Selling plugins is an exciting opportunity for any WordPress business. Like any product business, the idea of creating a fantastic product once, getting it to market, and then watching sales grow with relatively little effort for each individual sale on your part, is incredibly appealing.
This dream is far from the reality, however. Developing a great product is hard, getting sales is hard, and once you’ve got sales, you must make sure your customers are delighted with their purchase – and this means offering excellent support. Customers will contact you asking whether the plugins suit their requirements, how to use them, request customizations, report bugs and conflicts with other plugins… the list goes on.
Before you know it, you’re spending all your time on plugin support, and aren’t making enough sales to cover your time.
As co-founder of UK WordPress studio Barn2 Media, I’ve been building WordPress sites for clients since 2009. I’ve requested support from dozens of theme authors and plugin companies on behalf of our clients. I’ve received fantastic support from a couple of companies but sadly, have found that most support is sub-standard.
We now develop and sell our own plugins, and have used our experiences to develop a better plugin support system. This is what I’ve learned.
Support can Make or Break a WordPress Plugin Business
Plugin support can be the difference between long-term success or failure.
In our first few months of selling plugins, we spent a lot of time on plugin support – for very few sales. I was terrified that as sales grew, support would eat into profits and make it unsustainable.
So instead, we lay the groundwork for a plugin support system that would allow us to build our sales without spending all our time on support. Since then, sales have grown to over 300 plugins per month and we still only spend a couple of hours a day on support. My husband Andy and I support our 5 premium plugins ourselves, including the bestselling WooCommerce Product Table, and still have time left over for business development (and leisure!).
What do WordPress Businesses Need to Deliver Outstanding Support?
These are the key tenets of outstanding plugin support.
It Has to Exist
Incredibly, some WordPress plugins don’t come with any support! This is an immediate red flag for potential customers.
For example, I’ve tried and failed to get support from membership plugin s2Member. They provide a helpful pre-sales enquiry form, but leave paying customers in the lurch. Their support policy says: “We also work very hard to provide you with lots of supporting documentation, KB articles, videos, FAQs, our codex, and links to many other resources throughout our knowledge base. However, we don’t offer support beyond this.” I think that’s poor for a premium plugin. If you’re happy to take people’s money, it’s fair enough to respond to genuine questions not covered by the documentation.
Good Documentation & Knowledge Base
So far, we’ve established that all WordPress plugin companies should offer some support. But that’s only half the story. The other half is that your support system should be designed to prevent the majority of customers from needing support in the first place!
Delight the Customer
Too many plugin companies have a defensive attitude to support. This fails to put the customer first and creates an ‘us versus them’ mentality.
If a customer genuinely needs to contact you for support, then you should aim to delight them. For example:
- Thank them for using your plugin.
- Compliment the customer on how effectively they’re using your plugin, and how great it looks.
- If you have to say no, word it in a positive way. (E.g. instead of saying “Sorry, that’s not possible”, say “Unfortunately the plugin isn’t designed to do that, but here’s a suggestion of another way you can something similar…”)
Clear Support Policy
It’s important for customers to understand what to expect from your support. You can set expectations by creating a clear support policy which, for example, declines to support third party plugins or customizations.
How We Created a Better Support System
Next, I’ll explain how we developed a 3-stage approach which consists of preventative support, excellent customer service, and continuous analytics and learning.
1. Preventative Support
As we’ve seen, the first stage of customer support is preventing people from needing it in the first place.
When customers first buy your plugin, don’t just send a basic order receipt. You should also send a ‘Getting Started’ email with setup instructions and knowledge base links. We sell plugins using Easy Digital Downloads, with their Per Product Emails extension to send a unique email for each plugin.
Design Plugins to Minimize the Support Burden
Design your plugins to be as intuitive as possible. For example, the plugin settings page should include helpful tooltips and links to knowledge base articles.
Documentation & Knowledge Base
We created a knowledge base powered by the Heroic Knowledge Base plugin. It’s ideal because adding an article is as simple as creating a post in WordPress. It comes with extra features such as knowledge base search, which helps customers to find what they’re looking for without needing to contact us. As with all WordPress posts, you can enhance it by adding multimedia content such as images and video tutorials.
We have integrated a knowledge base search into the Support Request form. This shows a list of relevant articles before customers can submit a support request.
2. Excellent Customer Support
We provide excellent and personal customer support to those who need it.
User-Friendly Customer Enquiry Form
We use Gravity Forms for our Support Request form.
It’s the perfect tool for this purpose, because you can use conditional logic to show and hide fields based on the customer’s existing responses. For example, if a customer selects ‘Pre-Sales Enquiry’ then the form remains simple. Whereas if they’re reporting a bug, then extra fields appear to collect their login details and additional information.
Do You Need Support Tickets?
After trialling several support ticketing systems, we’re back to managing plugin support via email. Since it’s just Andy and myself, we can easily keep track of support requests and pass them to each other.
However – if you have a bigger team for plugin support, then I’d recommend a full ticketing system. You’ll need this to get a bigger picture of support, monitor your team, and ensure no enquiries get lost.
We were happy with the ticketing systems we tested, such as Zendesk and HelpScout. (I just didn’t like their knowledge bases, which is why we added the Heroic Knowledge Base plugin directly to our website.)
How to Get Support Ticketing Right
If you’re implementing a support ticketing system, it’s still important to provide a personal service.
- All support should be provided via email. Even if you’re responding to support requests via a ticketing system, customers should be able to do everything by email. Don’t make them create an account or log into any external systems.
- Minimize the number of automated emails that your customers will receive. For example:
- If you respond promptly to support requests, there’s no need to send an automated ‘Your ticket has been created’ email.
- If a customer hasn’t responded to your reply, it may be because they’re happy and the issue is resolved. It always frustrates me when plugin companies send automated ‘We’re waiting for your response’ emails. This is about their need to close tickets promptly – it’s not about my need as a customer.
- Remember – your customers are people, not tickets! Word your emails carefully and make them feel like more than just a number.
3. Continuous Analytics & Learning
Every support request is an opportunity to learn and prevent future support requests.
- Learn from every support request – Whenever a customer contacts you, think about how you can stop other customers from asking the same question.
- Feature request list – Whenever a customer requests something that isn’t possible, we add it to a feature request list. This is a spreadsheet with a scoring system that calculates which features we should develop next based on a combination of demand, difficulty, and potential sales. We use this to plan new features in an evidence-based way.
- Knowledge base analytics – The Heroic Knowledge Base plugin comes with analytics, which we use to evaluate your knowledge base. This provides insights that we use to improve the documentation.
An effective plugin support system must combine preventative measures with outstanding customer support and ongoing improvements. This lets you square the circle by simultaneously increasing your sales while decreasing the amount of support required. This makes customers happier (which further increases sales) while increasing profits, so everyone wins ?
If you’re in need of excellent WooCommerce plugins, and want to try our excellent plugin support for yourself, then take a look at our suite of WooCommerce plugins, and do let us know your thoughts.