contract actually assumes to be the average they are expected to need.

    So if the support contract provides 20 hours for $500 then you might offer them an hourly rate of $48 per hour instead for if they want to pay just for the actual hours used.
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  3. #3
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy
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    From the client's POV, it seems to make sense - they pay for say, 20 hours a month, so they want to see 20 hours per month being performed. In your opinion, what is the average time you actually put in compared to what they are paying for? Is your rate discounted as part of the plan? It may be that the client is simply wanting to renegotiate the fee to make them feel better about the unused hours (again, similar to why people want to renegotiate a phone plan).

    And what are these improvements they are looking for? That sounds very open ended and all-encompassing, and I suspect after a couple of months you'll be finding it hard to discover these so-called improvements, and it could turn into a bit of a nightmare for you. And what happens if you deem there to be no improvements to be made - what happens then to any unused hours?

    I feel 'improvements' would be better handled as a single project - i.e. assess all improvements required, quote and perform the work. Maybe with an annual re-assessment.

    From your POV, the idea of a maintenance contract is most likely the simplicity for you; there's no hassle with billing, its a guaranteed monthly income, and the onus is on the client to find you work to do. What they are suggesting take a lot of that simplicity away from you. It's also worth remembering that a maintenance contract guarantees your client x hours of your time each month - they should not forget the value of this, compared to the common situation they'd experience without such a contract - 'Oh, we're pretty busy, it may take a few weeks to get that done for you'.

    If it were me, I'd suggest handling improvements as a single project and perhaps renegotiate the terms of the existing deal - e.g. if in the previous year they used 15 hours a month on average, change the contract to a 15 hour one instead. Reduce the hourly rate a little for those 15 hours (but remember the benefits to the client in having the contract, so don't go overboard with the discount) and any time over the 15 hours is billed at the standard rate. Of course, also point out that any time over the 15 hours is not guaranteed to be completed as quickly, so reinforce the benefits of them 'securing your services' for more hours a month, just in case.

    Basically, work out a good deal for them, but one that you feel is sustainable and profitable for you as well.

  4. #4
    SitePoint Zealot TexasBob's Avatar
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    I guess that I can see how the client is thinking about it, but they need to be aware that they are not paying for 20 hours of your time. Assuming that you're not actually billing them for 20 hours of your time and are giving some rate much lower than that, it is far from a reasonable request.

    Frankly, I would just tell them that their options are to take one of your support tiers or to hire you at your full hourly rate. I mean, its your business and their choice. In the end, you're offering them a way to ensure that support is there if they need it, not selling them billable hours. It doesn't matter if you measure it in support tickets or whatever.

    If they don't want that service, are they forced to purchase it? What percentage of that service have they been using? What would be the issue with just discontinuing your service tiers and billing them your actual hourly, and making them deal with time issues it might cause?


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