When we started doing premium WordPress plugins, we also added a support forum to yoast.com. Many people liked this but I was, to be honest, skeptic. My experience with the WordPress.org forums are … Poor, at best. I just don’t think forums work very well, in large part because there is an ever continuing tendency for people to comment on someone else’s thread, saying they have the same issue, when in fact the two are entirely unrelated.
We gave it our best shot though, we used bbPress, combined it with several of Pippin’s fantastic plugins and used the EDD Product Support extension from the great guys at Webdevstudios. While these are all well built and stable plugins, I kept adding more plugins to fix tiny annoyances with bbPress, at some point I had 25 plugins running to make the forums “workable” for us.
Having support forums also meant forcing everyone to create an account at checkout. Something I found very disturbing myself and which lead to support issues on its own, with people not receiving emails or not being able to log in. We didn’t force them to make an account because it was easier for them, we thought it was easier for us. It wasn’t, but the entire premise was wrong there.
The alternative: HelpScout
At the same time, we also used HelpScout. Now if you’ve been following us on Twitter for a while, you might have seen me sing their praises. They have really changed the way I look at doing customer support and their blog continuously induces Thijs, who handles most of our support, and myself to, well, just do support better.
When comparing threads in the forums with threads in HelpScout, we found that people were happier when they got personalized email and we actually spent significantly less time answering questions through HelpScout than on the forums. And then came an even bigger improvement.
I’d been emailing with Nick Francis, the CEO there, from the very beginning since we started using HelpScout. He had mentioned they were going to do custom apps and I decided to chase them a bit on that. We got into the beta and within about an hour I had build a custom app that connects to Easy Digital Downloads and shows us, within the HelpScout interface, all the transactions for a user, their license keys, payment methods etc. It also has a button to check the payment at the payment provider and to re-send the purchase email for a purchase.
Where our average time per question had been 5 to 7 minutes, having all of our clients info easily at hand right in the HelpScout sidebar dropped that to 1.5 minutes. Forum threads were now taking more than 7 times longer and our client response times were much better on HelpScout. So we shut down the forums. We went through every thread and emailed every user with an answer, deleting threads one by one. Took us a couple of hours, but we’re very glad we did it.
You see, for us, HelpScout is an interface, for the client, it’s just email. No need for them to make an account to get support from us. That’s how it should be and that’s why we’re sticking with all email support. Would love to know what you all think!
Update Nov 18th 2014: HelpScout improves further
When we originally wrote this post, we used HelpScout “just” because of its email product. They introduced a couple of new features that we really should highlight here as well. Their docs product, which powers our knowledge base, is awesome, especially because of the tight integration with the email product. You can search for and insert docs links straight from the interface, allowing you to very easily point customers at the right support document.
With their enhanced reporting you can even see what people search for on your knowledge base that didn’t yield any results so you can keep improving the knowledge base. Next to that they added happiness reports, allowing us to keep tabs of how our customers rate our support: