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Avoiding the XY Problem for Support Providers

This post is part of a series called The XY Problems.
Getting Better Support By Avoiding The XY Problem

When anyone buys your WordPress product, be it a theme, plugin or other service it is a sign that they believe that your product will help them reach their goals.  Your marketing made them a promise and if they contact your support, it is likely that that promise hasn't been met. 

Support requests that suffer from the XY problem, when someone asks about Y, a possible solution to problem X, instead of their actual problem, make it impossible for you to know how you can meet that promise, align a user's expectations with reality or tell them they have the wrong product.

Sometimes this can lead to not answering a user's question right away, which is unfortunate, but slow support is better than bad support. It can also lead to telling your users that they need to start over or use a different one of your product's features or even a different product all together. That's tough, but I think in the long-term your users and you user community as a whole are best served by a real solution that meets their goals, opposed to stamping out an immediate issue without addressing its root cause.

In my previous articles, I wrote about identifying the XY problem and how to avoid it when asking questions. A lot of that comes from my own personal frustration of providing support for WordPress plugins and themes and wishing I knew more about why a user was trying to do what they are asking for help with. In this article, I will address ways to deal with support request that come in suffering from the XY problem and how to avoid that from happening.

Why You Need To Know A User's Goals

When you've been hired to provide support for a WordPress plugin, theme, or other product, your job is to help your users achieve their goals, the actual reason they started using WordPress to begin with. If you only answer user's questions literally, without knowing if the advice you've given will put them on the path to achieving their goals or just put out a fire.

If you want your product to grow, you need to keep your users happy, and that's about more than closing support tickets. When someone uses your product, in a sense, you become a partner in whatever project they are using your product for. When you help them meet their goals, you ensure your users are happy with your product. More importantly, you build loyalty, which is what successful companies are built on.

Becoming Partners

A common practice in support is to begin by restating the user's question. This is important because it ensures you understand the question. More importantly, it forces you to empathize with the user. But why stop there?

As long as your empathizing, the act of internalizing another being's emotions and actions,  why not find and share their goals. Now, not only can you ensure that the advice that you provide isn't falling victim to the XY problem, but you partner with your users in achieving their goals.

Information That Shortens Support Cycles

One issue with the XY problem is that, in order to provide quality support for these types of requests is that the first step is to ask more questions. This adds time to the support process and can frustrate users. But, since getting more context is essential, it's important as support professionals to create systems that get the required information from users.

There are two good ways to get this information. The first is to ask for the information you need on your support request form. The other is to get the information you need using a plugin like Send System Info, that can send you the debug information you need to address a users problem.

No matter how you get the information, it's important to ask for the right information. What information you need is different for every product, but when you pay attention to patterns in support requests, you should be able to identify the most common pieces of information you need from each use in order to solve their problems. Also, be sure to safeguard any potentially sensitive materials you receive and otherwise protect user's security and privacy.

More Than Solutions To Problems

When you work to ensure that you know not just what has gone wrong with someone using your product, but also why they are in this situation, you can provide better support experience that will help grow your business. Instead of simply putting out fires, you will be building user loyalty by making your company into a partner in your user's journey's to achieving their goals.

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