In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had two distinct experiences with two WordPress related companies’ support systems. Neither one of them actually ended up in my problem being fixed, but the experiences of each were worlds apart.
I hope the contrast between them demonstrates how communication is the key to a great customer experience.
(I’m not naming names for plenty of reasons.)
The product is free, but additional functionality costs $50-100. I’ve purchased several of these, so I’m a “paying customer”.
The product is an app, basically, that runs on a server. I’d installed it on a local server (on my actual computer) because that’s an option in the documentation. It’s worked well for me for well over a year now. Then, the main functionality of the app suddenly stopped working. I tried plenty of troubleshooting on my own, but finally filed a ticket when I couldn’t figure it out.
We went through a few troubleshooting steps that didn’t help. That’s to be expected—troubleshooting software bugs is hard.
Then, I didn’t hear back for a couple of days. Once a response came back, they apologized for the “unusual delay in response”, and said it was an issue that needed to be looked at more closely. They asked for my login information. I let them know it was hosted locally, so this wouldn’t help, and they offered some other troubleshooting ideas. I responded quickly to let them know the problem persisted. Still pretty reasonable at this point.
Then, a week went by with no response with me asking for updates every few days. Finally, ten days after the last response, I got another apology for the delay and a request to do a remote viewing session so they could help with my issue.
So, to recap so far: the main functionality of this product has been broken for weeks at this point. Remote sessions are arduous at times, but I needed the problem fixed. That’s when things got a bit sloppier.
Me: “Happy to set up a session if that’s what helps.”
Support: “Sure I am on [the name of some program, I guess?] now whats your credentials?”
Me: “What credentials?”
Support: “Your [they said the same thing again] credentials. Kindly download it from here. ” (They offered a link.)
Um, ok, sure, I’ll download software I’ve never heard of to get this solved. I sent the “credentials”, or what I believed to be such. I got no immediate response, and no specific time request. I asked several hours later if I sent the right thing.
Then, at 3:55am, a response was sent: “Yeah let me know when you are on to fix this :)”. Hmm. Well, probably not around 4am! I offered that I could be available during business hours, Eastern time. No response for three days.
The next response was an attempt to schedule a day and time—progress! I gave a date and time, around 1:30pm one day. No response. Then I got an apology the day after, in which crucial information was finally relayed to me:
That is midnight for us and I am sorry I could not make it yesterday.
This should have been stated up front. It’s crucial to me setting reasonable expectations. I’m a reasonable dude, and have zero issue with support being on the other side of the planet, but that information was nowhere in the process of filing a ticket or engaging with support.
They sent another response about a minute after this with the other crucial piece:
Just to let you know we normally never support local instances since its hard to really get people on the right time zone. I am just trying to help away from our company policies.
Friend, you should have told me that almost three weeks ago when I mentioned it was locally installed! While I appreciate the gesture, policies are in place for a reason. Had I been told it wasn’t supported (even though it’s listed as an option in their own docs), we’d have saved lots of time for both of us. I don’t want an unsupportable installation!
I just installed it on a remote server. Problem solved.
I pay annually for a license to use this plugin on multiple sites.
A client reported that the plugin was causing tons of duplicate posts to be created. The plugin’s developers heard this from plenty of customers and pushed a hotfix. Unfortunately, it didn’t fix my client’s issues, and there were now some other strange behaviors related to the plugin. It became a major annoyance for them as they rely heavily on it—I’d done some custom work integrating this plugin in the past to make their workflows better.
First, I subscribed to their forum when I was having the same problem as lots of other customers. The company updated that forum post, and I received updates by email.
When their hotfix didn’t fix all my issues, I was able to contact them directly. They apologized for the inconvenience and started asking questions. We naturally went back and forth a bit to aid them in troubleshooting, but I never went more than two days without an email of some sort—even if it just said they were still working on it.
We exchanged emails for a couple of weeks. Yes, it was still a major issue, but I was being communicated with, so I knew what was being done at all times. All their questions were on point (i.e. no “have you tried unplugging the router?” stuff). I was looking for solutions as well.
Eventually, we figured out some of that customization I’d built no longer worked because of a major change to the plugin that I wasn’t aware of. They plainly stated that they would no longer be able to help, since my customization was now clearly the issue.
Both companies were perfectly nice, but neither company solved my issue for me. And both of them failed to communicate a key bit of knowledge at some point:
- “While you can install our software locally, it’s not recommended, because we can’t support it due to time zone differences.”
- “This update to our plugin rearchitects things, so customizations may break.”
Yet, I’m still a raving fan of Company #2. Their communication failure came through not identifying outliers (like myself) when they made big changes, but they totally made up for it with communicative, helpful support. They set my expectations properly at every step along the way. When they bumped up against a company policy, they clearly stated what they could no longer help with and why.
I’d guess I fall pretty favorably on the “calm-and-reasonable scale” when it comes to support, but I’m certain that the principle remains the same for everyone: we’ve already contacted support because of a negative, unexpected experience; we don’t need the support experience to be negative and unexpected, too.
Don’t train your customers wrong. Be clear about your policies, and most of your customers will understand. Be communicative, and set expectations. Follow through. Turn support into a positive experience where everyone learns.