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Tate's new support smorgasbord.

TATE'S NEW SUPPORT SMORGASBORD Last week, free support made a comeback at Ashton-Tate. After a three-year experiement with fee-paid support plans (Soft*letter, 8/21/86), Tate announced that it will once again give away unlimited telephone support for its entire product line. As part of a general overhaul of support policies, the company says it will continue to offer higher-priced premium support plans--but these will bear little resemblance to the somewhat inflexible programs that Ashton-Tate originally created for its corporate customers.

What's behind this major change in support policies? We talked with Mike Semegran, Ashton-Tate's tech support director, who said the new approach reflects some key lessons the company learned from its recent fee-paid experiences:

* Support is a competitive issue. Support wasn't a high priority issue for most dBase customers, Semegran points out, but Ashton-Tate now faces tough rivals in other markets--such as word processing and Mac applications--who have used the support issue to gain a competitive edge. Offering free support allows Tate to respond with more Flexibility, he says, but Ashton-Tate also plans to use support more aggressively itself, by deploying a "smorgasbord of capabilities that will be mch harder for smaller competitors to match."

* 90 days isn't enough. Even with fee-paid support, Ashton-Tate allowed its customers a 90-day period of free support. But software has become so complex that Semegran says most usres "donht get to full functionality of the product within 90 days." And asking individuals to pay $50 to get the answer to a single question (as the company's original fee paid program required) "just isn't a good solution."

* Corporate customers want flexibility. Ashton-Tate's earlier corporate support program provided a large annual bundle of services that were sold primarily to large, centralized organizations. Semegran says that customers were always trying to unbundle specific services and roll over unused credits. "The feeling was, 'you owe us,'" Semegran says. Now, Tate will sell support in smaller packages, ranging from $150 to $595 a year. "I'd rather sell to a lot of departments and divisions than make one $3,000 sale to DuPont."

* Tech support can be automated. "Customers want answers that are consistent, right, and quick," says Semegran--and often the best (and least expensive) way to deliver those answers is with technology rather than raw manpower. As part of its revamped program, Tate will beef up its electronic bulletin boards and install more auto-tape voice systems. "I contend that people actually like automated systems, if the system is set up the right way," Semegran argues.
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Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Ashton-Tate
Date:Jan 10, 1990
Previous Article:Stockwatch: 1989.
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