When asked if product support is done in-house by the company who built the product, the easy answer appears to be yes, doesn’t it? I mean, why would you have it any other way?

More specifically, why would you have someone who doesn’t work for your company handle support for something you (or you and your team) built?

Sure, there are loopholes – a phrase I use loosely in this post – for this like hiring someone to work for your company who can be a dedicated resource to handling support of the product when they aren’t as familiar with the product.

But when that happens, I think the lack of experience shows when you start to get into slightly more complicated issues.

On WordPress Product Support

First, for all intents and purposes, I’m talking about software or something tangentially related to it in our space. That is, it could be something like a WordPress plugin or it could be something related like web hosting.

A, ahem, modern call center.

A, ahem, modern call center.

Anyway, it’s likely that we’ve all had an experience similar to this…

  • We contact customer support for an issue that we’re having with a product.
  • We’re usually sent through to the first level of support who are familiar with common issues. For many people, this will often help them. But if you have a more complicated issue, you get escalated to “Tier 2” or “Level 2” or whatever language they use.
  • Once there, you’re able to speak to someone who’s more familiar with the technical aspects of what’s happening and able to help diagnose the problem and to help find a solution.

Sometimes you end up discovering a real bug; other times, there’s a configuration issue, environmental variable, or something that has to be addressed on your end.

No big deal. It’s fixed, you move on, and they move on to the next ticket.

And in WordPress?

For many companies in our segment of the economy, this is often how it plays out. People who are responsible for taking tickets – either via phone or email – have a process by which they go for triaging issues.

Support via email

Support via email

That’s great. I think it’s smart. It wouldn’t be in place if it didn’t work.

Ultimately, it allows people with minor issues (though it may not feel minor to them) to have their issues solved more quickly and allows those with more expertise and time to handle more complicated issues.

On Training

Whenever someone is brought on to a new company and will work in customer support, they will likely be expected to have some familiarity with the given product or service, but they’ll also be trained on the product or service they will be supporting.

This means that even if the new hire has never actually used what they are going to support, they will be taught the product and then given the set of cases they can expect to support.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing at all. It gives people jobs, there are certainly people who are better at customer support than others (it’s a personality thing, isn’t it?), and it helps a company continue to grow its business.

On Dogfooding

But I don’t think it means a company shouldn’t use its own work. Personally, I think those often make for the best products. If you’re relying on the very thing you’re building, then you’re going to want it to be great.

Why would you want to use something that’s half-baked or that doesn’t fully provide a solution to a felt need?

Further, say you’re in the business of building WordPress themes. It can be lucrative, sure, but the thing about your company is that no one on your team uses the theme you’re building. Or maybe they aren’t even familiar with the various use cases for a given theme.

How can you honestly expect to support the customer, meet their expectations, and even provide a solid product?

Just Answer The Question

In short, I think that WordPress product support should be in-house.

But there’s a caveat to this. Building software for WordPress is similar to building software for any other type of platform:

You have the platform that could have a problem and you have your software that could have a problem.

To the customer and the user, they are often one in the same. If your product is broken, then WordPress is broken. If WordPress has a bug and your product was the last thing they installed, you’re going to be called first.

Most likely, at least.

And that’s the nature of the business. So are there ways we can handle this? Sure. But this post has already grown longer than I wanted it to be.

I’m Not Done

Honestly, you may think the post reads kind of weak because I spent the majority of the post talking in more generic terms.

do have a follow-up post to this, though. I wanted to start wide before narrowly focusing in on exactly one way I think WordPress-based companies can handle support.

I’ll get to that soon, but I wanted to capture the general idea of product support, how it might work, and some considerations worth making when it comes to our own product.

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Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. I don’t mean to open Pandora’s box and discuss payed GPL-licensed WordPress products here, but in practice this is what most companies who build WordPress products actually sell: dedicated customer support.

    Which can create problems in the long run, of course, when companies of developers start realizing they were not prepared for anything other than building stuff; on the other hand, that model provides career opportunities for people like yours truly. :)

    So yay, I’m all for builders should provide support in-house. At the same time I’m pretty certain we’re going to see more outsourcing soon as support people become increasingly aware there’s a market for general WordPress customer support services.

    • I don’t mean to open Pandora’s box and discuss payed GPL-licensed WordPress products here, but in practice this is what most companies who build WordPress products actually sell: dedicated customer support.

      We’re in agreement. No worries, none of that opening of pandora’s box. I generally shut that down on this blog anyway ;).

      Which can create problems in the long run, of course, when companies of developers start realizing they were not prepared for anything other than building stuff; on the other hand, that model provides career opportunities for people like yours truly. :)

      Exactly! I mean, now you’ve cut your work cut out for you with WP Media, right? So cool.

      So yay, I’m all for builders should provide support in-house. At the same time I’m pretty certain we’re going to see more outsourcing soon as support people become increasingly aware there’s a market for general WordPress customer support services.

      And you nailed the key: general WordPress customer support services.

      More on this later :).

  2. Curious about how you go into this further. I work for a pretty awesome company providing support for one of their plugins. I’ve learned a ton about the plugin and how it interacts (and sometimes doesn’t) with WordPress in order to feel confident in doing my job. But there’s still lots of relatively basic things I still have to turn around and ask about.

    Does that mean I shouldn’t be handling support. I don’t think so. But then again, I’m one of those people. You know, the kind of people who just get a kick out of being in the support biz … and it’s not like that for everyone.

    So I guess I’d say … I disagree and yet I agree. If customer support was a one-size-fits-all kind of model it would be easy to say “this is a WordPress plugin and this is how support should be handled” … when in actuality there are a ton of different plugins and a ton of different companies who develop those plugins.

    Some train the little people like me a whole lot more effectively, some don’t. Some provide a little database of questions and answers and call it a day; others want you to get your own hands dirty digging into the code and understanding it better.

    I think, if you are trusted and expected to learn more about the plugin, the development, and the troubleshooting, then you would be more effective in support than someone who reads their answers from a multiple choice dropdown based on the question asked. :D

    Support isn’t always easy. Sometimes it involved more than one headache. But it can be very rewarding. :D

    • Curious about how you go into this further. I work for a pretty awesome company providing support for one of their plugins. I’ve learned a ton about the plugin and how it interacts (and sometimes doesn’t) with WordPress in order to feel confident in doing my job. But there’s still lots of relatively basic things I still have to turn around and ask about.

      You’re dancing around what I’m planning to cover next, but the idea that you’re handling support in-house for the plugins that you and the team have going on :).

      Does that mean I shouldn’t be handling support.

      Absolutely not! My ultimate response is going to be that you, and other in-house support technicians, should be the ones responsible for supporting the product.

      But there’s a line to be drawn somewhere and that’s what I’m going to discuss next.

      Support isn’t always easy. Sometimes it involved more than one headache. But it can be very rewarding. :D

      Agree with you completely :).

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