Some off-the-shelf software deals will include a support package. It seems like a necessary evil and adds to the final bill. Then you have the tussle where the provider will limit the amount of help they give and you as the client will want as much help as you can get.
In short and where possible see what that providers clients are saying. In certain circumstances you may be able to speak with them directly or at least see some testimonials. Some sites will have support forums - these can be a useful barrier for the provider to be seen to provide help but without being directly contactable. Forum based support puts the onus on you to phrase your issues correctly and there is no time pressure on your provider to come back with an answer.
You have an opportunity when buying a bespoke solution to get the sort of support that suits you best. Make sure that your support contract is as bespoke as fits your need as it can reduce your running costs.
Have a think about who in your organisation is going to work with the software most. It may work our better to buy a couple of days training for that individual and then make them the first line support in the business. Then you can purchase a lower grade support package from your provider to only step in when things require more specialised assistance.
Alinea is a small software development company so we live and die by the level of our support. We will agree a level of support that will work in the long term for you but take a much more fluid attitude at the initial handover of your project. This is when you will need us most for a successful roll out of your solution. Our phones don’t get switched off at 5.00 pm and our emails are being checked round the clock – you won’t be left without a helping hand!