For the first year of it’s life SearchWP’s support process was based on a customer-only forum powered by bbPress. I really like bbPress as a support platform, and since it fits in with WordPress so well, it wasn’t difficult to ensure that only active SearchWP license holders (powered by Easy Digital Downloads’ Software Licensing) were able to post. However this process will be changing:
Support will no longer be forum based and is moving inside SearchWP itself, within your WordPress install
As of today with the release of SearchWP version 2.4.5, the support forum is officially deprecated in favor of in-plugin support tickets. The forum will be left online through the end of 2014 after which it will be removed completely. The existing Forums, Topics, and Replies will be left in a read-only state until the new year. This will allow existing customers to retrieve any information from existing threads before removal.
Why the change?
In my opinion one of the best byproducts of using a forum for support is that it creates a living documentation system. As I’ve found over the past year this is also for my laziness; it gave me an excuse to neglect updating my documentation. Documentation is supremely important to me and while forum posts can be helpful they will never beat purpose-written documentation.
The other main issue I took with using a forum to power support also correlates to it being public: information rot. SearchWP is over a year old now and the bulk of the forum threads revolve around issues that have long since been closed and/or improved upon. Knowing customers had to sift through this old data was a problem, and I don’t have the bandwidth to curate thousands of posts in perpetuity.
These two reasons have been building over the past few months, so starting with version 2.4.5 support will no longer be offered via public forum. There was always another bit that I had on my mind sine day one: some customers simply aren’t comfortable posting their questions in a publicly visible way. Sure you can obscure your identity by changing your display name and only making private posts, but a few customers over the past year have expressed their concern about that.
How will customers receive support?
The support process is now baked right into SearchWP and available in your WordPress administration area. When viewing the SearchWP settings, you’ll see a new Support button.
Clicking Support will invoke the support process. As was established in the forum, receiving support begins by searching SearchWP’s existing documentation. Begin by describing your issue using effective keywords:
After searching you will be shown links to relevant documentation:
If none of the documentation helps you can easily open a new support ticket:
Once you have described the issue you’re having, your support ticket will be created and all correspondence will occur via email.
What powers the new system?
If you’re interested in the technical details behind the new support system, I’m right there with you. I love reading about implementations like these and would be happy to share more details.
The backbone of the new system is email, and it’s made awesome by HelpScout. Email has a super low barrier to entry which is important to me. A few SearchWP customers were confused by the support process when using a forum, and I feel I had a blind eye toward that simply because I was familiar with bbPress and really like using it. Email gets around ‘another system to use’ for many customers.
SearchWP’s site platform is powered by Easy Digital Downloads and licenses are powered by EDD’s Software Licensing. Integrating this data with HelpScout was made easy thanks to Danny van Kooten‘s
edd-helpscout. This pulls license information in with each HelpScout ticket; awesome.
This update to support was to lower the barrier to entry for customers needing support. I based this implementation off the idea of wanting to initiate the support process right within the WordPress administration area. There are a few ways to go about implementing such a feature, but I wanted to make sure I avoided as much of the initial back-and-forth that sometimes comes up when providing support. My goals were:
- Validate the submission against an active license
- Make sure customers are able to help themselves by easily searching existing documentation prior to needing a support ticket
- Pass along helpful information that might help me answer the support question
Since the ticket creation process starts in the customer’s WordPress install, I have direct access to the status of the SearchWP license. Primary goal accomplished. The next thing to think about was actually integrating the ticket creation process, which involved forms and data processing. I didn’t want to increase the complexity of SearchWP’s code base for the sake of support tickets, so I decided to facilitate everything via Gravity Forms through an IFRAME. Brady Vercher‘s
gravity-forms-iframe made this painless. With that plugin I can simply set up the entire ticket workflow outside the WordPress install, and Gravity Forms can do all of the heavy lifting.
It wasn’t as straightforward as that though. Although I give a very high priority to customer support, I want to do as little of it as possible. That’s why I want to continue iterating and improving upon SearchWP’s documentation. Searching the documentation prefaces support ticket creation as it did when support ran through bbPress, but it’s even more straightforward now. Since ticket creation is happening in an IFRAME I have complete control over it and was able to quickly set up a workflow that first guides customers through searching the documentation, and if no existing information proves to be useful a ticket can be created right there.
gravity-forms-iframe works in such a way that I was able to integrate this workflow very easily and make the process quite seamless.
The final benefit to baking in support ensures that the support request is originating from a site with an active license. Further it allows me to pass along pertinent information about common support issues such as problematic hosting environments or improperly built themes that interfere with SearchWP’s functionality. When customers need to create tickets in a support forum the only way for me to get this information was to ask which not only takes time it also requires a close look at their server environment, their theme files, or both. That friction is all but removed using this new system.
Questions or concerns?
If you have any questions at all about the new system by all means feel free to send an email or ping on Twitter. I feel that this change in handling support is going to improve things across the board in many ways. Help Scout is a terrific platform, the way they’ve implemented the process of handling support over email is really impressive to me. Compound that usefulness by being able to fall back to my email client both on my computer and my phone and the extra friction of needing to be logged in to a forum is going to be a welcome change. More importantly, I hope that customers appreciate the change. I think they will.