We shouldn't be using 20 back and forths to solve a problem. That is an example of a mistake by one of our support engineers in not escalating the problem to a support incident. If they had anticipated that it would take more than 1 or 2 back and forths they should have escalated the issue to a support incident immediately instead. Then we would get you on the phone. That is how it should work. It is sometimes hard to judge at first whether your forum post will be enough for a user to find success since you can't look at their resume with it.
We have phone support, but we only escalate issues to phone support when necessary. We used to have both a forum and incident system that were both client initiated, but we found everyone used the incident system and we had to answer the same question over and over. The open forum as an intro to support is to help everyone understand any issues we are currently experiencing and provide answers to multiple people at once when necessary.
We tried a paid for support system, but then we got lots of complaints that support should always be free for a product. Which I tend to agree with particularly if people are running into bugs.
We have 3-5 full time support people working at any given time. We do answer every post, and everybody will tell you they are on a deadline. We could justify hiring more with a paid support model, but paid support is actually a ding against us pre-purchase for many potential customers. Same thing with a business forum. We did mentor training for a while, but people started just using it to have us do thier projects for them. Then we raised the price to keep that activity to a minimum and our high priced support just became another ding against us.
We may try one or more of these approaches again at some point, but we have already tried and moved away from them once. We did make money out of that group, but the negative feedback and backlash against the products lead us to go with an all free model.
I can't disagree with any of the comments, it is just a hard issue to solve. In theory these are good plans, but in practice we have seen it isn't so easy. We appreciate the feedback and will carefully consider any suggestions.