Here’s a familiar scenario for WordPress users: you install a plugin and it doesn’t work as expected. Or perhaps it functions perfectly for a time, and then…it doesn’t. What happened?
WordPress is home to a massive plugin ecosystem and nearly-endless potential for customizing a website. And things generally run smoothly. Even so, it shouldn’t be a surprise when an occasional problem rears its head.
When issues do occur, that usually means contacting technical support. This can be a hit-or-miss process, as each plugin author handles support differently. It depends on factors such as staffing, plugin cost (free or commercial), and current workload. And there are no guarantees that your problem will be resolved.
But there is a secret weapon in getting top-notch WordPress plugin support: you. How you communicate and what information you share are critical. That will provide support representatives with the clues they need to help get your website back on track.
And who better to share tips than those who work in technical support? I put out a call on Twitter for advice and there were some terrific responses. What follows are some things you can do to expedite the support process and increase the odds of a positive outcome.
Get To Know the Developer’s Support Policies
The best time to find out about a plugin’s support policy is before you need it. That’s because support should be part of your criteria for choosing which plugins to install.
If hosted at the official WordPress Plugins repository, it’s worth checking out the plugin’s respective support forum. This will give you an idea of what types of issues are occurring and how quickly the developer responds to new posts.
WordPress plugin developer C. Michael Nelson also recommends contacting support before you use a plugin, adding “That will show you how helpful they will be later, once you’re really invested in it. Avoid using plugins with bad tech support from the beginning.”
Besides timeliness, it’s also great to know what is and isn’t covered by technical support. For instance, some developers provide limited help with questions regarding writing custom code. And if a plugin has both free and commercial versions – the paying customers usually get priority service.
The more you know ahead of time, the better off you’ll be should something go wrong.
Be Detailed in Your Support Request
Perhaps the most common piece of advice I received was about providing a detailed description of the issue you’re experiencing. This makes sense as remotely (or anecdotally) troubleshooting a website works best when having as much information as possible.
Describing the issue starts with a few key items, according to developer Kerch McConlogue:
- What did you do?
- What did you expect would happen?
- What actually happened?
- Can you repeat it?
Beyond those basics, there is plenty of other helpful information to send along, including:
- Copies of any error messages you encountered;
- Screen captures or videos that demonstrate the issue;
- The web browser and version you’re using;
- Version numbers of WordPress and PHP;
- The theme and plugins you’re using;
Rick Alday, who provides support for GiveWP, also recommends doing some basic troubleshooting before contacting support. This may allow you to find the cause of an issue, if not resolve it outright.
Some plugins provide troubleshooting steps in their documentation. For example, Alan Fuller of Fullworks shared an outline of steps that could be useful for debugging virtually any plugin. The results can then be shared with support.
Speaking of documentation, WordPress contributor Courtney Robertson advised users to search within the plugin’s support area or using Google. “Add some keywords and skim for the issue BEFORE reaching out. Then state having searched for these things in the request.”, she noted.
The goal is to be as clear, detailed, and concise as possible. And not to worry if you don’t have in-depth technical knowledge. Just give it your best effort. As Puneet Sabherwal opined, “A sound support system doesn’t expect a user to be knowledgeable. That is a support provider’s qualification.”
Demonstrate Empathy and Patience
None of us enjoy dealing with website issues. At the very least it can be frustrating. The worse the problem is, the easier it is to become impatient.
But it’s also worth remembering that technical support is being provided by human beings. They have feelings, strengths, and weaknesses – just like everyone else. Several support experts brought up the importance of the human element.
And the process takes time. Product founder and podcast host Dave Rodenbaugh says those seeking support should, “Be patient! Support teams will respond within a day if they’re on the ball.”
Ian Misner recommends responding promptly, as “You’re almost certainly going to get quicker responses…Context stays fresh, which makes helping you easier.”
Tom Sepper is Chief Customer Officer at Kinsta web hosting. He says that “One of the things I stress for my teams is genuinely showing empathy for customers – fellow humans – and their specific situations. And that works both ways.
“As a user, have empathy for the human on the other end of the conversation. Support teams aren’t always the ones able to fix all problems, nor are they the cause of all problems. These individuals do what they do because they receive great satisfaction in helping others succeed…showing genuine empathy in how you interact with support teams goes a very long way.”
You Get What You Give
A lot of effort goes into building and supporting a WordPress plugin. It’s a big responsibility. And so much depends on starting the process on the right foot.
That’s why the first contact you make with technical support staff is important. As users, our job is to paint a picture of what’s happening. From there, it’s about accurate and efficient communication between both parties.
And while the outcome won’t always be perfect, following the advice above should increase your chances of a resolution.
Finally, many thanks to the experts who participated in this guide! By sharing their knowledge and experiences, they have benefited the entire WordPress community.