One of the ways I help companies is by doing an analysis of their websites and support forums. It tells a compelling story of who their users really are, and what objectives they really have. So sometimes I read a few posts that leave me shocked, surprised and amazed. Not in a great way, but in a “how did you ever expect to get any help” way.
When you make assumptions….
Here's how we think things work in the computer world.
- We ask the computer (or website, or internet) to do something.
- Something happens. Including something we didn't want.
- We get frustrated and write on a forum.
It could be that a plugin doesn't do what you want, or a theme, or the text of your website isn't showing up. But here's what's really important to understand about the flow of events.
There's another step in there that we all too often miss.
- We make a request (show me a web page, show me a video, etc).
- Something happens, including stuff we didn't want (we lost all formatting, video doesn't show, etc).
- We make assumptions as to what's going on, even though we have no clue.
- We get frustrated and write a post on a forum.
See, it's often that step 3, where we make assumptions, that gets us every time. Because when we go ask for help, we inject all sorts of assumptions into our post, don't we?
And it's more than not helpful. It's wrong, frustrating, and can lead developers to look in the wrong place.
Isn't the point to get help?
I recently read someone complain about the performance of a theme framework. Now, in case you didn't know, I compared a lot of theme frameworks on performance. So I know a little something about this topic. And since I didn't code any of them, you could also consider me an unbiased source. So when I say that it wasn't the framework's issue, you'll have to trust me.
But that's not the issue. I'm sure they were actually having a real performance issue. The problem was that when they went on their rant, they did everything except give the framework's team anything to go on. No context. No details. Nothing but rant.
There was literally no way to help them. At all. And I'm making the assumption that the whole reason they posted was to get some help.
Five tips for getting help on Support Forums
So here are five tips for you non-technical folks when submitting tickets or asking for help on support forums.
1. Articulate your environment.
No one knows if you're running your site on a tiny shared server for $3/month or hosting it on a premium managed hosting provider for $250/month. No one knows if you're running a single site, or hosting 20 of them in a multi-site environment. And we can't guess what themes, and plugins you're running.
So start by collecting every bit of data about your environment that you can. This also gives you time to cool off before you start writing.
2. Use cause and effect language.
I want to be honest with you. I want you to hear this from someone who likes you. And it's unlikely you've ever submitted a ticket to me, so this isn't coming from a wounded or damaged place.
Unless you're a developer on the platform you're using, your guesses about what's going on are a red herring. So stick to the facts. Just the facts.
The best way to do it is in what I call cause and effect language. “I did this, then this happened. I tried this, and then this happened.” That's it.
3. Remember how much you paid!
I hope this won't bother you, but seriously, contextualize your emotions and the way you request support by remembering how much you spent on your theme or plugin. If you paid $30 for a single site license (and support), just remember that.
Assume the company (or freelancer you're working with) makes $30-60/hour. What does that mean? It means you're $30 doesn't give you the right to 5 minute responses at midnight on a weekend.
If you paid $2500 for that plugin, hey, write that request like someone owes you something. If you paid $25, make sure you've removed all the capital letters and managed your own expectations about response times.
In other words, be reasonable.
4. Focus on the overall objective.
I'm not saying you can't express frustration. But it's how you do it. I've read support and ticket requests that make it clear that there's a deadline for a site to go live in 48 hours without making it sound like a threat. I've also read some horrible rants that make it clear to a developer that they never want you for a customer.
If the goal is to get help, remember that. If your goal is to make sure someone knows how you feel, write a long email about all your anger. Then email it here. But when you go to ask for help, don't shoot yourself in the foot by getting all emotional, bringing in all sorts of drama, typing in all caps and highlighting how important you are.
After all, your thirty dollars are only worth thirty dollars. They can be found elsewhere. The last thing you want is to get an email from Paypal telling you that you've gotten a refund. Because you still have that challenge and now you have no one to help you.
5. Take the advice you're given.
I know it's silly to have to put this on a list, but I can't tell you the times I've read a suggestion that's been completely ignored. I know it can sound like a lot of work to turn off a theme, or to temporarily try turning off all the other plugins on your site, but these aren't silly suggestions. They're there to help determine the consequences of your specific environment.
I've seen developers make a suggestion that sounds like it might take 30 minutes of work for the person who submitted the ticket. And the reaction is that they don't have time for that.
Trust me, if you submit a ticket and want some help, be prepared to spend some time working on things. If not, you're signaling that the items isn't that important to you. And again, you won't get the help you want.
What should you take from all of this? Well one thing is that getting help shouldn't be as hard as it is. But that's because sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot. We choose vitriol over valuable context. And that's not helpful. Ever.
So follow these five steps and see if you don't get better help sooner.