Customer support is a major player when it comes to creating a profitable, premium plugin. Although support is generally regarded as important, it isn’t given much attention.
Discussions center around building plugins, but don’t often hit on how to provide support. Things like plugin coding and features are often emphasized, while plugin support is thought of more as a side-product of business. Of course, having an awesome plugin that is well-coded is key, but without support, customers can quickly become frustrated and move elsewhere.
In a research study on how WordPress users choose plugins, we found support is a major factor in why people choose certain plugins. It was slightly more influential than cost when choosing between two similar plugins.
We decided to explore plugin support further in an effort to understand what WordPress users should expect when they ask for support.
The Quintessential Support User & the Quest for “Good” Support
Unfortunately, WordPress users who rely on support are often portrayed as whiny complainers. They ask too many questions without trying to find the answer on their own or giving the right information.
The reality is many WordPress users are beginners. They may have already checked Google and other places for finding WordPress support. They aren’t sure what they’re doing and need good, constructive support. Without support, plugins with a lot of different parts can become inaccessible to these users.
Here are some common themes of plugin support questions:
–Basic Use: “How do I do XYZ?”
The customer probably already purchased or downloaded the plugin and is having difficulty using it. This question could be related to installation. This can often be answered with a user guide that gives basic information on how to use the plugin.
–Features: “Can I do XYZ with this plugin?”
This is often a presale question for customers shopping around. They want to know if the plugin has the features they’re looking for, or if they should look elsewhere.
–Conflict: “I installed the plugin and XYZ stopped working.”
Things were working fine until they installed your plugin. Now, nothing works right. Users want to know why this happened and how they can fix it.
–Complaint: “The plugin isn’t working.”
This one can be frustrating for support teams. It’s a pretty vague complaint that may or may not be backed up with details. If the user doesn’t give any details, it’s difficult to offer support.
In the WordPress.org support forum, these guidelines are often a pinned post. They encourage users to search existing posts for a solution or direct premium users to a website for support. These guidelines can be helpful if WordPress users take the time to read them.
What Does Good WordPress Plugin Support Mean?
We already mentioned customers find support important. Good support has become an important piece of the plugin equation. So what does good support entail?
There are many guidelines online referring to how customers should ask for plugin support, but not much on how plugin companies should respond to support. There are no “best practices” for plugin support.
Support is not only useful for solving customer issues. It is also incredibly important for informing developers. Great support can:
–Understand customers & desired features
By paying attention to customer support, developers can get ideas for new features or plugins. They can get a sense of what customers like, what they don’t like, and what they’re looking for.
–Build customer loyalty
Timely support shows your company is reliable. Customers like reliability and will likely reward that by coming back to purchase other products or renew a plugin license.
For free plugins, good support might mean a customer upgrades to the premium version or purchases another plugin. Also, word of mouth is incredibly important. If you provide great support and customers tell others about it, you may get some new customers.
Customers expect a timely response that addresses their concerns. If they’re ready to throw in the towel, it’s helpful to receive a quick response with helpful information.
Good support helps create happy WordPress users. Happy WordPress users continue to use the platform and use solutions available through plugin companies.
Free vs. Premium Plugins Support
The value of support depends a lot on whether a customer paid for a plugin on a developer’s website, or downloaded one for free from WordPress.org.
WordPress.org plugin listings are a great way to get exposure, so many companies offer free versions of premium plugins. As discovered from previous research, support forums and user reviews are frequently used to rate a plugin’s support, so it’s important that businesses pay attention to this.
For small plugin development teams, support can easily become tedious. This is especially true for popular free plugins.
Take, for example, a popular free plugin from WordPress.org. Plugin developers may be able to handle support when the plugin has a few hundred downloads, but if it moves to a few thousand, it makes it really difficult to manage. This isn’t feasible for a plugin offered for free, so support often takes a hit.
Premium plugins tend to have better support because there are employees dedicated to customer support. This makes it more feasible to respond to customer questions quicker and in more detail.
Also, offering support from a separate company website means support can be customized whatever way works best for that company and their customers. This could be direct email, support tickets, or a forum. This can possibly influence response time.
How we Conducted the Research on WordPress Plugin Support
To understand how plugin support works, we created a research study. We wanted to answer the question:
What is the “norm” for plugin support response time?
Is it within 24 hours or 5 days? When customers go to ask a question, what should they expect?
To answer this research question, we emailed generic pre-sale questions about 14 different plugins, free and premium, to plugin developers.
The list of WordPress plugins companies included:
- Easy Digital Downloads (Offer freemium)
- Yoast SEO (Offer freemium)
- Events Manager (Offer freemium)
- Woocommerce (Offer freemium)
- Relevanssi (Offer freemium)
- Sprout Invoices (Offer freemium)
- Ultimate Member (Offer freemium)
- WP Rocket
- WPMUDEV CoursePress
Seven of the companies offered a “freemium” plugin pricing model. This means the same plugin is offered as a free/lite version and a premium/pro version. This allowed us to compare free and premium support time within the same company.
Questions related to a free plugin were asked in the plugin’s support forum on WordPress.org. Also, the number of answered support questions in the forum out of the total was recorded. Questions that applied to a premium plugin were asked on the developer’s website, in the section for “pre-sale questions,” if there was a separate section.
Free Plugin Support Response Time & Answered Questions
The number of resolved questions varied greatly, from 7% to 100%. The average was 27%. This means a little over one quarter of users can expect to have their questions answered. Of course, there were plugins with excellent support. There were three with 100% of questions answered.
The wide range shows receiving a response depends a lot on the plugin company. Support is not uniform and there are many factors that relate to whether a company offers support for free plugins. This can include how many employees are available, other important tasks, and how often the forums are monitored.
For plugin response time, the average for free plugins through the support forum was 1.3 days. Compared to premium plugin response time (see next section), response times were more spread out over a couple of days.
Interestingly, three plugin developers responded quicker through the WordPress.org support forum than through their website. While one company took eight days to respond to a question about a premium plugin, they answered a question about the free version in only two days. The quickest response time was just 10 minutes through the support forum.
Premium WordPress Plugin Support Response Time
In the course of this research, we found companies often use other support methods in addition to just question and response. Many premium plugin companies use a knowledge base system like Help Scout to create user guides, or create a FAQ section to answer common questions. This can help cut down on support time by taking advantage of “self-service” support.
The average response time for the premium plugins researched overall was 1.3 days. The most common time was within one day, with six companies responding the same day as the question was sent. One replied in eight days. If this outlier is taken out, average support response time is around half a day.
Two companies never replied to questions sent through their websites. If this was a real customer looking for answers, both situations would be extremely frustrating and likely result in that customer going elsewhere.
Unfortunately, if a plugin is the only one that serves a certain purpose, customers may have to accept shoddy support to access certain features. This leaves customers in an unfortunate situation: they’re not completely happy with the plugin, but there’s no other option.
Never responding to a customer support request gives the impression that a concern is not important enough to address and can hurt customer loyalty.
Developing Best Practices for Support
This research came with some ideas about creating support solutions that work for customers and developers.
For Plugin Companies
Several companies included features that made the support process smoother. These were commonalities that helped define good support:
–Question received notification
Some sent a notification confirming that a question was received. This instantly quells users who become worried a company never received their question in the first place and reduces a lot of the “did you get my message?” follow up questions.
–Within 24 hours response
Other companies include a line in the above mentioned notification about responding to requests within 24 hours. This is a nice touch, as it gives customers an idea of how quickly they can expect a response.
This 24 hour response time was consistent with the majority of companies. It tends to be a good guideline for customers.
–Clear support section
Many plugin websites have a section labeled “support.” Others have sections for different types of questions. Having clear support sections with guidelines on what types of questions should be included is nice. It’s also good to have a pre-sale question section for potential customers.
This type of organization makes it easier for users to navigate support and send their questions to the right place.
For Plugin Users
This research also gives insight on how plugin customers can approach support.
-Test support response time with a pre-sale question
Before purchasing a plugin, do a little research yourself. Try asking a pre-sale question on the plugin company website and note the response time. This can help determine whether support will be helpful after you purchase the plugin.
–Test WordPress.org support forum response time
–Expect 24 hours for a website response and a bit longer for WordPress.org
Don’t expect instant answers for either type of plugin, but expect a response within a couple days.
When building a WordPress plugin, developers must think about customer support. It’s not enough to build a great product. Customers need to know that if they have problems with a plugin, they can find reliable help.
This reliability is something customers expect from plugin developers. This research shows that although the majority of WordPress plugin developers put a high value on support, there are those that are less timely or simply never respond. This is bound to frustrate potential and existing customers.
What do you think? What makes good support “good?”