Finding The Right WordPress Support System

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been discussing the challenge of supporting free WordPress plugins. Though I’ve done this in the past, I’ve retired those projects, but am looking to get back into doing so all the while documenting the process here.

But first, for those who haven’t been reading the articles up to this point, I wanted to reference the previous posts just to let you know where I stand with regard to all of this:

The point is that I’m slowly working my way back into building a small business around building WordPress plugins, supporting them, offering documentation, manuals, and so on, but I want to make sure that I’m doing it right.

To that end, I’m enjoying the discussion with you guys via the comments as well as the challenge of finding the best tools possible not only for me but for potential customers, as well and this is what raises my next issue: Finding the right WordPress support system.

On The Usability of Support

Usability of Support

This is exactly what we’re trying to avoid.

One of the challenges of implementing a support system is that I we – or company’s – tend to lean in one direction. I could be completely off base, but I think that we start first start with idea of a better way to manage support for ourselves.

Next, we seem to approach this by asking “what would be a better or easier way to manage our support requests? Although customers are often the lifeblood of any company, I think that we may not do them justice when it comes to selecting our support system.

Instead, we pick what works best for us, and then aim to educate our users to how to use the system. But we’ve all been on the receiving end of this – think about any given company that you’ve had to email, call, or generally interact with and then think of the amount of frustration you’ve felt.

Why can’t we aim to find a system that’s improves not only our experience, but our users’, as well? Their experience shouldn’t be second-rate.

Why Don’t We Do This?

I could be off base with this. Maybe company’s do seek to find systems that compliment their users just as much as their internal teams, but from what I can tell, they often start by looking to what would streamline the process of managing their incoming requests.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. I mean, if you truly do care about your customers, you want them to be able to reach out to you and to easily have their issue resolved.

The challenge is making sure that gap is as narrow as possible, right?

An End-To-End Solution

I don’t think customers care much about creating yet-another-login or keeping yet-another-bookmark. They want to send an email, get an answer, and then get back to work.

Sure, this is somewhat of an over-simplification. Some users may want to search previous issues, some users may want to submit feature requests, and some may want to submit a bug report.

But the point still remains: Users should have to experience as little friction as possible.

And if we, as developers, care about building products with true craftsmanship, then that shouldn’t stop at the code level or at the user experience level – it should be pulled through from end-to-end.

Support is just as much as part of the product as is the landing page and the core product itself.

A WordPress Support System: The Available Options

The two main issues that I see with introducing support are this:

  • Users need to have the most frictionless experience possible. Their main goal is to submit their request, issue, or question, and receive an answer as fast as possible.
  • Companies – or those offering support – need a way to organize, sort, and filter incoming requests as possible.
WordPress Support Systems

We need to make sure we have our customers’ backs!

Ideally, I’d love to use a system that prevents users from having to create yet-another-login. Currently, I’ve found the following systems some of which I’ve used as a customer, but not as a support provider.

But as I continue to look for systems that provide the best customer support system possible not only for me, but for those who will actually be using it to file issues, requests, and so on, I’m curious to hear what have you guys enjoyed the most.

Or, rather, what other applications are worth checking out that aren’t listed above?

63 Comments

After testing some helpdesk systems. I choosed Zendesk.

Maybe is a bit bloated, but you can setup it easily to manage support as an “email only” helpdesk. And that gives you the power of tickets at the backend, and the easy and simple “just send an email” for your customers.

You addressed one issue early, scalability. I often start support via email… “Hey, can you send me my login?” or “Can you add one more page that is like a product page of stuff” And often, go back and forth for clarification… But those are common and should be separate… Self-help options (reset password, find a link, update a plugin), Feature request (need a new page, can I add social links, what about a new blog type for my family posts), and a Bug request – “MY SITE IS DOWN” (what does that really mean, you can’t login, you can’t see your post, or your computer is unplugged and you didn’t know it). How do you teach clients about options of support and have them self-help when possible rather than just emailing you?

-john-

    Yes. And I also think that email grants permission for things that it never intended to in the first place.

    You already described, but it’s basically like you give an inch and they’ll take 17 miles. I don’t place that blame on the customer, though. That’s our fault for not providing better guardrails for them to submit their requests.

i like support via comments. that’s the best.

Hey Tom,

I’ve tested about every helpdesk system out there and IMO Zendesk is the best option out there currently. They offer, single sign-on, look and feel is flexible, reply by email. UserVoice is a close second for me. I’ve heard good things about helpscount but have never tested.

With UserVoice I like their metrics. It easy to see a customers flow. To that point ,one of the more important aspects to me is the metrics. Ultimately I want my support to be a self service as possible and want to see support bottlenecks. At the time when I was launching however Zendesk was $20 per year and to get the features like single sing on etc with UserVoice at the time was around $60 per month. So being a bootstrapped, Zendesk was a no brainer. But I think User voice has since changed their pricing.

Ultimatley I plan to build in my own intergrated support solution with my upcoming product which is a turn key hosted solution for selling WordPress products.

    When I first ventured into premium plugin development, I used ZenDesk but I think it’s overkill for a one man shop and a few products.

    We use it at 8BIT and love, though.

    But yes, price is certainly a factor. ZenDesk’s $20/yr is hard to beat. UserVoice also has some nice features and I’ve been a fan of it as a user, but I think the verdict is still out – I’ve dug the feedback you and everyone else has been providing.

bbPress. I have used a lot of ticketing systems, but I always come back to bbPress.

    I used this has my first iteration support forum along with a custom theme, but I couldn’t make it fit within my workflow very well.

    Honestly, that’s the main reason that I’ve not used it. I think it’s a solid piece of software – but I couldn’t get it to jive as much as I’d like.

      I’d love to hear / know what didn’t jive for you :)

        At the time I was using it (which has been a few years, admittedly):

        User management was more tedious than I wanted it to be as far as setting up new users
        Limiting user access to their products wasn’t as intuitive as I would have liked.
        At the time, responding via email wasn’t a possibility so I had to constantly hop into the application, go to the forum, then work through the thread.

        Those were the three things that turned me off to it, at least at that time.

          User management (now) is as simple as having users register on the site as a normal WP user.

          There are a variety of ways to do this now, though it depends on how you are selling your products. If you use EDD (wink) then we have extensions that limit access to buyers. I believe WooCommerce and maybe JigoShop also have extensions for it.

          Ryan McCue has a Reply-By-Email extension but I have not used it.

          I also have some reply by email code that will work on servers using QMail. You need to add a script outside of WP to listen to the incoming email to filter for replies, etc. Hit me up by email and I’ll shoot it over to you. I haven’t released it because of how server-dependent it is. Support for it (ha!) would be crazy. :)

            Word up, Jason! Throwing this into the hopper of ideas. Once I end up deciding on something, I may be hitting you up for it. That’s not a bad solution.

            Speaking of which, your whole Pro Memberships model is something I’m heavily considering following. Not sure if it’ll be 1:1 or not, but thanks for sharing that stuff. It’s helped to give me some serious food for thought.

      Too bad bbPress (as any other forum-based system) is somewhat intimidating for people who are less tech-savvy than a typical customer of Pippin’s…

      What I like about UserVoice/getSatisfaction/useResponse, is that they have that streamlined non-invasive floating dialog box for easy entry (+ collecting feature requests + voting on ideas + searching KB + giving praise).

      From the cognitive standpoint, this dialog box looks like a middle ground between the heaviness of a forum and the plainness of a contact form.

I’ve discussed some cool integrations of ZenDesk & Gravity Forms. :)

http://youtu.be/DvnvNbBpFUE at 11:00.

If you get something like that set up let me know.

Hi Tom,

Great post! You’re spot on a support system not only needs to help better manage workflows, but also provide a seamless experience for your customers. Logins, ticket numbers, etc. add friction and provide a less than desirable customer experience.

I am biased but you should check out Groove (www.groovehq.com). Groove is an invisible helpdesk in which messages look like regular old email. Nothing branded and no login required for your customers to get the support they need. Clean. Simple. Easy.

While a competitor of ours HelpScout is the only other solution that gets it. All the others you mentioned above in my opinion are bloated enterprise solutions :) Questions drop me a line.

-Adam

    Adam – thanks so much.

    As I end up continue to investigate options for where I want to go, I’m definitely going to see what you guys offer and may shoot you a note personally.

We use HelpScout and love it.

All the other help desk solutions we’ve looked at are just completely bloated with tons of features we simply don’t need.

For standard support we currently use a simple support forum. For our Priority Support, Contact Us and other contact related forms we feed them all into HelpScout.

While it doesn’t allow you to display tickets on your site, it’s easy for the user because it occurs via their email. While you can also interact with it strictly via email, we use their great web UI to manage tickets.

They do have an API that we plan to leverage to display tickets on our site, etc.

We have been using HelpScout for quite a long time now and wouldn’t use anything else at this point. It just works for us.

    I love the idea behind HelpScout, but how does it work with your priority support (im presuming thats at a premium)?

      Yes, Priority Support is for Developer License customers only.

      We use Gravity Forms (surprise!) to capture the Priority Support request. It then feeds the request into HelpScout by simply using our HelpScout email in the admin notification setup.

      So the user submits a request via our Priority Support form and only Developer Licence customers can access the Priority Support form on our support site.

      We then manage the ticket via HelpScout’s web UI and the user interacts with the ticket via email.

        Haha I should have known…thanks Carl!

        Carl, thanks for sharing your process. I wonder if using GF to collect extra data from users also can be retained in HelpScout and tracked, or if it simply comes included in the email from the GF form.

        For example, we are currently using Freshdesk and through their ticket creation can create extra fields for things like “WP version, plugin version, license key, a checkbox that asks if they’ve read our FAQ, etc.”

        This info is captured in Freshdesk and sits alongside the ticket content so we can make sure they’ve done their due diligence and are up-to-date on software.

        Have you had a need to collect this kind of data and display it to your support team?

        Carl,
        Did you run into a problem where all the emails stored in HelpScout had your server’s email address even though in the GF you specified the “from” address to what customer entered on the form?

        Thanks,
        Jeff

    I’ve started using HelpScout a few weeks back and I’m sold.

    I’ve tried SupportPress and a few other support themes (one from AppThemes I believe), tried to implement bbPress (but I can’t find how to filter specific forums based on specific products purchased), ZenDesk etc. and all of them didn’t work how I wanted.
    Most WordPress support themes don’t support WPML very well, so that was extremely annoying (or they don’t send an email when you get a new ticket..).

    Now I’ve just added a new app to my Mac with Fluid, that contains my HelpScout inbox. It’s easily opened and works like a charm.

    Would be great if they had a mobile friendly dashboard or just an iOS app, but the default design works too (which – to me – is more important than it adapting to the screen).

    I’ve read some good stuff about HelpScout and some others have recommended it as well, so I’m definitely gonna check it out.

    Thanks for sharing the process for how you’re using it, too. Super helpful as I consider this stuff.

    that’s cool to know you use Helpscout. It’s my favorite support system too.

Two more to consider are Reamaze and FreshDesk.

    Hi Mike,

    As I referenced above in an earlier comment, we are using Freshdesk. I’ve found a few limitations for our needs and one major one is the inability to create conditional fields to display further fields below.

    For example, we have multiple products. I can easily create a dropdown for the user to choose the product they are submitting for, but I cannot make any fields below that show/hide based on their dropdown choice.

    This is critical as we need to collect slightly different information based on the product for which they need support, and to change the field titles to reflect questions specific to each product.

    They do offer some integration options, and we may end up building our own Freshdesk plugin that integrates with Freshdesk at some point, but for now, we are probably going to have to go with a couple workarounds.

    Thanks for the suggestions, Mike. I’ve never heard of Reamaze – gonna have to check it out.

We’re using Reamaze and it’s the perfect solution.

Give customers an “If This Do That” type trail for some of the things they can figure out (hopefully) on their own. HP printers does a decent job with theirs. Nothing makes me feel more helpless (except being stranded on an ice floe with no cell phone and bi-polar bears circling me) than trying to figure something out at midnight on Friday night and my site has crashed.

People are already panicked/frustrated/feel stupid…so make it easy and direct. Short bullet points and lead them/us gently.

    Thanks so much for the feedback, Kathy. Exactly the kind of stuff I’m looking for.

    But you know what? I think that HP actually has one of the worst user experience’s when it comes to setting up their devices.

    People who are relatively tech-savvy get it, but I’ve done enough tech support for family members to know that they’d almost rather throw the thing into a fire ;). They are to setting up printers are you are to your poler bears ;D.

    That people, you’re exactly right here:

    People are already panicked/frustrated/feel stupid…so make it easy and direct. Short bullet points and lead them/us gently.

    That’s my ultimate goal. Simply trying to do my due diligence on this :).

    HP are the worst at support – ever.
    Their user forums are severely moderated for anything negative said about them, even if it’s constructive.
    It seems they spend more time censoring their support rather than actually doing the right thing. Sorry, I have strong feelings about this, got screwed over by that company.

I agree that clients should not have to create another account to access support. Email or an online form appears to be the avenue with the least friction. Last year I was searching for such a solution and discovered a $20 premium plugin on CodeCanyon that is very capable with excellent email support and nice ticket system. I’ve heard a lot of nice things about ZenDesk, but it wasoverkill for me and this plugin with WordPress does the job very well.

Learn more at http://codecanyon.net/item/wordpress-email-ticket-support-plugin/254823

Features include:
* Reads email from POP3 accounts and turns them into support tickets. (support for multiple accounts)
* Imports attachments sent via email as well
* Assigns ticket numbers.
* Lets customers know their position in support queue. (screenshot)
* Lightbox ticket submission form through your blog (handy to place on your “Contact Us” page) (screenshot)
* WordPress dashboard widget showing pending tickets (screenshot)
* Admin bar notification showing number of unread tickets (screenshot)
* Users can reply to support ticket emails and they will appear in your WordPress blog!
* WordPress users can login to their profile page to submit tickets and view all their previous tickets
* If an existing WordPress user emails in a support ticket, it will assign that support ticket to the WordPress user. If they are not a WordPress user it will still work just fine, it does not create a WordPress account for each support ticket user
* Optionally display the status of your WordPress support ticket queue, so customers can see how busy you are / how long it will take to get a reply. Example click here.
* Optionally embed the support ticket submission form into a WordPress page, rather than using the lightbox popup. Example click here.

    Ed – thanks so much for sharing this. Love having options.

    The on thing about email is that it definitely has the less friction. After all, it’s our identity around the web, right?

    But the thing is, I need to make sure all tickets are public so that I only have to answer something once; otherwise, there’s such a tedious amount of work to repeat answers.

    Definitely gonna have to check out what you’ve shared – thanks again for this.

    Makis Mourelatos(FixMyWP.com) November 25, 2013 at 5:47 am

    This plugin is now removed from CC marketplace since it was full of bugs and not functional.
    I m still looking for simple and WP compatible solution for my supports services.

    I think that WATS Premium along with a GF Priority Support Request form(that will forward emails into WATS) is the best I can find atm.

      I use the free wp plugin Visual Form Builder for various needs and it can send emails. I expect that would be a good way to get tickets into WATS and others like that.

1. We’ve been on HelpScout since September last year, thanks to Carl’s tip off.

When a user submit’s a support query via the contact form, we detect if he’s Premium and we append “Premium” to the subject line.

It costs us a bit, but it’s totally worth it. The team behind helpscout are working hard on improving it too and are quite responsive to feedbacks.

2. We also use SupportPress, which we’ve customized quite a bit. This gives us the advantage of having more info on our Premium users, such as the websites he’s purchased our plugin for, etc.

A bit of a different solution would be to use stackoverflow.com

I my view they full fill both of your needs. The login is easy. If you have posted to any of the sister sites you have an account otherwise you can use a social site login.

The questions are searchable.

Here are few examples.
http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/html5boilerplate
http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/video.js

I recently used only forums for support. I used punBB and then Vanilla and now bbPress which I find is great.

I think your support solution depends on what level of support you are providing. Email and chat is one to one and quite personal where as the support forum is more open.

    This isn’t actually that bad of an option – I’ve considered doing something like this with the open source alternatives that are available, but here’s the thing: I find that sites like this still require more technical prowess than necessary for getting customer support.

    Ultimately, I want support to be the least frustrating aspect of interacting with a company. Far too often – at least in the US – it’s the most frustrating part of it.

    I want to make sure that if someone has to ask for help (during which they are probably already frustrated), I don’t do anything that far agitates that frustrating anymore.

      Another idea came to me. JWPlayer have it very simple. The user only needs to fill out three filed. Title, name and message.
      http://www.longtailvideo.com/node/add/forum/43

      I think a forum based on like the commenting system on WordPress would be very easy but you would get quite a bit of spam.

      I wonder if it is possible to create a forum post using Gravity forms for the first post and only for the next replies does the user need to make an account.

      Have you seen this theme?
      http://themeforest.net/item/support-desk-a-responsive-helpdesk-theme/4321280

        I think a forum based on like the commenting system on WordPress would be very easy but you would get quite a bit of spam.

        The problem with this is the implementation. Would each project have their own comment thread? If that’s the case, then it can get too long too fast (see this post as an example).

        Secondly, it needs to be something that makes it really easy for users to open their own requests and track their progress, as well as search for others if needed. Commenting systems don’t often make the latter that easy.

        Also, I’ve not seen that theme – I’m likely going to end up going on with a full on support application rather than a theme since I tend to favor applications that specialize in niches.

          What I more implying that the there is no login just the email address like in the commenting system to identify the user.

          Another idea came to mind is how GitHub or Basecamp has the option to reply to discussions by email. So the user creates an issue and replies to the discussion by replying to the email answers he get but the whole discussion is also visible to others.

At the beginning we used Mantis which like Bugzilla has perfect cvs integration, mighty options but is often too much.
By using supportpress (which has many shortcomings and not being developed to close those gaps) I could simplify the creation of tickets for our customers and have a good history of events which email does not have. With email things get cluttered and one loses oversight.
We are happy with supportpress right now but need to develop some of the missing features ourselves.

    Andreas – interesting points. I’m a fan of the guys over at Woo which is one reason that Support Press seems like a potential option for me. What features are missing that you’re looking to develop yourself?

Dumitru Brinzan of Hermis Themes, explaining the thought process behind 200-dollar themes (on his interview for WPCandy), argues that:

“…clients utilizing coupons and discounts are more likely to also utilize WPZOOM’s support system, sometimes firing off ten support questions in as many minutes. These customers also tended to ignore instructions, documentation, and video tutorials more often.”

I wonder if anyone here has similar experience. If so, it appears that the choice of a support system should be informed not only by the branding strategy, but also has to be aligned with the pricing: for a low-priced product you don’t want a support system which is too open for abuse… Thoughts?

    I totally agree. One of the nice things about ZenDesk is that when you’re filling out you’re problem you’re prompted with existing articles in the knowledge base. This should prevent you from getting so much support email in the first place and it helps your customers out too.

    I wonder if anyone here has similar experience. If so, it appears that the choice of a support system should be informed not only by the branding strategy, but also has to be aligned with the pricing: for a low-priced product you don’t want a support system which is too open for abuse… Thoughts?

    Obviously, I’m still heavily investigating where I want to take my support system (let alone pricing strategy, documentation, etc.), but I can speak from experience of our support forums for Standard that the forum behavior isn’t really that bad. The thing is that customers get incredibly impatient. We have a 24 hour “we’ll get back to you” policy, but people often times will post something in the forum then go to Twitter in order to ping us there to try and get support.

    I view it as abuse, though I don’t fault the user as they are taking all channels available to them.

    Anyway, I know that’s a bit off topic from your question, but I figured perhaps these thoughts were at least a little relevant :).

      I have seen SEVERAL attempts at different support concepts… KendoUI (Telerik) has multiple paths (faqs->forums->directed support). Often if you can get the user to have “self-help” that is the best. The 24 hour turnaround is pretty good, most are 48 hours or longer. The WordPress community has created a very strong “I can help you” approach. We all really do help each other. There is the occasional abuse, “I need it NOW, Production is broken!” issue, but when you turn those customers around and help them, they become your strongest advocate and generate more business. Just my experience on some support issues.

Tom, which approach did you end up going with? I am getting ready to setup my support process and was curious how you did it.

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[...] few months ago, I wrote about Finding The Right WordPress Support System in which I laid out my points for what I’d look for in a support system. The post ended up [...]

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