This past weekend, I had a couple of less-than-stellar exchanges as it relates to customer service, customer support, or whatever you’d like to call it.

Specifically, they were things that transpired with other unrelated businesses both of which got me thinking about the state of customer support in WordPress.

Customers

And since many of us are involved in WordPress-related businesses or are running shops in the industry, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the whole thing.

None of this is novel and it’s probably not particularly insightful. Just some things I observed and thought about while driving home (because, you know, who doesn’t think about WordPress when they aren’t WordPressing? :).

The purpose of this, though, isn’t to disparage anyone.

This post is about self-edification. It’s about sharing ideas for how we currently run our businesses and how we might be able to improve – both as customers and as businesses – moving forward.

Lessons for Support in WordPress

This weekend, my family and I were out at a couple of places we frequent. 99% of the time, these places do an excellent job of handling the volume of customers they have.

That is:

  • They accommodate the demand for the service they have.
  • They rarely mess up an order.

But this weekend happened to be the exception. And it happens, right? I mean, it’s that time of the year. People are off work, out and about, and trying to squeeze everything they can out of the holiday season.

1. Understaffed and Angry

One of the problems we experienced simply amounted to there not being enough people to serve all of the customers in a reasonable amount of time.

Restaurant

Ultimately, my family and I left before we were even served. We spent time talking with the manager (and by talking, I literally mean talking – I don’t mean we yelled, were rude, or were condescending. You know what I mean – the opposite of what we see in many blog comments or support tickets.).

And while talking with them, we found out something:

The staff were just as frustrated as many of the customers. They were understaffed and they had more work than they could handle. And there was nothing they could do about it.

Further, very few customers took the time to actually talk to them about the problem. They just complained about whatever it was they had to complain about and left.

Many of us can identify with that kind of frustration, right? If you say “no,” I’d venture say you’re lying. We’ve all been there even if we don’t like ourselves for it. Anyway, I think it’d be easy to write this section as someone who provides support.

But I don’t want to do that. Instead:

If you put the shoe on the other foot, do you respond the same way when you’re the customer?

And the WordPress economy is replete with examples of customers who will tell vendors how they should be running their business, and they’ll be sharing those opinions in extremely entitled and extremely rude ways.

Not everyone, of course. So what’s the point of bringing this up?

Empathy.

Whenever we’re talking with someone who’s providing a service for us and we’re unhappy with how it’s [not] working and/or we’re faced with the person or the team who is responsible for handling support, why not try to handle it in a respectful, tactful way?

I mean, sure, we can be frustrated and upset things aren’t working, but why act entitled and so absolutely angry something isn’t right? There are things worth getting angry about, but contextualize things, you know? Honestly, some people seem so disproportionately angry about something all the time. But that’s an issue to discuss in other post, I guess.

Anyway, why not offer the feedback and also try to understand where they are?

And to be clear, I’m not saying this only works one way. If you or I are offering support, we can always seek to find out why a person is so absolutely frustrated about something.

2. Order Botched and Customer Loyalty

We’ve all experienced when a vendor gets an order wrong. Sometimes, vendors make right by the problem; other times, they don’t.

When a company messes up an order, I’m of the opinion it’s on them to make it right. I know: It means absorbing the cost (at the very least).

Not everyone follows this, and though they have that prerogative, I think – and perhaps I’m completely wrong – but when a customer has made a purchase and we, as the vendor, have gotten it wrong, then we have an obligation to make it right.

And this weekend, I saw this play out in another place we often visit. They botched an order for the second time in a row and, when I discussed it when them, not only did they offer to make it right the next time we’re in, but also offered a discount.

Receipt

Was the second component required? No. But it shows how far a business will go to maintain customer loyalty.

And I think that’s something we can all learn when it comes to offering support for our customers and/or clients.

Conclusion

These are two very simple examples, but hopefully it can level set some of what we’ve experienced over the year (even those of us who watch from the sidelines) in terms of the products and services we offer and how we treat one another.

Not to be cynical, but maybe it’s a pipe dream. Maybe not.

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, these are nothing more than my own opinions but they are things I believe go to show good practices that can be put in place.

Ultimately, I think they help us be better customers, better vendors, and maintain a general level of customer loyalty. Isn’t that what those of us involved in any business would like?

Given a situation, how would you like to be treated as a customer? Are you treating others that way? Sadly, it’s easier to find examples of the latter proving otherwise.

At any rate (and as usual), I’m interested in your take on all of this, too. So feel free to offer it up in the comments.

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Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. Personally, I provide too much service to my customers – that is what I keep hearing anyway and getting more and more aware of it myself. One of the downsides of that is that, perhaps unconsciously, I expect the same when I am a customer. And sometimes it is hard to empathize with ‘the other side’.

    So I applaud your talking instead of getting mad, will try to do the same in the future :)

    • Personally, I provide too much service to my customers – that is what I keep hearing anyway and getting more and more aware of it myself

      A slippery slope especially if you you’re a people pleaser (not saying you are but, you know, just an observation that may be the case).

      It’s very hard to say “No” to people especially when you’re starting out, but it gets easier as time goes on and people will appreciate the value you offer based on the service you’re providing.

      But if you’re providing too much service, why not break them up into separate services? Granted, I don’t know your business so I’m really just offering ignorant, unsolicited advice. I should probably stop at this point ;).

      And sometimes it is hard to empathize with ‘the other side’.

      Amen. It is. It takes practice, patience, and a clear head. We – that is, people in general – don’t always have that. We have to work at it.

  2. For the most part we’ve seen that the type of customers that are rude and abusive to our support team tend to be exactly the same kind of customers that would be angry and abusive in a restaurant. They are just mean, mean people. That seems to be how they operate. Once identified, we kindly ask them to not use our plugins or service. Just a like a business would (or should) show them the door. They are so not worth 9 bucks a month.

    The reason: time. Here you are writing about another incident you can’t get out of your mind. And here I am reliving a few which I’d be better to forget and move on with. But someone being so awful and abusive is hard to shake. That’s where the time adds up for me.

    This conversation always comes down to simple decency. Some people have it. Others just don’t. I choose to show as much as possible to every person I interact with… and kindly dismiss those that don’t do the same. We all deserve to be treated with respect. Especially those of us offering free support for free code. Imagine.

  3. Most times the problem is on the vendor’s side, but they don’t want to admit it. They think by spinning it or ignoring it, that it’ll go away. But it doesn’t customers talk about it for a while afterward.

    By taking ownership of the problem, the vendor can turn a negative situation into a positive. In both examples above, you (Tom) are more likely to do business with them again than if they’d reacted differently. Granted your approach makes a big difference.

    Great article, like always.

    • Most times the problem is on the vendor’s side, but they don’t want to admit it.

      Assuming this is in WordPress (which, I mean, my post is so why wouldn’t this comment be? :), there’s a strong chance it is but not always.

      There are high quality ways to build, test, and deploy plugins and then there are those that are less than stellar. The former, it’s usually not their fault. The latter, on the other hand, it can usually be traced back to a poor practice, lack of testing, or something similar.

      They think by spinning it or ignoring it, that it’ll go away. But it doesn’t customers talk about it for a while afterward.

      For sure! And now, more than ever, with news sites, news letters, and so on, you’re bound to hear about it – at least in our economy.

      By taking ownership of the problem, the vendor can turn a negative situation into a positive. In both examples above, you (Tom) are more likely to do business with them again than if they’d reacted differently

      Spot on – and I told them as such once the conversation was over. There was nothing heated. There was no yelling or foul language. We talked, we shook hands, and we’ll be back.

      The way I see it, if I was the manager or owner of the establishment in question, I’d want to know how to make something right. But if the person is letting me know in a terrible way, then I’ll make note of what the problem is and hope they don’t come back again.

      Or just not let them come back in, maybe. Depends on the offense ;).

      Great article, like always.

      Thanks, I really appreciate that!

  4. When you treat people poorly, this is a reflection of you as a person. Barking at someone through email or text is easy for some to do but in my experience, I have gotten more out of being diplomatic about a problem.

    If I’m having a problem with a product or company, I don’t want my complaint going to the bottom of the pile or worse, into the circular file. You can get more with honey than you can with vinegar.

    I enjoy making my customers happy. Giving them what they want and producing a quality product. Fortunately ( or unfortunately ) we’re small enough to have made 99% of our customers extremely happy and we are pleased with that.

    I will keep this article close by as we are constantly growing our customer base and sooner than later, hard as is to admit, we will get customers that are harsh and disregarding of our mission.

    Be kind and inquire about the nature of the issue, the knowledge you gain may be what you need for your own future.

    • When you treat people poorly, this is a reflection of you as a person.

      Love this statement – and I think it’s a gut check for all of us.

      Barking at someone through email or text is easy for some to do but in my experience, I have gotten more out of being diplomatic about a problem.

      Right? I mean the vendor/service provider/product isn’t out to get you or anyone else. They usually genuinely do want to help, so why act like it’s anything else?

      If I’m having a problem with a product or company, I don’t want my complaint going to the bottom of the pile or worse, into the circular file. You can get more with honey than you can with vinegar.

      It sounds cliché, but it’s so true. I’ve heard horror stories from friends who worked in the food industry about what they did to the food when people were really rude when they complained about what was brought to them.

      Even if I think I can be as polite as possible, I never it it back but that’s because I think I don’t trust people enough ;P.

      I enjoy making my customers happy. Giving them what they want and producing a quality product. Fortunately ( or unfortunately ) we’re small enough to have made 99% of our customers extremely happy and we are pleased with that.

      That’s fantastic! I hope that, as I head into the new year with a few new projects, I want to do make sure that I’m doing the same so I’m trying to lay the ground work for a lot of that stuff now.

      I will keep this article close by as we are constantly growing our customer base and sooner than later, hard as is to admit, we will get customers that are harsh and disregarding of our mission.

      Thanks, though I feel I need to keep your contact information close by just in case :).

      Be kind and inquire about the nature of the issue, the knowledge you gain may be what you need for your own future.

      So good.

  5. Jason,

    Your support has been great – I think it’s really hard sometimes for the right tone to come across in a ticket or email, as opposed to talking with someone in person:)

    • That’s because you submit amazing tickets. They are so helpful to us… which always puts your ticket at the top of the queue.

      That’s something maybe a lot of people don’t realize: if the support person does not have to spend 15 minutes piecing together the actual issue and backstory as to how the user got there, offering help is no problem at all. When the problem is obvious then the ticket becomes low hanging fruit and gets answered right away.

  6. Tom, this is a great post.

    As someone who both regularly gives and gets support, I know how hard it is, and I’ve been impressed with some companies who are unfailingly polite. I’m trying to more of the same when I reply to my customers.

    I just had a super response on a ticket in a situation where they too were way understaffed, and a sincere apology goes a long way.

    As someone seeking support, I’m trying to make it easier by including screencasts, error logs and more along with the written ticket. It’s really hard without the visual and verbal clues that go along with a one on one conversation, but I think it helps.

    Thanks for reminding me about empathy – I just went back and added a PS to a ticket:)

    • As someone who both regularly gives and gets support, I know how hard it is, and I’ve been impressed with some companies who are unfailingly polite. I’m trying to more of the same when I reply to my customers.

      Aren’t we all? I think it can even extend into small things like blog comments, tweets, and the like.

      I just had a super response on a ticket in a situation where they too were way understaffed, and a sincere apology goes a long way.

      It does! And it’s not their fault they are understaffed. This isn’t my trying to attribute blame, but the person to whom you’re speaking really doesn’t have the ability to make the call on how they are staffed so it doesn’t make sense to really take frustration out on them.

      Thanks for reminding me about empathy – I just went back and added a PS to a ticket:)

      Honestly, half of what I’m blogging about is stuff that I’m reminding myself so I’m glad it helped someone else, too!

  7. Making mistakes is part of being human. Its how we recover from those mistakes that shows our true character.

    Remembering that helps me to both give empathy and strive for excellence.

    • Making mistakes is part of being human. Its how we recover from those mistakes that shows our true character.

      True. Unfortunately, some people aren’t necessarily patient or understanding when mistakes happen. And that’s when it sucks.

      Remembering that helps me to both give empathy and strive for excellence.

      Agreed.

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