I recently received a comment on my article on WordPress plugin support (that is, How Much is Too Much?).
Specifically, the comment asked:
So why not just outsource the support e.g. use a service that provides support to plugin end users on behalf of the plugin developers? Seems like that would save the developer a ton of time.
I thought that this was a great question, but as I began to respond, I thought that it may work better as a full post rather than a comment if for no other reason than to more easily share my own thoughts on the matter (but also to gauge other people’s opinions, as well :).
Outsource WordPress Support
First, I want to be clear how I define what it means to outsource WordPress support:
Outsourcing support is the idea that I will pay someone who did not contribute to the project in some way, and it more or less hired to handle questions and send me the most important ones.
This is very different than having someone else “on staff” or as part of the core development team handle support.
I mention this because I’ve no problem with the latter – I mean, I’m a fan of it – but I’m personally not a fan of the former case.
Before I explain why, I will say that I agree that it would save the developers a ton of time, but I’m extremely skeptical as to how it will affect the customer’s perception of the product (let alone the company), as well as how it will impact their overall experience. This is already a tough spot with developers and customers.
When it comes to being a customer of other products, I can’t help but think of how frustrated I get with convoluted call systems, automated messages, transcripts for support calls, and so on – I cannot stand being on the other end of those types of systems and I don’t want to subject my customers or users to that type of experience either.
To be fair, outsourcing support doesn’t have to be like this, but I think it’s more likely than not, and here’s why.
1. You Don’t Know Your Customers
When you outsource support to someone other than yourself or who isn’t part of your core team, then you aren’t getting to know your customer base.
To me, this is a non-negotiable. How can you support, build, and care about the service or product that you’re providing your customers if you’re not even sure how they’re using it?
Sure, you can ask for reports or information on the tickets that are showing up in the support system, but that’s providing you with a bit of insulation that may not be healthy as it relates to continually improving your work.
2. They’ve Less Passion For Your Work
If you opt to outsource support for your work, then I believe that it’s a safe assumption that no matter how good the person is at support, they will lack the passion for the work you’ve done.
Unless your primary goal is to make money, then there is no way that anyone else will be as passionate about your product as you. You’ve poured sweat equity and/or (re)invested money in order to build a product, so it would make sense that you and/or your team would be the ones who would be on the receiving end of any and all feedback.
You’d take it to heart in order to create a better product.
If you’ve got someone else handling support, you’re setting yourself another degree away from your work and your users, and if the person supporting the product has nothing more than a vested interest in a paycheck, then the lack of passion is going to show in the people who are supporting it.
3. More Feedback Loops
To me, feedback loops are inherently neutral. That is to say that they aren’t good or bad, but it’s how they are used or what’s included in them.
I think you can argue that no feedback is bad feedback, but anything else carries some sort of merit.
If you, or someone else from your team, is interfacing directly with your customers, then you’ve got fewer feedback loops to jump through. Either you’re going to be talking directly to the customer, or your team is going to be talking directly to them, and this will result in a really tight feedback loop that keeps you less insulated from the customers.
That’s a good thing.
But if you have a level of support that sits between you, your team, and your customers, then you’re relying on third-party support to give you feedback which may influence the quality of loop (not to mention making the feedback loop a little less tight, and/or increasing the number of them).
That’s a bad thing.
But That’s Just Me
As I said at the beginning, these are just my personal opinions on outsourcing WordPress support.
Also, I should mention that this is different than what some of the WordPress support services offer. Those types of services are more for support for WordPress installations, and the like. In this case, I’m talking more about a specific company or team dealing with support of one of their core products.
Anyway, sure – this is based on my own personal experience, but I understand and recognize that my experience is not indicative of how it works for everyone, and I’m all for hearing other opinions on this, too.