The Developer’s Guide to Providing Support for WordPress Software
For most WordPress developers, creating your next plugin or theme and exercising your creative coding ability is a delightful pleasure, something you can do on hours on end (or at least, it should be if it isn’t, you might be in the wrong business).
However, there’s also another notsofun part of developing and selling WordPress themes and plugins: providing support to the customers. For most developers, customer support is the very opposite of delightful pleasure. It’s monotonous boredom virtual manual labor, even. In short, it’s a troublesome task that most of us like to avoid.
But it doesn’t always have to be that way. Although the chance that providing support for your WordPress product will become a chore you look forward to doing is essentially nonexistent, there are a few strategies you can implement that will help you to at least get the job done quicker, smoother, and easier.
Define Customer Support Channels
If you offer a free WordPress plugin listed in the WordPress.org directory, providing support is simple you operate via the provided forum. For paid/premium plugins and themes sold outside of WordPress.org, though, customer support is a bit more complex.
Your first priority is to establish the support channel through which you will operate. Choosing the right one and ensuring that your website visitors know about your support channels (usually with a “support” link in your navigational menu/footer) is crucial to getting your traffic to convert and buy your product.
To get you started brainstorming your support channel, I’ve listed a few of the most popular support strategies used by preeminent online businesses below:
Personally, I’ve never tried using forums for support. It might work well for some sites, like WordPress.org (which has a gigantic, loyal community), but on the whole, it seems to be a bad fit for most types of commercial products.
Gravity Forms started out offering customer support via a forum, but they eventually gave it up in favor of something else (read about that here). When customer support is a paid for privilege, maintaining a forums usually isn’t feasible, as Gravity Forms stated:
“ in situations where support is not paid and is provided by a community they can work, but for paid support with a support team managing a large user base they simply are not an efficient means to provide quality support.”
If you’re a one-man show, email support is more than likely your best bet. It’s simple, it’s free, and it’s private. Besides, everybody already uses email, anyway, so there’s no need for customers to sign up to anything. Gmail, Outlook, and most email clients make customer support via email easy by displaying threaded exchanges.
If you run a larger operation and you have multiple agents providing support, you should consider using a helpdesk/ticketing system. Helpdesks are great when you get sizeable volumes of email from customers.
However, employing a help desk as your support strategy usually involves a bit of expenditure for the software, so it’s not always an option for developers on a tight budget. Even so, help desks are a great way to provide customers with quality support. If you have the money and the amount of support queries for it, a helpdesk is a great option.
Phone or live chat
Live support is great for customers everybody loves being able to hop onto a phone call or live chat and get their problem smoothed out right then and there. Customers will love it, but developers probably won’t (especially if you work solo). Phone calls and live chats will suck up huge amounts of your time and distract you from other work you do. As a result, live support works best when you have a dedicated support team whose sole responsibility is to help customers solve their problems.
In the end, though, the only thing that really matters is leaving your customers satisfied. So no matter what communication channel you choose to use, make sure that you’re able to answer support queries with it. When providing customers with support details on your support/contact page, remember to state how fast customers should expect a response. In most cases, 24 hours (or one business day) is good enough, and you really want to cap response times at 23 days. If you use live support, specify the hours/days of operation.
Get Ready for Support Requests — And Lots of ’em!
Expect your number of support requests to grow. A lot. Really fast.
In my early days, I mistakenly assumed that creating a comprehensive knowledge base & F.A.Q. and coding frequently asked features in future updates would pretty much hold the number of support requests at status quo, even as the number of sales increased.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so wrong.
If your customer base grows, so will your support tickets. Done. End of story. It’s a scientific law.
Even if you’ve made configuration as straightforward as possible, and even if you’ve published 1,000 support articles and 500 FAQ, you’ll never be done with customer support.
Develop a Thick Skin for Criticism
Regardless of how fantastic your software is, there will always be a small group of people who will be dissatisfied with their purchase. But they aren’t just going to quietly ask for a refund and be on their way. No way these guys are gonna make sure that they inform you of every single supposed defect/problem/thingyoucan’tcontrol they don’t like (very often in a rude manner).
It’s important that you don’t take this personally, and that you learn how to deal with those customers in a professional manner. Trust me I know how hard it is when something like that happens, especially after you’ve put your very heart and soul into developing a product. The quick fix that helped me manage these messages was to just leave the email be for an hour, so you can cool off. Doing this helped me to avoid saying anything I might have regretted further on down the road.
Fortunately, members of WordPress community are generally friendly and understanding, so there probably be any hatemail or dire threats landing in your inbox every day. All the same, it’s good be prepared, just in case.
Go the Extra Mile
Every. Single. Time.
Even if you own the best helpdesk software available and your average response time is 3 minutes and 21 seconds, that means absolutely nothing if your replies aren’t helpful to the customer.
By providing comprehensive support that goes the extra mile for customers, you’re setting yourself up for success, earmarking your software as a quality product you are willing to stand behind.
When customers report bugs, it’s common for them to hear developers say that they’ll fix it in the next release due in a couple months.
If you’re going to end up fixing the bug anyway, why not do it now? Yes, as in, RIGHT now. Few developers (if any) go to so much trouble. Consequently, when you do go to that much trouble for your customers, they instantly turn into your lifelong fans.
Similarly, when some function of WordPress software isn’t working properly for a certain customer, it’s easy for developers to blame hosting providers and other incompatible themes/plugins.
Want a better, more professional approach? Ask your customer for FTP access, troubleshoot the problem, and get it fixed … even if it wasn’t your product’s fault in the first place.
Some of your customers might be freelance WordPress developers and designers looking to get something one of their clients wants. However, that client might want a certain feature that isn’t available by default, but still only takes a few minutes to an hour to code.
Instead of getting the freelance developer to develop the feature himself, why not just put in the work and code it yourself? That does two things for you turns the developer into a friend and a valuable customer and improves your product at the same time.
With customer support, it’s all about going the extra mile.
So What About You?
What support channel makes the most sense for your WordPress product? Email, helpdesks, live chat? And the most important question of all are you gonna
About The Author:
Greg Winiarski is a founder of Simpliko, company developing WordPress plugins (including WPHelpDesk) and web applications. He is living and working in Kraków, Poland.