Improving WordPress Product Support

My entry into the WordPress world started with support. It’s not an uncommon path to being a WordPress developer.

Starting with support is a great way to learn development. But it’s also a great way to learn about your product by talking with the people who use it. Personally, I’ve always approached that process more conversationally then in a data-driven fashion.

Talking to people is a great way to find out what they think, but it doesn’t scale. Early next year my friend Matt Cromwell, Head of Support and Community Outreach for and will be leading a webinar on scaling support. This webinar is part of a series being created for to help everyone in our community that provides support to regular WordPress users.

This is a really important initiative. The success of our shared WordPress ecosystem is partially dependent on the quality of support that very diverse ecosystem provides. The benefit for all WordPress users and developers is very strong.

Part of what Cromwell will be talking about in his webinar is a data-driven approach to understanding your support business. This is an opposite approach to my more conversation-based approach. That’s good, you need both. My company has started to use Helpscout reports as a way to track our business’ health.

I wanted to share some wisdom from Cromwell on using Help Scout, or really any support system to help you understand the support you provide for a product sold with WordPress. You can attain more of this wisdom in January, at the free community sponsored webinar.

Understanding Your Support Business Better With HelpScout

I interviewed Cromwell on how other businesses can use Help Scout and why they should.

What tools do you recommend for connecting WordPress and Help Scout?

Help Scout is email based and it has a very powerful API for integration possibilities. There’s a lot of useful tools for integrating Help Scout and your WordPress website, but it depends a lot on what you do exactly. In our case, I want to highlight just a few things that are crucial to our business.

We sell our products with Easy Digital Downloads. So seeing a customer’s purchase history directly in the support ticket is extremely useful. For that, we use this free plugin by Danny van Kooten:

Secondly, we use Caldera Forms as our primary support ticket intake tool. Support is valuable, and it’s part of what our customers pay for. So if we allowed just anyone to email us whenever they wanted, the perceived value of our Support would lessen.

More importantly, doing that would mean we’d get a lot more tickets with very vague issues and our team would spend a lot more time just trying to understand the problem. So in order to gate our Support queue, and ensure that our customers give us actionable information for supporting them, we use a very powerful form that guides our customers with questions and options so that they provide us with the best information about their problem. There are a lot of form plugins out there, but what we’ve done with Caldera Forms has proven to be very valuable for both our Support team and our customers.

Lastly, I’ve been working on ways to highlight the great feedback our customers give us via the Help Scout rating system. It’s very rough at the moment, but this is a shortcode plugin I’m building that will eventually highlight the most recent “Great Ratings” comments directly on our support page, or perhaps on our homepage as well:

How do you set up and use your Help Scout reports to improve your support system?

Help Scout reports are very detailed and very informative. But they do not interact with your sales data at all. I find, that in order to understand the “capacity” my Support team has to manage our customers, I need to see how much time we are spending, on which products, in relation to sales and customers.

In order to do that, I currently do a weekly Support report that takes our sales data, our support data, then outputs some metrics to describe how we’re doing overall. The key metrics I’m always watching are:

  • New tickets to Sales ratio
  • Number of resolutions compared to new tickets
  • Handle Time multiplied by new tickets and “replies to resolve”
  • Minutes Available compared to Minutes needed to answer new tickets, with a final number that I call our “capacity”.

Because we know roughly how well our sales will go over the next year, and I know how much time we need to answer tickets and how many tickets are generated by how many sales, I can plan to hire new support staff with relatively high accuracy. As Head of Support, I don’t want to be supervising team members who have little to nothing to do; so hiring too early is a problem. I also don’t want to overburden my existing team so that work is unbearable and I lose them, so hiring too late is a problem. Understanding our capacity helps me know exactly the right time to hire new support.

How do you set up and use your Help Scout reports to improve your product?

Reporting from a general overview is useful, but the power of Help Scout reports is really highlighted when you narrow the report by tag and/or saved replies.

Help Scout has a nice tagging system. We make sure that every single ticket in Help Scout has at least one tag. But, just like in WordPress, tags are only as useful as you make them be. You can have a random tag for almost every single ticket — but that won’t tell you anything. So choosing useful and meaningful tags that are used often is important. In our case, we have a tag for each of our Give Add-ons, then we have some generic tags like “licensing-issue” or “bug”.

Saved replies are most commonly referred to as “canned responses”. When you get a question over and over, you create a “saved reply” to save you time. But if you find yourself using a saved reply over and over again, that might suggest that your product and/or your documentation needs improving. In our case, a very common saved reply is describing the problems that happen when your site URL is set to use HTTPS but you haven’t done a redirect to force all your traffic over that protocol. We have a detailed doc on that which we refer our customers to a lot. Before writing that tutorial, we simply had a saved reply that described it in detail. Now our saved reply explains briefly what the problem is and points them to the detailed doc.

Narrowing Help Scout reports by tag and/or saved reply helps you see which products or issues are the most troublesome for your customers. For example, if I filter my report to show all tickets relating to our Recurring Donations add-on, I might find that the saved replies we use the most are related to webhooks, or SSL. I might also notice that “PayPal” is a secondary tag most often combined with the Recurring Donations tag. That suggests that of all the gateways we offer that support recurring donations, PayPal is the most troublesome (true story by the way).

All of this takes time. When I was doing all the support primarily by myself I didn’t spend all this time in the weeds of reports. As we started to grow I knew that scaling support was going to be crucial to our success so our staff and our customers stay happy. That necessarily meant that I had to get out of the tickets a bit and dedicate time to these reports. That’s part of what it means to be “Head of Support”, but we’re still a small team so I still spend roughly 20-30 hours a week in either free support or our Priority Support queue. Bottom line is that the reports are only as useful as you make them. If your handle time, or replies to resolve, doesn’t influence how you do support then you’ll ignore that part of the report. But generally speaking, I’ve found that the metrics available in the Help Scout reports are there because they matter, and working to improve your performance based on those metrics results in happier customers.

What Can You Add?

WordPress is a lot more than just WordPress core. Every WordPress site is a unique collection of plugins and a potentially unique theme. All of these parts of the system come from different companies, which means the success of a site relies on many different companies support teams.

We’re all going to succeed together so if you have some wisdom of your own to help others support their products better, get involved at

Josh is a WordPress developer and educator. He is Founder/ Lead Developer/ Space Astronaut Grade 3 for Caldera Labs, makers of awesome WordPress tools including Caldera Forms — a drag and drop, responsive WordPress form builder. He teaches WordPress development at Caldera Learn.

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