Why we don’t use public support forums

Occasionally we get asked if we have a public forum where one could search previous support requests for answers. It’s a reasonable request since many plugin developers provide such forums. In fact, up until a few months ago so did we. But we don’t offer them any longer. Instead we offer a private “user to developer” ticket system. This post is meant to clarify why we’ve chosen this as the method by which we support Ninja Forms and it’s extensions.

The challenge with forums

You’re gonna get hop-ons

We’ve all seen it happen before. A simple support thread is started and while the original poster is being assisted someone else jumps in stating they have the same issue. And then another and another. Now you’re trying to have a single thread conversation with half a dozen different users and the worst part is most of the other people don’t actually have the same issue. Many times the person who is most vocal ends up taking over the thread and the original poster never get’s the help they needed.

Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t always go down like this. Sometimes everything goes smoothly and you have a thread that will help other users for years to come. But in my experience as one who offers support, especially as a product grows, the most common scenario is the one I described above and it generally makes for unhappy users and frustrated supporters.

Answers change, forum threads live forever

The number one reason people request forums is so they can search for answers to their issues without having to open another thread. It’s a completely valid reason and it’s why we have documentation. If it’s not in documentation it’s either an oversight or not a known/common issue. Feel free to browse documentation for your answers. We encourage it. The problem is the solution you find in a forum thread from two years ago is most likely no the answer today. And that’s only if the answer you found actually was the same issue you had to begin with. You might have simply found an answer that “appears” to be related but is in fact not related at all. Applying such answers will prove to only make you more agitated when you finally do decide to open your own thread. And conversation started when you are already agitated never start well.

Management of old and outdated threads is way too difficult. Documentation can be updated very easily.

Support from the fire hose

As one who offers support the most annoying thing was that support forums were all threads were treated equally. Let me explain. In your typical forum threads with the most recent reply float to the top. Now this may just be me but when my desk is cluttered I don’t think as clearly or work as efficiently. The same is true of forums. When there are thousands of forum threads staring at me I don’t think as clearly or work as efficiently as I would like. I get overwhelmed by the sheer volume. Forums don’t generally offer a clear division of threads that are still open and active or closed and resolved.

There are many resources to attempt to make things like this easier but this is the nature of forums. It’s what they’re meant to be but I’m not confident it’s best for support.

How we handle support

We don’t only offer the ability to create a support ticket whenever you have an issue, we encourage it. We are far better and pointing you to the correct solution then anyone else. Yes, we offer documentation and we want you to read it for solutions however we would rather you ask before you get frustrated when you can’t figure something out.

Our support ticket system is built with Ninja Forms and the following extensions: Multi-Part Forms, Layout & Styles, Conditional Logic, File Uploads, and Front-End Posting. There is also some custom code to handle some automation and routing. Here is the flow of the average support request.

  1. You submit a ticket. The ticket is created with the status of “new”, added to our active queue, and a notification is sent to us by various methods depending on whether you are a customer or are a basic or priority support member.
  2. We respond. The ticket is updated with a status of “waiting” which means the ticket is no longer in our active queue and you are notified by email. If no response is received with 14 days the ticket is automatically closed and a notification stated such is emailed.
  3. You respond. The ticket is updated with the status of “follow-up” which means the ticket is now back in our active queue and we are notified of your response. This process goes back and forth between steps 2 and 3 until your issue is resolved.

It’s beautiful really. You ask for assistance and we help you. One on one with no distractions. We’re only presented with active support requests and you know that you are getting the most current information available. It’s simple and everyone wins.

This is what is working for us. What are your thoughts?