What is a Support Retainer and Why is it Beneficial?



Support, Support, Support

So you have launched your software application to your users. Congratulations! You have taken the first big step of many to create, expand, and improve your application to be more beneficial to a broader subset of users. The agile software development process inherently requires constantly gathering feedback from users, making optimizations to software components, and generally improving an application to be more useful. As an agency we often find ourselves stepping into support this post-launch period and providing services to improve outcomes. In this blog we will chat about what a software retainer is and how it can benefit your organization after the launch of your app.

Generally speaking, what is a retainer?

A retainer can look a little different depending on the services provided and organization served. According to Myriam Webster, a retainer is “a fee paid to a lawyer or professional adviser for advice or services or for a claim on services when needed.” Ultimately the purpose of the retainer is to pay resources to set aside specified service resources for a time of need. From a software development perspective, this often means that clients pay us to keep staff on standby for if/when bugs or optimizations arise. This ensures that we can fix anything that arises expeditiously.

So why would I need a support retainer if my agency helped me build my product initially?

As a software design and development agency we do everything in our power to find and fix bugs before a product is launched. We also try our hardest to limit assumptions taken during the design process to make sure that the product we are creating best suits our users needs. That being said, users can be unpredictable. It is impossible to perfectly predict a user's behavior before they have used a piece of software in the real world. It is also hard to anticipate the number of users or engagement of individual users on a piece of software. With these considerations accounted for under an agile methodology, a product will never be perfect when it is initially launched. Thus, hours may be needed to find unanticipated bugs, optimize certain features or functionalities that may be confusing, or generally improve the speed and usability of the platform.

What are some specific examples of improvements made through a support retainer?

Improvements made under a support retainer vary immensely in size and scope.

Support retainer items could include:

  • Updating dependencies, third-party libraries, or other development tools to the latest versions. Software platforms can include pre-built components or outside tools to run most efficiently. Sometimes these tools are updated or break if they are outdated, leading to bugs that arise for users. 
  • Changing the flow of screens in an application to be less confusing.
  • Changing text on individual screens to better communicate action items to the user. 
  • Using different colors, styles, or layouts in individual components.
  • Adding loading animations or other similar product optimizations to indicate a particular status or provide clarity to the user. 
  • Optimizing the cloud infrastructure to support more simultaneous users or updating the servers to support more traffic or user actions.

These are just a few of the many potential reasons a client may want to purchase a support retainer.

A Retainer does NOT replace normal development

Generally speaking, the support retainer is solely purposed to increase the usability and engagement of a software application after it has been released. Improvements can help with speed and reliability, limit confusion/unnecessary steps, and generally make the overall usability of a platform more seamless and intuitive. The retainer does NOT replace a standard software design or development engagement. There are times when we have to push back on a client optimization or bug request, because the requested change would require a large refactor of the application or the development of new features which will take tens if not hundreds of hours to build. 

At Lithios we try to keep the costs of support retainers low to help with small issues but we certainly recognize at times that larger fixes will require more development effort through a separate engagement. The line between a support retainer and a development engagement can get a little bit gray, but we fundamentally try to avoid nickel-and-diming our customers unless we truly feel that a particular request will require a large number of hours and should be covered outside of a standard retainer. If we feel like one or more requested changes do require effort outside of a retainer, we document those issues and follow a standard scoping process so that we can provide an accurate time/cost proposal to the client.


Support retainers can be an extremely useful tool to make small changes and improvements to a software application. By establishing a retainer relationship to support your software needs, you can truly build and support the best product for your clients in the long-term. 

If you are ever looking to get support for your application or to build out a new set of features, drop us a line and we would be happy to chat about your needs

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