I thought it would be great to change gears a little and talk about us support specialists instead of our users. Here’s a little background about myself and what I think makes a great support specialist in the WordPress community.
Before I started working at WooThemes as a Support Ninja, I worked at WebDevStudios and joined the team as a lead developer for around three to four years. And just to be honest, I’m definitely no “Nacin” or “Jaquith” and would not consider myself to be an amazing developer at all. But, I was lucky enough to be a “Brad Williams“, CEO and Co-founder of WebDevStudios, Padawan/Jedi-apprentice who taught me everything about proper WordPress coding standards and, most importantly, how valuable it was to be involved with the WordPress Community.
I’d really like to echo Siobhan McKeown‘s post on attending WordCamps: I Attend WordCamps: You Should Too. Within my first full year of working heavily with WordPress, I attended 6 WordCamps: Mid Atlantic 2009, Chicago 2009, New York 2009, Boston 2009, Miami 2010 and San Francisco 2010.
My own recipe
- is not only passionate about WordPress but also involved in the community and loves to give back wherever he/she can;
- If you have never been to a WordCamp, head on over to http://central.wordcamp.org/ and find the next one closest to where you live. I promise you will love it.
- Attend a local WordPress Meetup Group and if there isn’t one in your area consider starting one.
- If you are a developer: Head on over to WordPress Trac and see how you can contribute.
- If you aren’t a developer there are plenty of ways you can help out. Hanni Ross gave a great talk at WordCamp Norway 2012 this year titled “Be It”. She covered the WordPress Community and how you can contribute back in a number of ways. Definitely recommended.
- Stay up-to-date and read up on what’s happening in the WordPress ecosystem. Sites like WP Realm, WPCandy, WPTavern, and others are really useful!
- Make sure to check out make.wordpress.org too!
- is a “people person”, i.e. friendly and easy to communicate with and who can help even the most ungrateful person with a smile;
- It is curious that after writing my first support column article here at WP Realm about WordPress users not upgrading, I ran into SO many support threads/issues at Woo where the user was running into compatibility issues because they were running a few versions behind. One user, a very angry user I might add, had actually told me and confirmed they were running the latest version, we then went back and forth for a few days debugging the issue to find out they were a few versions behind. If you are involved with support, there will be lots of different scenarios where you deal with annoying issues like this. Being able to put these behind you and move on will really help you. You really can’t please everyone, but you can try to give it your best.
- Support is really about interacting and helping the user. It has nothing to do with the number of unreplied/unresolved/open threads in a forum. I can tell you that these numbers will always be high but if you are able to appreciate each and every question a user asks you and focus on it, one at a time, you are in good shape.
- has some sort of technical background & skills whether it be HTML/CSS, JS, and/or PHP. Knowledge of WordPress coding standards and best practices is a HUGE win.
- This has really helped me. With a stronger background in WordPress development and involvement in the community, I’m able to not only provide knowledgeable answers but am confident that they are up to par with WordPress coding standards. In other words, done the right way.
- Why do you love helping others in the community?
- What makes you, or others, great at support?
- Are you a developer who is more support oriented now?
Andrea Rennick says
Yes! Yes! A wide background of experience – note I said wide, not deep – really does help.
Scott Basgaard says
“Jack of all trades, master of none” FTW here.
Andy McIlwain says
Seconded. The WordPress ecosystem is a huge boon to web generalists. Being able to wear multiple hats is a must, and those who can do it efficiently will reap the most benefits. 🙂
Siobhan McKeown says
I love that being a support specialist is now a job of its own. I love developers and designers, but some of them aren’t cut out to do support. Different areas take different personality types – some people are overjoyed by writing lines of code, others get a kick out of helping other people to achieve what they want with WordPress. It’s always a great step when a developer hires a support person to look after their product – in the long run it means that their customers are going to be happy, and the developer gets to spend more time writing code.
(as an aside – some support I have received as been really dreadful. It’s always clear when people are doing support because it’s a job they love, or if they’re doing it because it’s a chore they have to do).
Zé Fontainhas says
Unlike any other social interaction, many people seem to think that online, semi-anonymous conversation requires no manners or basic politeness. After many a WordPress.com support ticket, I’ve found that even the angriest, rudest requests can be turned around by being sensible and not getting carried away in a sometimes understandable desire to lash out, lecture or ignore (as with everything else in life, there are exceptions to this).
Skills are important, absolutely. However, and now speaking as a requester of support, many specialists seem to have an issue with replying “I don’t know”. I’d much rather hear that when it applies, than receiving an incomplete or sometimes blatantly wrong answer. Even better if the answer is “I don’t know, but I know someone who can”. I’ll respect the person on the other side that much more.
Andrea Rennick says
Also – apologies go a long way to smooth things over. It doesn’t excuse the other person’s behaviour and sometimes it’s best if you finish the apology in your head, but it usually helps.
“My apologies, here’s the link to the documents” …. that you missed or didn’t read last time I pointed them out. 😉
Mason James says
Also, having super-awesome detective skills and a sense of humor helps greatly. That moment…. when you realize the reason “BuddyPress Group Calendar” plugin is failing on the members site because they have not installed BuddyPress. 😀
You have to be able to laugh and enjoy assisting other people in becoming successful – and at the same time not become overly invested in every ticket that comes your way. I know staffers who struggle with “unplugging”. You have to find a balance – and sometimes take a break, be with family/friends even if someone’s front-page slider isn’t working correctly.
Scott Basgaard says
Two great points Mason! Sense of humor and a “Getaway” are a must. I’ve found myself fishing a lot recently 😛
Garth Koyle says
I enjoy how Automattic describes their Happiness Engineer position because it adds a little personality to the company and position:
“Our software and services are far from perfect. When things go wrong people are not shy about asking for help. As a Happiness Engineer helping those people is your passion. The position is a mix of education, bug-hunting, and feature testing. Every day you’ll help make our products more understandable to the people who use them.”
Oh, BTW Event Espresso is hiring for our Technical Support Specialist = Espresso Guru. We almost went with Chief Barista but that’s probably a little too far down the metaphor? http://jobs.eventespresso.com/jobs/espresso-guru/
Floris P. Lof says
I’m a third-line support specialist. This means that I really don’t have to deal with our clients that often. Our first-line specialists deal with the incoming issue’s. If the issue is too complex too handle for them or if the product is too complex they will escalate it to the second-line, or even further to me. So you could say I’m a support for our support team 🙂
The negative side is that as a third-liner most of my hours are reserved for projects instead of support. This leaves me with very little time if and when a third-line support request comes in. I can’t nearly spend the time I want to to the give the first or second liners the knowledge they need to fix issue’s themselves… So I wind up fixing issue’s myself…
The positive point for me is that I usually only have to deal with developers who already have a basic knowledge about the WP-core, -theme and -plugins code. Most of them are also very keen on learning more about it and that is very rewarding for me and it made me want to be a better supporter. I am really getting peopleminterested for WP. Some developers who used to be really negative about WP even made a whole 180 degrees on me 🙂
Brent Shepherd says
A great topic of discussion, thanks for kicking it off Scott.
Certain personality traits are definitely key to a great support person (Andrea is the personification of all of these traits ;)).
But there is something not related to the person that we’re missing – the software they use. A good support person can be even better with great software.
Garth you mentioned the wasted back-and-forth because of not knowing the correct version the customer was using. Mason mentioned lost time because of not knowing BuddyPress was installed. Each of these things, and more, could be solved with software.
Hopefully bbPress can evolve to include these sort of features. I’m certainly looking at ways I can added plugins to it to achieve that.
Garth Koyle says
Call them OCD or whatever, but people who like to have/make lists and check the to-dos off as complete make for a great support rep. As a technical support rep you have forum thread after forum thread or ticket after ticket to deal with, and if the person likes to end the day with a clean task-list, then they’re probably going to be process-oriented and get a lot done.
Mike Krapf says
I started out volunteering as a WP support person as a way to learn WP. I’m always amazed at the variety of questions that users are able to come up with. Sure, there are those questions that you see all the time, but it’s the challenge of those difficult ones that I look forward to.
It’s like anything else, if you want to be better, faster, stronger, you need to push yourself and being a support specialist challenges my WP knowledge everyday.
To be a great WP support specialist, you don’t have to be an expert. You just need to care, have patience, and a solid local testing environment 😉
Eric Hoanshelt says
“friendly and easy to communicate with and who can help even the most un-grateful person with a smile”. This is a big one! One of my peeves when doing support is when I help someone, sometimes spending an hour researching their issue and they don’t even have the common courtesy to say thank you or even responding back to the ticket. Just a lonely answer making you wonder if they even saw it or not.