The future of Woo support: how we’re planning to grow and improve

Written by Michael Krapf on December 15, 2015 Blog, Woo news.

tl;dr: Woo support has struggled in recent months to keep up with demand due to the rapid growth of WooCommerce. We want you to know that we are committed to improving, so we fulfill our mission of helping customers be successful.

Woo support has struggled in recent months to keep up with demand. This has led to long ticket response times, and our customers have been expressing frustration about this.

Because we believe in open and honest communication, we want to explain why this is the case, and show you in detail what we plan to do (and are doing) about it.

Read on to learn what’s going on and what we’re doing about it, and to see details on the four-point improvement plan for Woo support that is already in action.

Why Woo support is struggling — and why we needed an action plan

To fully understand the situation, it’s important to look back at how far we’ve come and how quickly we’ve travelled.

When WooCommerce launched four years ago, it filled a need in the marketplace for an intuitive, extendable, and portable eCommerce solution. Combined with WordPress, WooCommerce made it easy for anyone to sell online.

This freedom and accessibility has been the driving force behind its growth and popularity. To put things in perspective, WooCommerce is now powering over 30% of all online stores. This is no small feat, and it hopefully begins to explain the challenges faced by our support team, who now tackle thousands of tickets per month.

Our Ninjas sit down to work each day focused on helping others (that’s you!) become successful in their endeavors. Nothing makes our team happier than a satisfied customer. The delays in recent months are not what we strive for, and required us to create a plan to succeed.

Our multifaceted improvement plan for Woo support, currently in action, includes:

  1. Hiring
  2. Training
  3. Documentation
  4. Proactive system improvements

Let’s go through each of these in order.

Hiring: bringing in new Ninjas to help our customers

Recruiting and hiring are the most important things we can do to increase availability to customers. To improve this effort, we’ve enlisted the help of our marketing team and their expertise in social outreach to accelerate the applicant pipeline.

We Are Hiring
We are hiring — come join us?

We’re combing the globe to find self-motivated problem solvers, with a passion for learning and the heart of a teacher. Once found, it takes several months to onboard and train a new team member. The position requires specialized knowledge that takes time to develop, and has impacted our ability to keep up with the growth of WooCommerce.

We are looking to add enough people over the next several months to get ahead of the growth, then focus on quality improvement. Our goal is to build relationships based on trust in an environment that encourages positivity and engagement with our customers. A healthy team can listen, respond, and ultimately fullfull our mission to make others successful. The strain we’ve been under, due to a lack of human resources, has restricted our ability to do this. We’re working on it!

Training: ensuring all Ninjas have the skills they need to succeed

I will never stop learning.

That’s the first line of our creed, and it’s something that we take very seriously.

As stated earlier, finding people with the right skills and abilities is only the beginning in developing proficient team members that have the knowledge and experience to assist our customers. We’ve committed to making training and education, not only part of the onboarding process, but a mainstay in our overall support strategy.

As a first step, we hired an Education and Training Manager to oversee our internal training and development. Job is enriching Woo with his knowledge and experience, applying academic principles to our real world situation. We’re utilizing our Sensei LMS to facilitate courses in our Ninja Training Center which has provided much needed structure to our process. This use of our own product will not only assist in educating our team, but also lead to better understanding of the needs of our customers and ultimately a better product.

Since mastery is a critical element in overall employee engagement, individual development is a big part of our long term strategy. This includes sessions with our partners to increase product knowledge, leadership development to improve team effectiveness, online and in person meetups to facilitate knowledge sharing, as well as many other formal and informal opportunities for our team to grow.

WooTrip
Team meetups are crucial for learning, growing, and excelling. They’re also fun.

Since we’re hiring natural learners, training and education are organically infused into our culture, making these initiatives the foundation for long-term success.

Documentation: giving our customers the ability to help themselves

Another way we’re working to improve customer success is in the overhaul of our passive resources. We recognize a disconnect between our current Knowledge Base and Documentation, and see an opportunity to reexamine the entire customer journey.

Because of this, we’re working behind the scenes to create a unified system with a focus on pathways to help you find what you are looking for — faster and easier.

We're creating a new way to steer you to what you need quickly and easily.
We’re creating a new way to steer you to what you need quickly and easily.

We understand the impact that different learning styles have on the way customers find answers. Some prefer text based instruction, others value videos, and many benefit from an interactive experience. Part of our education initiative includes consideration for these differences, and experimentation in making different types of media.

We recently shifted a team member’s full focus to improving documentation. We have a dedicated person working on creating and maintaining our video resources. We’ve also partnered with Sidekick to make WooCommerce walkthroughs available right in your store. We think these changes help all customers learn and find answers, no matter what experience they prefer.

Proactive system improvements: fixing bugs and improving efficiency along the way

Commitment to customer success doesn’t start or stop with a single department. We believe everything is connected, and strive for a holistic approach when delivering on customer expectations.

Now that we are part of the larger Automattic family, we have access to a wealth of knowledge and experience from their support teams. We’ve already begun cross pollinating to gain a better understanding of each other and to find ways we can work together to improve efficiency.

In addition to these support-focused initiatives, we’re implementing improvements to our workflows and strengthening relationships between departments to ensure we spot trends sooner, resolve bugs faster, and deliver enhancements based on real world needs.

A recent example: our Support Team is working closely with the WooCommerce Development Team to make sure our catalog of over 500 products are thoroughly tested and ready for the upcoming release. It’s a logical and proactive step that sounds simple, but executing on such a broad scale requires deliberate and methodical coordination. We measure success for this type of behind the scenes effort by our customer not even realizing it’s going on, because that means their updates were successful.

We’re genuinely grateful for your support and understanding

Thank you for taking the time to understand our current challenges and for being receptive to our proposed solutions. We are humbled by the rapid growth experienced by WooCommerce, and so thankful to our loyal customers for making it the success it is today.

We have several solutions lined up, and we’re actively working on improving our support, but we would also love to hear your input as well. If you have other suggestions on how we could improve, we encourage you to share those ideas with us in a constructive way. Comments are open, and we will be reading them as they come in.

We look forward to celebrating future growth and improvement with you in 2016.

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23 Responses

  1. allmyhoney
    December 15, 2015 at 9:51 pm #

    This all makes alot of sense. I for one appreciate and respect the work of the support team and they have saved me many times. I really am happy to see this only but improve and am happy to give feedback along the way. Super job keeping pace here.

    • Michael Krapf
      December 16, 2015 at 11:53 pm #

      Thanks! We appreciate the support 🙂

  2. Dale Reardon
    December 16, 2015 at 3:24 am #

    Hi,

    This is great news. I have had need for several support interactions and unfortunately they have taken quite a while.

    Look forward to the improvements.

    Dale.

    • Michael Krapf
      December 17, 2015 at 12:02 am #

      Thank you for bearing with us Dale. We look forward to improving your next interaction with us.

  3. qdkltd
    December 16, 2015 at 11:35 am #

    As a web development company we only submit tickets very infrequently and mostly manage to debug any issues ourselves. This is really good news though as recently I did have cause to submit a ticket and was really surprised at the length of time taken to answer.

    I was also surprised and disappointed with the level of support too. I was told to install the Storefront theme to see if the problem continued with that activated. I find this really surprising since I was using the Canvas theme which is supposed to be one of your primary themes.

    All in all it wasn’t a great support experience but that said I really do look forward to things improving because WooCommerce is fantastic, a real credit to all of you at Woo, and Canvas in my opinion is one of, if not the best framework theme available.

    • Michael Krapf
      December 17, 2015 at 9:45 pm #

      Thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like we could have done better in that interaction and I’ll definitely follow-up on our end. We’re elated that you are finding success with WooCommerce and Canvas and look forward to future opportunities to help. Cheers!

      P.S. I’m personally a huge Canvas fan as well 🙂

  4. allmyhoney
    December 16, 2015 at 12:52 pm #

    I would say payment gateway tickets – by their very nature need to be somehow prioritized, I find that if the issue is tricky it only gets passed to the actual developer after 3 or 4 days and well at that stage 50 or 60 orders would have been missed on my own store for example. Not sure if that is even possible to achieve but I would say any issue with the checkout and payment gateway itself needs to be answered very promptly for people to trust the support levels moving forward.

    • Michael Krapf
      December 17, 2015 at 9:38 pm #

      Yes payment gateways are an extremely important element of a WooCommerce site and we recognize that by having a dedicated “Payments Team”. We’re on the same page and will definitely remember your comments as we dedicate our incoming resources. Thank you!

  5. Jim Ryan
    December 18, 2015 at 11:33 am #

    I love WooC. I recommend WooC to hundreds of website customers each year. I use WooC exclusively to the prejudice of all other online shops. WooC is outstanding.

    Remi Corson wrote and posted how to utilize custom fields in variable products. The published post in 2014 is outdated due to recent version updates. Remi’s post does not explain where the coding goes, what file does the coding go.

    If you would be so kind to revisit this crucial topic because I have read dozens of posts by other users who are clamoring to figure this custom fields for variable products — not new, not novel just explain it specifically and solve this customer service issue please.

    Thank you very much indeed.

    • Remi
      December 18, 2015 at 4:17 pm #

      Him Jim, the post was updated a few weeks ago 😉

  6. Gabor
    December 21, 2015 at 9:05 pm #

    Hello,
    Same issue as allmyhoney is having. We are are still waiting for your very first reply and 7 days have passed by already. The CyberSource payment gateway extension has stopped working. So no sales at all 🙁 These issues should be of high priory…
    It is hard to be loyal to WooThemes extensions, when we loose a lot of customers.
    Good luck! It is in the interest of all of us for you to succeed.

  7. KATHY
    December 21, 2015 at 10:06 pm #

    Thank you for your honesty and transparency. That could not have been an easy post to write and share with the world. It is greatly appreciated.

    Sure, I’ve sobbed hot tears into my keyboard in frustration when my website was having a glitch and I was convinced NO ONE else on earth had ever had such a dramatic problem. While I may have shook my fist at ya’ll (smiling) I get it and understand you are doing the best you can with what you have.

    Hopefully you will get more team members on board FAST and get things in order. I’ve said it before, but gotta say it again…consider an expedited PAID service. There are times I would have paid pretty much what you asked to get help FAST.

    Best of Luck and consider the expedited service option!

    • Michael Krapf
      December 28, 2015 at 4:21 pm #

      Hey, thank you for your support and understanding Kathy.

      We’ve examined a premium expedited option and have concluded that we want everyone to get top level service. So for right now, rather than adding another layer, we’re going to focus on reinforcement and optimization.

      That said, nothing is off the table 🙂

  8. Katie Keith
    December 23, 2015 at 9:09 am #

    We try to use Woo plugins to extend the WooCommerce sites we develop because they’re guaranteed to work together and it’s less risky than using third party authors – even though Woo plugins are much more expensive. However this is undermined by the issues with the support system, which makes you jump through hoops that other companies don’t. If Woo’s support was faster and more positive (the tone is often very defensive and it can take over a week to receive a proper responsive) then I would be much more confident in paying the extra for Woo plugins. It’s great to see that action is being taken on this front, because my experiences of WooThemes support have been worse than the MANY other companies I have sent support requests to.

  9. Eoin Redmond
    December 23, 2015 at 3:25 pm #

    Hi Micheal,
    We’ve read your post a couple of times and I’m afraid we feel it’s long on vague promises and bereft of any measurable deliverables or SLAs.
    I’m sure you will recall that a few years WooThemes changed its pricing model i.e. you started charging us the full product purchase price every year for support and updates. We were told that this was necessary in order to ensure that WooThemes would be around in years to come and allow you to offer a high level of support!
    Well the “high level of support” objective seems to have got lost in the scramble to fleece web development companies like ourselves with support and updates fees for what are already overpriced extensions in the first place.
    We could talk about the quality of support offered by WooThemes but that’s already been well covered in previous comments.
    We would suggest the following…
    1. All renewal fees for all products are immediately reduced by 50%.
    2. WooThemes commit to a measurable, independently verifiable SLA i.e. 90% of all support tickets are responded to within 4 hours.
    3. Please, please, please stop call WooThemes support staff “ninjas” – it is as ridiculous as it is inappropriate!
    Yes we do love the products but WooThemes are charging a lot of money for almost non-existent support services – the elastic will only stretch so far Michael.
    Regards,

    Eoin Redmond
    Istech Web Design
    Kilkenny, Rep of Ireland

    • Doug
      December 24, 2015 at 3:21 am #

      I can appreciate both sides of the support struggle.

      On one hand, I can relate to Eoin’s frustration of how the promise of really great support in exchange for a sustainable price has never been fully realized. Although I have usually received quality support, I don’t recall the response time dipping below two days in the last couple years, at least not for a sustained period.

      On the other hand, I can understand the challenges of keeping up with a hugely popular product like WooCommerce. It takes time to bring new employees online and the pace of growth has been swift. I’m sure the merger has slowed things down a bit too.

      Sure, this isn’t the first time we’ve all heard support would be fixed. But I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the support people in person. They are amazing folks working really hard to do a great job. I do believe Woo can learn from past experiences to make meaningful changes.

    • Michael Krapf
      December 28, 2015 at 4:06 pm #

      Hey Eoin,

      This post was meant to be an objective overview at our support roadmap. The key results that you were looking for will be phased in and coordinated with our hiring efforts. I can see how that would be perceived as vague if you were looking for specific deliverables.

      We are looking to add enough people over the next several months to get ahead of the growth, and then focus on quality improvement. The quality improvement plan includes key results on sliding scale with staffing and training being the variables. Those two areas will also have their own goals.

      I certainly think your expectation of a 90% satisfaction and 4-hour response time is reasonable and achievable. We appreciate you sharing your expectations and will use this comment as motivation to deliver.

      Hiro the Ninja is our mascot and personification of our brand and culture. If you’re interested, we go into detail about what Hiro represents here – https://woocommerce.com/about/meet-hiro/.

  10. Doug
    December 24, 2015 at 3:36 am #

    I’m not one to raise concerns without solutions, so here are a few practical suggestions:

    1. Find ways to train your customers to create good tickets. One of your support staff I met at a WordCamp a few years ago told me about the kinds of things he appreciated in a ticket. Ever since then I’ve tried to write the best tickets I possibly can.

    2. Consider a customer merit system where those who give you good tickets or have a history of submitting patches get a rating over time that automatically routes them to more experienced or higher level support people, or to quicker responses. This encourages everyone to work toward excellence.

    3. Invite some of those good customers to the GitHub repository for the paid extensions they use, even though not many customers would participate. I have this relationship with a couple extension developers and I’d like to think that at least some of what I’ve contributed has been of value and has kept unnecessary activity out of the support queue.

    4. Be sure to train support staff to read tickets well. There’s little as frustrating as waiting for a reply that only asks for information that was provided in the original ticket or in the required system status report. In some cases it can mean waiting for another cycle of response time. Although canned messages are useful, when they are overused only to shorten the immediate support queue they inconvenience the customer and increase the later burden of the support staff.

    5. Don’t auto close tickets so fast. It’s just not right that they close in half the time it’s been taking you to respond lately. Customers can use some response time too. 🙂

    • Michael Krapf
      December 28, 2015 at 10:28 pm #

      Great suggestions Doug! Your list is already stimulating some thoughts on things we can do to improve. We’ll keep this in mind as we move forward.

  11. Ardja
    January 6, 2016 at 9:56 pm #

    Very happy to read this news from you. I have experienced some issues in the past and the support took very long to help me with WooCommerce Issues.

    I hope this is now fixed and everything is okay.

  12. Zach Nicodemous
    January 7, 2016 at 8:29 pm #

    I too am glad to read that you are improving support. I rarely have to submit tickets as I am capable of debugging most issues myself, but recently had to submit a ticket on behalf of one of my clients. Its taken almost four weeks to get an adequate response which has been equally frustrating for both me and my client!

    Out of curiosity, when you say you’re looking to expand your support team, I might be interested yourself. I am a 14 year developer and have been using WordPress since 2004. I am also a Codeable contractor as of last March.

    If you’d be interested in someone with my experience, I’d be interested in hearing more about the requirements and the salary.

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