A Guide to Providing Quality Customer Support
If you’ve ever released free or premium WordPress Themes or Plugins, you know that launching your new product is not the end of the process. In fact, it’s just the start, and raises a lot of questions:
- How do you provide support?
- How do you support customers after they’ve used your product?
- How do you manage email, social media and forum support easily?
- Should you support your free products, or just your premium ones?
Providing quality customer support will often help increase sales and reduce refund rates.
Since launching WP Cube at the end of 2012, I’ve produced ten free plugins and 5 premium plugins. With each WordPress Plugin release, I’ve refined our customer support process to try and answer the above questions, and ensure that our customers get better help.
Make Support Easy to Access for Paying Customers
Support should be easy to access. Think back to every time you’ve purchased a product. What was your experience when something went wrong? I expect the most frustrating part of the process was getting heard and obtaining support from the seller.
Paying customers rightly expect support. In premium plugins, I provided direct links from the setting screens to:
- Documentation which is a PDF containing how to install and configure the plugin,
- Support which us a link to our online ticket and knowledge base system
However, refund rates were high at 7%. Most reasons given related to problems with installing a plugin, and not finding where to enter their license key. This was despite the answers to the above being available in both the documentation and knowledge base systems.
I changed the support system entirely, by:
- Make sure that a single email was to sent to the customer upon purchase, containing their license key and links to the Plugin and Documentation.
- Making an effort to place the documentation online, as a set of WordPress pages, linked from our main web site and the email mentioned above.
- We replaced our online ticket and knowledge base system with a single support email address.
As a result, refund rates dropped to around 5%. Customers could easily find key information, and when that information didn’t work, they could open up a direct conversation. This was invaluable and provided a great opportunity to help that customer, and ultimately win them over with great support.
The ultimate take away from all of this is that you should put information in a single, easy to read email upon purchase; make documentation easily accessible and use email to provide a true connection with your customer.
The Work Doesn’t Stop When You’ve Sold to a Customer
Making support easy to access for customers isn’t enough. With refund rates still at 5%, I looked at other ways to engage with the customer after their purchase.
One great way of doing this is to add them to a mailing list upon their purchase, and setup an auto-responder follow up email 24 or 48 hours after their purchase.
I used Campaign Monitor for this:
Tim from WP Cube here. Just wanted to follow up on your recent plugin purchase to see how you're getting on.
If you have any questions, need help, happy with your purchase (or not!), do reply to this email and I'll be happy to help out. I'm keen to hear all feedback, good or bad.
This increased customer interaction by 15%, split between positive emails about the plugin, asking a support question or whether a certain feature could be added. Many customers thanked me for personally reaching out to them and caring so much about their purchase.
Importantly, refund rates dropped to around 3%.
The ultimate take away from all of this is that some customers won’t ask for help. Reaching out and engaging with them after their purchase is a great way to answer their questions and further reduce refund rates.
Multi-Channel Support Is a Must
Email and Social Media
You’ll see above that I’ve moved to email support for my plugins. I bet this sounds like your worst nightmare—trying to manage all of those emails from various customers!
It’s not the only channel customers will use to contact you. Social media is a popular tool that customers will use to try and expedite a response. Because of its public nature, it’s critical that you respond in a timely fashion, so potential customers can see how great your support is.
It doesn't have to be a nightmare, though—with the right tools, managing multi-channel support is simple, and a great way to provide quality customer support.
I chose Desk.com to manage email, Facebook and Twitter support queries. It provides a single, unified interface, connecting to your mailbox, Facebook and Twitter accounts:
For each new message (email, Facebook Page post or Tweet), a new case is created, with a useful conversation view which shows you the customer’s history, current case and previous case history:
Reporting functionality is also supplied, which is great to see how well (and how fast) you’re dealing with support queries:
Desk.com is priced at $3/month for their starter package, which I’d recommend. If you require more power features, such as branding and lots of different channels, their Plus Plan is $29/month.
Outside of email and social media, if your Theme or Plugin is on wordpress.org, it’s important to check the wordpress.org support forums occasionally.
Support queries can vary wildly, so providing quality customer support here can be tough. Sometimes there isn’t enough information, other times problems simply can’t be reproduced. I’d always recommend reaching out to users who have taken the time to detail their problems, and let them email you privately if necessary.
Once you’ve resolved an issue on the support forums, make sure you mark the topic as resolved:
This helps show that you’re proactive and keen to provide a stable product, which users will see when looking at how many support threads have been resolved on the Theme or Plugin’s screen:
Your Web Site
Depending on how you sell your themes or plugins, you’ll most likely have a sales page on your web site. I’d highly recommend enabling comments on these pages—not only does it give a voice to customers with pre-sales questions, it also provides great ideas (“does XYZ plugin do ABC?”), and shows other potential customers that the product is active, with ideas being included in future versions.
This is a great way to deliver pre-customer support.
Other Web Sites
As popularity grows for your theme or plugin, other web sites will start to include it in their blog post reviews or top lists. Always reach out to these sites by leaving a non-promotional comment (if comments are enabled on the article), thanking the author for mentioning your product.
If the article raises concerns or questions about your product, be sure to address them. Again, this shows that you’re active and passionate about meeting your customer’s needs.
Multi-channel support is tough, but there are third party services that can unify some of these channels, such as Desk.com. Other sources, such as WordPress.org’s support forums, your web site and third party sites are also important to continuing your quality customer support.
Support Your Free Products
When I first started creating WordPress plugins, I received an email from a user using one of our free plugins:
Hi Tim, absolutely love the [free] plugin. Just wondered if it supports multiple ratings?
I stupidly dismissed this and didn’t reply. After all, plenty of customers were purchasing the premium version. Why would I go and add new functionality to both?
A week later, I had a follow up email from the same user:
It’s a shame you never got back to me. I’ve ended up buying a license for [competitors plugin], which has done the job.
Clearly I had an opportunity to convert this user into a paying customer, with very little work—I just needed to add one small feature to a Plugin.
I made the required changes to the premium Plugin, updated all documentation and information copy. As a result, sales increased by 40%.
Supporting users of your free products is key. What’s critical, however, is how you support them. You’ll want support to be visible and open to the public—it shows that you’re committed to maintaing quality products. Customers love this, which is why I’ve previously recommended that you respond to both web site comments and wordpress.org support threads for your products.
Providing visible support to paying customers is less important. If they’re reaching out for support, it’ll be something specific to a premium feature or their web site setup. Whilst this support could be made public, it has a side effect—users of free products then believe they too have a fault, because XYZ premium feature can’t be found in their free theme or plugin.
Getting users of your free products to use WordPress.org’s support forums can be done using the README.txt file. I have a section within it called ‘Support’:
For many of our plugins on WordPress.org, Premium versions are available. These typically provide additional functionality, and come with one to one email support.
We will do our best to provide support through the WordPress forums. However, please understand that this is a free plugin, so support will be limited.
To request support, please read this article on how to properly ask for WordPress support:
This shows up on the Description tab of the Plugin, when users are looking to install it:
If a user follows this process, I’ll happily help them. Even if they visit my web site and reach out via the support email address, I’ll still help them. The key thing you are doing here is to set their expectations, but not close the door to them. After all, they could become a paying customer.
Always listen and respond to your users, no matter whether they’re a paying customer or not. Direct free users to use WordPress.org’s support forum. Remember: they’ve taken the time out of their day to tell you about a feature they’d love to see, or something that isn’t working as expected. This is free, valuable advice. Don’t ignore it.
Quality customer support isn’t easy, and the idea of a knowledge base or FAQ that customers can search is appealing. However, if you want to reduce refund rates and receive bug reports and feature requests, which help with increasing sales, you’ll want to:
- provide your paying customers with support via email and social media,
- provide your free customers with visible support via wordpress.org
- consider every support request, regardless of whether it’s a free user or not. That free user could become your biggest advocate and marketing opportunity, as well as a paying customer.
Customer support isn’t just a break/fix or firefighting exercise. It’s a great promotional tool, and when proactively managed, will amaze your users and customers.