As webpreneurs in a new and mind-boggling race for affordable, intuitive and joyful web-building experiences, we have always ensured the fragile egg that is our customer bubble be protected and nurtured to the best of our abilities.
We did this by building a nest of support that featured the essential ingredients of happiness:
- Precise and bountiful self-help documentation
- Dedicated support directly from developers and experts
- Quick response times
- Relationship building
For more than four years, our product success grew – not just on the strength of the product itself, but on the trust and loyalty cultivated in our customer base.
But so did our support burden.
We implemented all the right processes – inline tooltips in the themes, getting-started wizards, UX improvements like color-coded widgets. Anything we thought could improve user experience and prevent a support request, we tried.
Well maybe not everything. You see, we were operating on the popular Premium Support model just about every WordPress Theme shop was running. Customers buy a product and get a year of support, or they buy a year or two ala-carte. They submit requests through a ticket system. They get a personalized response.
This seemed fine and good until we noticed that it wasn’t doing us any good. We weren’t able to gather meaningful statistics, or enforce our scope due to demand. Our users weren’t just asking for theme-related help anymore, they were asking for everything from help finding the documentation to several hours of bespoke front-end customization to 3rd Party plugin troubleshooting.
The burden was going up even more, and now we had more than 20 products to support with only four people. Increased burden means decreased development time, and we had reached our efficiency plateau. Sure, we could hire more people. More people who had no experience with our products or users. How would that help our customers?
We realized support needs to be a nearly indestructible foundation for success, not the firemen that respond when it is aflame.
Solving the Problem of How to Solve Problems
When Layers came along, it gave us the opportunity to cull the parts of our business that weren’t performing well. This meant reducing our catalogue, retiring old tech, and freezing any further feature enhancements on existing products. By now, our most recent Obox offering was already a year old and we were feeling good about Layers being free.
Free means we don’t have to support it, right?
Why Free Needs You More than Premium
Our users are the most important part of our business, much to the disappointment of the office cat.
It is not their fault Layers is free. Does that mean they shouldn’t get help?
This time around, we knew that investing more into making Layers as perfect as possible was key to reducing the support burden in general, but we also knew that building the best documentation and self-help portal we could in the time we had was tantamount.
With all of our past woes and wins in mind, I set out to build a codex not just to house setup guides and some tips, but an expansive developer code library. With Layers as a framework, the goal was to make it as easy as possible for developers to find what they needed to get going. It also needed to showcase what Layers was capable of from a child theme perspective by being built on Layers itself.
That was the easy part. The hard part was perfecting it to what our users needed, not what we thought they did.
Layers Docs has gone through three quiet evolutions since, and has now landed in a comfortable and much-improved space. Gone is the floaty sidebar that iPad users hated. In is the global search. Better typography, brand consistency, enhanced navigation and cleaner content, we hope, will take your website building experience from joyous to exuberant.
But What About Actual Support?
You know, the part where one human has a problem and needs another to answer?
We didn’t forget about that.
Since its launch, Layers has proven to be more than just a WordPress theme framework. It is its own fledgeling ecology made up of 3rd party products, blogs, trials, tutorials, manuals and evolving code. Along with this came a support demand very different from what we had previously experienced. Human beings using Layers are looking to learn first and foremost, not solve. So we threw up a little forum and let it percolate.
Don’t let the pun be lost on you. This tiny system that we expected to grow cobwebs was expanding rapidly every day. Within just three months, over 3000 users had registered, asking around 600 questions. When combined with questions received through other channels such as Themeforest, Twitter, email, Intercom and GitHub, this was 4-5 times the volume of our former system.
Something needed to happen to keep all those things grounded and elastic. Our premature iteration of free help wasn’t cutting it.
We realised we need to educate users first, and foster an open line of communication that inspires growth and reduces repetition without abandoning that tried-and-true happiness recipe we started on.
The New Layers Community
Going back to burdens for a minute, it is a given that offering free support at a level that rivals the “premium” standard is simply not possible or cost-effective, especially for a free product. (Layers is our livelihood, after all.) However, this is assuming you are trying to do it all on your lonesome.
Layers is about community, about building something together as one creative, open-source, WordPressy force. Everyone has something to offer, from novices to pros, whether they are working on a sock store or a knitting blog. While we can’t expect everyone to be an expert capable of answering the tough questions, our early support prototypes showed us that people are willing to help each other when they can. What a beautiful concept!
Tools That Work
The new Layers community is not a traditional support forum. It is not a poorly disguised ticketing system, nor speckled with pay-perks or VIP areas only special people can see. It is transparent, and above all, offers a place for Layers users of all shapes and sizes to collaborate, celebrate and create. We do this with a few twists to the Old-School Forum such as points, voting, Thanks, Best Answers and focus discussions.
From a team perspective, this gives us the advantage of a traditional system in that we can track bugs and feature requests, while also gathering statistics through mundane things like tagging and traffic analytics. We can quickly identify where our input is needed, striking that delicate balance between cost-effectiveness and customer service.
For our users, the Layers Community Support Site opens that conversation we want to have with you, in a way that is user-friendly and fluid for everyone. It gives you a tool where you can collaboratively and effortlessly build an amazing support system for each other while we build more fantastic things to help you thrive on the web and off.
In-depth articles and guides on Layers & Layers Extensions
Guides on creating themes and plugins, collaboration tools and a huge code library!
Interact with other Layers users to get advice on usage, custom code or troubleshooting, hire a pro or request new features.