How to write a support request (that won’t get ignored)

I know. It's hard to imagine that anyone would need a lesson on how to write a support request – because most of us know how to ask for help. But sadly, the more that software eats the world, the more support tickets will exist. And the more tickets that exist, the more you'll discover that some tips would help us all.

Not all support requests are equal and you should strive to make your request the best one (and easiest one) to reply to. Hence today's post.

3 ways to get your support ticket ignored

Let's start with the simple stuff… you know, the stuff that will kill any chance that you get great service. I know it's obvious, but it needs to be said.

  1. Don't write a request for help that lacks critical information. I know you're stuck and frustrated but, “this thing doesn't work,” is not sufficient information to get the help you want. Most support organizations need to be able to replicate the problem, and to do that they'll need a lot of context. What were you doing before this happened? What system were you on? What did you try? What messages did you see? All of this is critical to getting you help.
  2. Don't write an insulting request for help. It really shouldn't have to be said. But I'll say it: the world doesn't revolve around you or me. ALL CAPS doesn't do what you think it does. So if you're thinking that a strong-worded email is going to motivate anyone, you've miscalculated. They may be required to help you, but they're not required to prioritize you. So don't be rude. Don't be condescending. Stay emotionally neutral as you write.
  3. Don't start with how much you paid. What I'm going to say next is not always the case. But I see it a lot. When you start with a note about how much you spent (which is always way less than you would have spent if you did it yourself, by the way), it's like you trigger a thought in someone's mind. Maybe it's actually like Inception. You plant the idea. And this is the idea: it will be cheaper to send this person their money back and remove them as a client, than to help them.

So that's how not to do it. Which takes us directly into how to write a support ticket that gets looked at and worked on quickly…

3 ways to get a support ticket prioritized

If you want to know how to write a support request that won't get ignored, but instead will be prioritized, here are three things you can do that will really help you.

  1. Be clear about your overall objective and your timeline. Sometimes it's easy to get into the details without ever explaining what you're actually trying to do. So start with that. It helps people understand what you're trying to do. They might be able to show you a different approach, or cut to the chase and let you know it's not supported. Also, make sure that you're clear about the context of your request. Not everything is urgent. Tell them so. Sometimes when you're nice about it (“I don't need this for a week or so”), the opposite happens. People react because of how polite you've been and your ticket gets prioritized (simply because you weren't a jerk!).
  2. Be specific about what you've already tried. If we're talking about how to write a support request that simply works, this is the most important tip I can give you. Tell people what you've already tried. Because if you don't, they'll send you approach one (which you may have already done), and then approach two (which you may have already done), and you'll quickly get frustrated. Also, you don't want them to waste their time either. So help things along by saying, “I've tried a, b, and c. Here are the results of my efforts.” It will go a long way to helping someone help you.

Now, before we get into 3, I want to remind you about the other list above – specifically issue number one. What content / context should you give people who are helping you? There are a lot of cases where I don't know that info. But if it's website-related, let me give you a quick list.

Make sure you are sharing at least this much info:

  • What host you're using
  • What plan on that host you're using
  • What the url of your site is (domain)
  • What plugins/modules/extensions are active
  • What theme you're using
  • What settings you have configured
  • Screenshots of any error messages

I know, it's a lot of information. But it's the stuff that support folks need. Now let's get into the last item. And it's not about direct communication vs indirect communication. I'm going to assume you know to be direct. But you know what I'm going to say…if you read this blog much…

  1. Tell your “why” story. Of course it's about story, right? It has to be because it's me. But here's the thing: the person on the other side of this ticket is a human. When bots start doing support, this won't work the same way. But if you can connect your support ticket to a larger narrative, you'll likely motivate the person who reads it. You're not just submitting a ticket. You're trying to solve a problem because you're trying to make it do something (that was tip one). But why are you trying to do it. That's your “why” story. And it humanizes you and your request.

Let's say someone gets 20 tickets today. Half of them are rude and in ALL CAPS. So those go to the bottom (unless the company is super nice to its customers). But now 10 are higher in the list. Let's say 5 of those don't have sufficient information. They're going to get replies, but they won't get solutions – they'll just get more questions.

So now there are 5 tickets to work on. 4 of them have no narrative. They're just, “I tried this feature and it's not working.” One ticket explains not just the context, timeline, and what you've tried already, but goes further to explain how this fits into the larger effort and what you're trying to do (and why it's important).

Which one do you think gets worked on first? Yours.

That's why it's critical to know how to write a support request.

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.