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A continuous journey of customer support optimization

Written by Mark Forrester on January 20, 2012 Woo news.

Simplify. Work out the kinks. Re-focus.

That’s our plan for 2012, discussed in meticulous detail over the past couple weeks during Magnus’s visit to Cape Town. Exactly what that entails remains top secret for now. What we hope will increase happiness levels amongst our users is our quest to make our support structures more efficient. Working out the kinks.

With 123 themes and 123 theme docs, and other support resources including a knowledgebase, FAQs, a support forum, tutorials and a video library catering for over 130,000 users it’s very much a daunting work in progress that we are tackling one resource at a time. Below details some of the work going on behind the scenes recently.

Talking 2012 strategy with our latest board member - Adii Junior.

Email

Mid last year we implemented Assistly, a customer service system, to manage our pre-sales and administration email. Previously, we simply used Google Mail and thanks to IMAP between myself, Adii and Ryan we managed to keep the mailbox under control and synchronised. We still use Google Apps to deliver our mail, but thanks to Assistly we now have a sexy, fast interface to use, we can assign mail easier, track response times and draw all sorts of interesting reports on customer interactions, resolve email threads, as well as manage our social media channels, like Twitter, without worrying about numerous staff members replying to the same tweets. There are a wealth of other facilities we are yet to tap into, but hope to explore soon.

Capacity wise we now have Ryan in the United States, Sven in China, and Adii overseeing the inbox here in South Africa – covering all time zones helping us deal with the 150+ emails we receive and keep our response times impressively fast, averaging under 3 hours.

Reports gathered thanks to Assistly.

Support Forums

With the launch of our own custom membership system late last year we re-developed our forums. In the short term that meant lots of small bugs and hassles as we took the database structure of bbPress, stripped the unnecessary code and built on top of it. In the longer term it is now meaning we have far more flexibility in terms of how our forum threads are presented, managed, answered and assigned.

The team can now assign topics

Previously we used Lighthouse to track bugs/feature requests and assign to our developers/designers, but that meant logging into another system and no direct automated correlation between a user reported issue and it’s fix. We now have the assignment of threads and conversion into bug reports automated within our forums.

We also have various admin views for quick access to support threads that need attention, and a ninja leaderboard to help encourage the team when they aren’t performing as well as the rest of the team know they are capable of, so we  can pat team members on the back and reward them when they are doing well, and keep track of their targets they have to meet each month.

Useful forum tools and stats available for the team.

We’ve also implemented strict controls on who can post on a user’s thread – only the support ninjas and the user who started the topic. This may seem impractical to some, reporting the same query again, but it helps us keep track of what is resolved, with only the original poster able to open the thread again. Having a closed forum also avoid answers that might be wrong or off topic from other members, which in return ensures that we can deliver proper support from our WooNinjas.

Only topic author can reply to a topic.

A user also needs to wait for a support ninja to reply before they can comment on a thread again. They can of course edit their post, but by limiting further replies allows the support queue to stay in order. Our ninjas try to reply to the oldest posts first and as soon as a follow up post is added to the mix it goes to the back of the queue again = unhappy customer.

After posting, members are asked to wait to avoid bumping threads.

These revisions may sound rather minor, but they’ve had significant results on support levels. We are still struggling with overwhelming numbers of support queries at the moment, but have hired a new support ninja we hope to introduce soon, as well as headhunting a more senior support manager which we have no doubt will help increase capacity and customer happiness levels even further.

Videos

Some of the WP101 titles available to all our users in the support section of the site.

Video tutorials are an important part of our support resources, a more visual learning experience. We’ve recently updated our video library with our good friend Shawn Hesketh’s latest WordPress101 series that can be used by our users to train their clients, or even themselves. The WordPress101 series is geared for WordPress 3.3 so is up-to-date and hugely helpful in getting to know the WordPress system.

And there you have it, a small glimpse into the recent behind the scenes happenings at WooHQ in trying to ensure happy customers, and the often hard graft that entails.

This post is part of the “WooLessons” series, where we aim to share as much valuable information from our experiences with WooThemes until now. The aim is to enable and empower more entrepreneurs and startups to be similarly successful by sharing the wealth of knowledge we’ve accumulated on our journey.

41 Responses

  1. Nick Cobb
    January 20, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    I’ve been posting in your forums for more than three years now. Thanks for all of your hard work, your great themes and the wonderful support. It’s easy to see why Woo Themes is so far ahead of the pack.

    • Ryan Ray
      January 20, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

      Many thanks Nick, awesome to see you’ve been with us and our forums through their growth. 🙂

  2. Andy
    January 20, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    All sounds great except maybe the one thread per user problem method you have have in place now. I have found that despite the search facility you guys have on there there are loads of duplicate or almost duplicate posts which if opened to others could be merged into super threads for a particular topic and save everyone time.

    • Magnus
      January 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

      Hi Andy,

      In the early stages of Woo we had this and found that 95% of the crossposting only caused confusion for both us and the customer.

      We’d rather answer a questions multiple times, than have one large thread with many customers all asking about a topic that should have been resolved.

      It is very rare that a user who cross-posted had exactly the same problem, and could use exactly the same solution to the problem.

      Also it would be hectic for a customer to receive e-mail notifications on their thread (as they do now when we reply), but instead of us replying it was another customer asking a followup question.

      The customer asking the question should be top priority, and by disabling cross-posting we are giving top priority to the customer 🙂

      • Bradley Allen
        January 25, 2012 at 10:05 am #

        I have one of those rare cases, in that I have the exact same problem as someone else, and therefore hoping for the same solution.

        I keep checking the support thread to see if the issue has been resolved, but it’s still open. At this point, a WooTeam Member has offered a code solution and asked the Woo Client to try out in functions.php

        I tried the solution out, and it actually does not work. The Woo Client has still not responded to the proposed solution. I’d be happy to chime in and say I tried it, but it does not work. But I totally understand Woo’s reasoning for keeping the threads limited to one Client.

        My only request or suggestion here would be the ability for any Woo Client, like myself, to subscribe to the support thread via email. This way I wouldn’t have to keep checking the thread to see if it has been updated.

  3. allmyhoney
    January 20, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    The forums are simply staggering in terms of the level of support. All I can say is more power to you guys.

    • Magnus
      January 20, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

      Thanks we appreciate that!

  4. Theresa
    January 20, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    In terms of support you’re second to none, thanks for the help you have given me over the years!

    • Ryan Ray
      January 20, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

      Always welcome of course, as long as you let us know where we can improve things for you so you don’t have to use the forums! 😉

  5. Sarah
    January 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    The support forums are great but the documentation and tutorials still need a lot of work. The basics just aren’t being covered which leads to the same questions being asked again and again.

    Just my 2p.
    Thanks
    Sarah

    • Magnus
      January 20, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      Hi Sarah,

      You are one of our top posters in the forum with over 300 questions, so any time you feel our theme documentation is lacking, you should tell us so in your forum posts 🙂

      I’m sorry if I missed if you have already done this in some posts!

      • Sarah
        January 24, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

        Really!
        Oh dear sorry about that!

        I guess I need to take some time out and learn PHP properly, although every time you give me some answers I do learn a bit more. I guess I’m always trying to find new ways of doing stuff or using your themes in different ways, especially with the animal charities I help out on.

        Thanks
        Sarah

    • Magnus
      January 20, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      Also please let us know which basics currently aren’t being covered so we can improve our docs.

    • Ryan Ray
      January 20, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

      I second that, always ready to take your suggestions and improve the docs. We’d love to avoid the same question being asked by improving the docs, a win win! 🙂

      • Sarah
        January 24, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

        I’ll take a look through and see. On my blog I’ve started writing for WordPress end-users, people who want control of their own website but have no web development background. I have a strong HTML/CSS background just not PHP although I used to program VB/.net. There are a lot of WordPress users who have no HTML/CSS experience let alone any programming experience and I think the basics for these people need to be looked at.

  6. Mike Hoefer
    January 20, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    Hi Woo

    I’d love to be able to offer my clients access to the training videos. From what I know/can tell you need to be logged in to see them?

    The great bits about video is people can watch on their own schedule.

    Is there any chance you could make the WP101 videos public? If licensing prevents that, perhaps you could make them available after authentication though the WooTheme theme options panel.

    Thanks for all the great work you all do!

    • Magnus
      January 20, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

      Hi Mike

      EDIT: sorry the WP101 videos are for members only unfortunately. You can sign up your customer here: http://www.wp101.com/signup/

      Regards,
      Magnus

      • Mike Hoefer
        January 20, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

        The vids most helpful to my clients (end users) “Create a New Post”, “How to Create and Edit Pages”, etc. are restricted if not logged in.

        It would be a value add to my business to enable client access to these. I would even consider paying for a “Pro” level club membership for the privilege.

        • Shawn Hesketh
          January 21, 2012 at 1:54 am #

          Hi Mike,

          At the risk of self-promoting here, you might check out the WP101 Plugin, which provides the same core “WordPress 101” tutorial videos directly within your clients’ WordPress Dashboard.

          More details here: http://www.wp101plugin.com

          Hope this helps!
          Shawn

          • Mike Hoefer
            January 21, 2012 at 4:31 am #

            Perfect! You’ll have a new customer shortly!

            Now back to the regularly scheduled discussion thread!

          • Ryan Ray
            January 21, 2012 at 7:12 pm #

            I can second this Mike, is a great resource for you and your clients. 😉

  7. John
    January 20, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    Not sure if i agree with your forum changes. Don’t you think you’re making a lot of unnecessary work for yourselves?

    At the moment it doesn’t feel like a forum. With no community interaction it’s more like a giant public ticket system.

    I’m not complaining – your support is good, but i think there are also many people out there who could help each other and reduce your burden…

    • Magnus
      January 20, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

      Hi John,

      I agree that it is more a cross between a forum and a ticket based system now, but I guess what still makes it a forum is the ability to see other peoples topics.

      Either way, I think the improvements we’ve made has decreased the work for ourselves, that’s exactly why we made them 🙂

      A community forum only operates if the community interacts and helps out each other, and in our old forum we didn’t experience customers helping each other out. Also consider that we offer a paid product, so would you rather receive support from another user or from a trained WooNinja?

      I also thought people would help each other out, but in the end we offer a paid product and most of our customers are interested in getting support for what they pay for instead of helping out others. That is totally fair in my eyes, which is why we made these changes to optimize.

      • Sarah
        January 24, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

        When you changed the forum a while back the option to save a favourite post seemed to have disappeared. Often I see other posts which I like to bookmark because they provide the answer I need. Is this still possible (and I’ve just overlooked it) or can you bring it back?

        Thanks
        Sarah

        • Magnus
          January 24, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

          We’ve already got a to-do to add back the favourite post function back, as this is needed by our WooNinjas as well 🙂 Expect it back soon!

          • Sarah
            January 25, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

            Brilliant, thanks.
            Sarah

    • Mark Forrester
      January 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

      Hey John, valid question. We’ve been through many iterations of our forums and had that facility available in the past. The problem was a lot of the time the solutions provided by fellow community members caused even more support, breaking something else or just putting a band aid on the problem. Our support ninjas are obviously hugely experienced and can find the most efficient solution much quicker. The amount of community helpers was very limited too. Our forums have therefore evolved into more of a ticketing system.

      That said we’ll soon have a forum for general WooCommerce plugin users that we hope will be well received and supported by the WooCommerce community.

  8. nichs
    January 20, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

    Your themes and help via the forum has enabled me to build great websites with little coding knowledge. Excellent stuff.

  9. Tim
    January 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    Your support and flexible themes are why I continue to stay. The documentation in my opinion is great. The videos are a great help and the tutorials.

    I’d like to see more done with Woocommerce personally. Thanks and keep up the good work.

    • Ryan Ray
      January 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

      We’ve got more stuff covering WooCommerce coming up, would videos and docs of the same nature help you with WooCommerce as well?

      • Tim
        January 26, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

        Woocommerce is pretty easy to pick up. Coming from Magento, WC is a piece of cake. Videos wouldn’t do much for me but might help a true beginner.

        The only pressing thing in my opinion that is missing is a more flexible import/exporting system for product/sales/customers (yes I have the product importer deluxe).

        Many of us interface with POS systems in brick & mortar shops so there needs to be a way to either interface with the WC through an api or give more flexibility in terms of importing and exporting so we can keep quantities, sales data, and products up to date.

        Quickbooks would probably be a good standard one to work with. 2 of my main clients use Quickbooks so it seems to be popular.

  10. Rob
    January 24, 2012 at 6:58 am #

    Well i give you guys real credit for this blog. Good to see a company that is open and frank about their problems and to see what they doing about.
    I aint a subscriber but seeing this blog just made me make up mymind. Every business has issues especially the software industry how you deal with issues is key to me. Too many wipe them under the carpet and pretend they dont exist. I aint looking for perfection just want a group committed to support of some sort.
    Thanks for the breath of fresh air.

    • Ryan Ray
      January 24, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words here Rob, very cool to hear!

  11. Laura
    January 24, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

    Hi Woo Team,

    Just wanted to give a shout out to your ninjas. I’m sure the volume of support requests must get a bit crazy sometimes, but any time I’ve posted in your forums you guys get back to me really quickly. Magnus was particularly helpful to me last week. I’m finding that your themes, particularly Canvas, are a great way for me to dig in and learn some code. It’s definitely not my strength, but I find myself more comfortable jumping in and making small changes because of your tutorials and support forum.

    The only thing I would really hope for is more tutorials, and particularly, help with combining features of themes. I find myself now wanting to create a Diner/Diarise mashup for a bar/restaurant where the Diarise entertainment calendar would be so helpful. If I could follow some tutorials on carrying across theme options from one to another, I might just learn something!

    Anyway, you guys are doing a great job. Thank you!

  12. Frank McClung
    January 24, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    I never knew how you guys pulled off such great support to so many customers with so few resources. Now I do! (Sort of). Still the best support I’ve ever experienced.

  13. Sarah
    January 25, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    I don’t think there is this but if not then what would be really good are video transcripts. I hate watching videos because I know I can read about 10 times quicker and I don’t like to waste my time. Market Samurai do this with their tutorials/presentations and it is very good.
    Sarah

  14. Kathe
    March 17, 2012 at 4:09 am #

    A user left the following remarks in the forum and the response was polite but inadequate. BillieN wrote (condensed):

    Your products are unquestionably excellent… but your support system is exceedlingly poor. Not the qualty of answers, which are very good. Questions:

    1. Why can’t forum users respond to each other like many other WP theme forums?

    Thesis has you beat hands down in this regard. Their framework is a not at all easy for non-techies, but when you post in their forum you typically get immediate responses from fellow users.

    Thesis moderators only answer around 30-40% of posts, and only maybe half of those are additions/corrections to the user replies.

    2. Why aren’t the obvious questions and answers documented somewhere?

    How to change various image sizes and image layouts in the Woocommerce themes should be written out somewhere 1-2-3. This is an easy and obvious customization that I believe many people would like to do. Scores of other things like that should be documented. Although your docs are fairly comprehensive, they miss a lot of the things we users want to know.

    Woothemes Support is not really a forum. It’s a forum application that you’ve partly disbled to use for support.

    Something as simple as a real forum where users can respond to each other would likely do it. You can certainly afford vBulletin and have enough ninjas to effectively moderate a real forum.

    I really like your products and offer these suggestions because of how good they are.

    — end quote —

    How about an adequate reply to those points?

    • Magnus
      March 18, 2012 at 4:55 am #

      Hi,

      We’ve answered this in the forum, but I’ll repeat here:

      1. Our new forum is custom built into our backend system. We use bbPress before which allowed users to cross post in other posts. We measured this and saw that 90% of the time a user cross posted, it was to ask a question for their specific problem, instead of helping the current topic starter with their problem.

      I wish our users would help out like they do in Thesis forums, but that just wasn’t the case on our support forum. In the end the decision was made to not allow cross posting to give better support, and we all agree that it is way better for both our customers and support staff after the switch.

      We have a public WooCommerce forum where other users can reply to your questions also.

      2. Obvious questions are documented in our support FAQ and theme documentation. You can suggest missing documentation in our general forum or even directly to us by e-mail.

      3. We have had a good increase in customers since the launch of WooCommerce and we are constantly increasing our support staff to catch up to the increase. We’ve done 3 new hires recently and making 2 more hires now to stay on top of this.

      Thanks for your input.

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