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OT: PIM Software Support and Responsiveness

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Posted by PIMfan
Jun 9, 2015 at 07:43 PM


Somewhat Off-Topic subject matter below….

I recently purchased yet another PIM (which I won’t name here) to add to my collection.  In investigating the features, there were several questions I had that were not addressed by the product documentation.  I emailed the support address that came with the product.  I was provided with pretty rapid responses to my questions.  This particular software does not have a user forum, so I was forced to continue to ask questions via email to support.  Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I was still enjoying learning the new tool and found it quite to my liking.  I had a couple of crashes, but nothing major and I suffered no data losses.  There were a couple of small issues I noted and reported back via email.  Examples of what I reported are:

1)  A certain key press combination opens a display panel in the app.  Repeating the key combination does not close it.  I asked if this was a bug and mentioned that having the key combination function as a toggle for the display panel might be a nice feature;

2)  When capturing web information into a certain item type, a dialog popup would appear stating the web content had been copied.  Switching back to the app, the content was nowhere to be found.  I asked via email if web content capture into the item type was supported or not.  I also noted that if it was not supported, then the popup dialog should note this instead of stating the content HAD been captured.

As I continued to ask for clarification on the app features/functionality - always after searching the help file and sample data - something happened….. I stopped getting responses to my emails.  In looking back at what I sent, I didn’t ever user inappropriate tone or language.  There were some odd things that I inquired about as to whether they might be bugs, but I didn’t feel this should warrant the support communication line going silent.  I am now left without any method to obtain support or help with the app short of looking through the help file and sample data file and hope that what I need is somewhere in there.

Honestly, I really do like the app - but I am now finding the “cold shoulder” from the only available support channel to be disheartening.  I am especially finding that the lack of a user forum for learning and interacting with other app users to be a significant gap.  The software developer has previous stated his refusal to host a forum for the application as he is not interested in having to moderate/manage it.  I can certainly understand his position, but it seems to me that in the absence of a forum, customer relationship management has to be “always on” and not hit or miss.  Reflection on this lead me to realize that some of the PIM tools I admire most are likely at the top of my favorite list because of the excellent public interaction the developers have with their customers.  Specific examples in my experience are:

a)  Zoot - Zoot utilizes a Google Groups area for app users to mingle and share ideas.  Tom Davis is extremely responsive via both forum posts and via support email.  Jan Rifkinson deserves a medal for the number of threads he’s authored.  Zoot does not have a manual for the current version, but most everything I’ve needed to learn, I’ve been able to discover from searching the Zoot Google Group;

b)  InfoQube - InfoQube hosts it’s own customer forum and there are a number of highly active users (e.g. Armando) that contribute, in addition to a community-built set of documentation that is impressive in it’s scope.  Pierre-Paul Landry is amazingly responsive and is very accepting of input and feedback regarding improvements or changes requested by the user community.  PPL has demonstrated a respectful demeanor in every post of his I’ve read ;

c)  ConnectedText - Like InfoQube, ConnectedText has it’s own forum.  Eduardo Mauro is quite active on the forum and there are a number of highly supportive users that are always willing to help others learn the app.  Our own Dr. Andus is an example of the supportive user community.  Someone looking to learn CT will never feel they are left to their own means….

I am sure there are others, but I am most familiar with the above.

Prior to my recent experience with the new PIM software I bought, I hadn’t ever found myself without available support or an active/sponsored forum to peruse.  I now am realizing that I may have personally underestimated the value I place on a rich support environment - especially for small-shop apps.  I don’t recall ever actively adding “support environment” to a list of considerations when tackling CRIMP - but my most recent experience has shown me that I need to consider it in the future.

In the meantime, I continue to work through the new app, as discovery of tool capabilities is something I find enjoyment in.  Unfortunately, my enthusiasm is now dampened and my views on the app support falls within the scope of conversation if I am ever asked about this app.  Taking time to write up and submit detailed crash/bug reports (all apps have bugs!) only to get zero acknowledgement in return means I won’t even bother wasting my time.  It’s a real shame when a new customer of a product or service loses enthusiasm for no other reason than the lack of responsiveness by the developer.  I have a newly refreshed appreciation for the likes of Tom, Pierre-Paul and Eduardo…

Has anyone here ever encountered an application that had a forum or support environment NOT sponsored/supported by an application author?  Seems a somewhat drastic step, but in the absence of other avenues, I wonder if it is even worth the effort…


Posted by tightbeam
Jun 9, 2015 at 10:00 PM


Why not name the app?


Posted by PIMfan
Jun 9, 2015 at 10:59 PM


The app developer may still come back with a reply indicating that they were on vacation or some other source of non-availability.  I want to give them the benefit of the doubt for the time being, since (as I noted) initial email response support was good.

My point in writing the post was two-fold:

1)  To share how the situation had made me reflect on the importance of app-specific forums to provide a central place for users to share notes/info;
2)  To acknowledge those app developers that I have found to provide responsive quality and accommodating support of their users and the user community in general.

My hope is for the new app I’m learning using to eventually join the list of apps I included…..


Posted by Ken
Jun 10, 2015 at 04:48 AM


I share your appreciation for good customer service, and try to support developers who seem to be motivated to provide a good product, and support, for reasons beyond just financial.  And I also appreciate the value of forums, but do realize that they can be significant time commitments, sometimes without end.  I recently saw a thread with posts from the developer of Cintanotes trying to explain why they needed to raise their prices some time ago.  Some folks understood, but others had a tough time with the increase.

Devaluation of services seems to be much more common in this day and age with such wide access to “tools of the trade”.  Professional photographers suffer from the same problem, and many now struggle for work when folks think they can produce the same product because they own an expensive camera.  Unfortunately, photographers do not normally have the possibility of finding an angel investor motivated by “FOMO” (fear of missing out) looking to cash in when some big company buys up a small software firm for large sums of cash, rare as it is.

It is rare to find the perfect product from the perfect company in any market, so I try to do my best due diligence whne deciding on purchases.  Good support certainly weighs heavily, but I still need a product that meets my needs.  There have been a few programs of recent that I wanted to buy to support the developers, but they all seemed to be missing essential features that I needed.  I do not envy them, as it seems like a tough way to make a living for many small developers.  But, I always keep my eyes open just in case.



Posted by Slartibartfarst
Jun 10, 2015 at 08:13 AM


@PIMfan: As a fellow PIM fan and a CRIMPer, I must say that whilst I can empathise with your views expressed here, I would suggest that the supplier might have a different view.
Having been a technical/mathematical software developer for some years, and later having managed teams of software developers for large commercial banking/finance systems, and having been involved in many software and hardware buying decisions, and having studied and used many different PIMs and information management tools, I have probably seen all angles of good and bad software development and support.
From experience, the frequency of good development combined with good support is “peaky” - a bit like the Manhattan skyline - some outstandingly tall examples, but most being closer to the mediocre.
. Thus the discussion regarding post-sales QOS (Quality of Service/Support) in this thread is something I am pretty familiar with. The ROT (Rule-Of-Thumb that I have learned to apply is that purchase of software needs to be made on a rational business basis (a business case) - including whether it meets the documented prioritised business requirements in terms of :
A - Mandatory functionality. (Things that it absolutely must be able to do - the must-have critical functionality.)
B - Highly desirable functionality. (Things that we would also very much like it to be able to do, but which are not considered to be critical.)
C - Nice-to-have functionality. (We can live without it being able to do these non-critical things.)

Then there’s the cost. A buying decision typically necessitate compromise and trade-offs regarding prioritised business requirements.

Now, IF post-sales support with a high QOS is an “A” priority requirement, then the usual practice is to pay an annual maintenance fee for that, and that would typically be factored into the contracted price to buy/use the software.
However, if the requirement for post-sales support is an “A” priority requirement, then the buyer would need to establish what they expected to be getting for that, and WHY it was necessary in their view, and whether the supplier was able to contractually commit to delivering on that.

Let’s extend this ROT into the selection of PIM (Personal Information Management) software, and see what we might get:
(a) Prioritised business requirements:
We will probably have no idea as to what is A, B, or C, as these will have probably not been defined and documented in terms of detailed functionality and communicated to the supplier as such. However, depending on the buyers’ level of experience, the buyers would probably (usually) have - in their heads ay least - an idea of the features they want and the expected look-and-feel and ergonomics of the UI (User Interface). In any event, it would be unlikely that post-sales support with a high QOS would have been factored into our requirements, otherwise we would have established whether that was an A, B, or C requirement at the outset, and whether the supplier was capable of meeting that particular requirement - before buying.

(b) Price: We probably want it FREE - or at least, costing ALAP (As Little As Possible) - this is for personal use, after all, and we are not all made of money.

Whilst one might become indignant at a diminishing level of interested responses from the supplier as our communication of suggested new features or of faults found continues, one should not be surprised. It would not be correct to call this a poor service response from the supplier (even though we might consider it so), if a higher QOS was not proclaimed as being a mandatory requirement and one that could/would be met by the supplier AT THE OUTSET.
Insisting in the face of this that the supplier is morally bound to respond as we belatedly expected them to, or something, is rather like trying to write new terms into the contract AFTER it has been agreed to and performance has been engaged.
In a typical PIM case - with the exception of, for example (say) Microsoft OneNote - the supplier probably would not be able to cost-justify having the resources necessary to support “high maintenance” customers asking/making lots of points like that, and was thus - in your case - probably only trying to be polite with their initial responses, and then regressed to the mean (or whatever they could sustain) after that. You might even have become a persistent nuisance in their view.

Though you do not give the supplier’s name, I suspect that (if not already done) if you did them the courtesy of showing them a link to this discussion, then they might agree that what I had written here was more or less the case and might even choose the right of reply to confirm their situation. They would probably also realise that this could be an excellent forum for discussion about the pros and cons of various PIMs, including their own - if they did not want or could not cost-justify setting up such a user group forum for their product.

On the subject of User Group Forums, there is a school of thought that, as a matter of policy, whilst they should support user forums, these should never be controlled/governed BY the service/product supplier, as that would usually not necessarily meet the needs of the users. For example, this is/was a policy adopted years ago by Hewlett-Packard for its vast range of hardware and software, and I personally sat on the committee of one user group where we steadfastly kept the group at arm’s length from the supplier organisation, and funded it through user member organisations, so as to retain our financial independence and integrity.

There is a classic example of a supplier failing to adopt this policy and of what could happen then, in the case of the excellent PIM software InfoSelect. The IS Yahoo! User Group forum had rather been neglected and fallen into disuse and had no leadership. Then the IS developer (Jim Lewis, CEO of Miclog.com) announced that he had taken over the vacant role of owner/moderator, and promptly announced an imminent Beta version of IS10 and wanted people’s feedback and *requirements* - and then proceeded to apparently ignore the latter. As matters proceeded (you can read about it in this forum too), it became what must have been a signal embarrassment to the developer and arguably a gross public fiasco, with some users even spitting the dummy, announcing they were switching to other PIMs, or even leaving to set up an independent user group as they saw how their forum had been taken over and seemingly abused.
The developer (Jim Lewis) even seemed to abandon the forum after that, only venturing back unapologetically recently after an extended and unexplained absence to announce a potential new version - IS11 - which announcement seems to have gone down like the proverbial lead balloon and met with an underhwelming response from users who had been so disappointed by the IS10 fiasco.


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