How to Make Your Customers Better at Customer Support

How often do you get a support request like this:

Subject: “Navigation padding”



How do you reduce the navigation bar horizontal padding in the TwentyTwelve theme?


That’s a support request lifted from the WordPress support forums.

The subject line gives you some vague direction and the message makes things a bit clearer, but there are two problems:

1) You don’t know why the user wants to reduce the padding.  They might need to adjust the width or margins to achieve their goal, or maybe their real goal is to make social media buttons fit and they just need to adjust them instead.

2) You don’t know the user’s website.

Now you have to respond with two questions before you can even make progress on the request.  It’s a problem and it can be fixed.

It can be fixed with a support system that supplies that info or by educating your customers.

Most people want to ask good questions

After being a WordPress newbie asking for support and later a plugin author offering support, I can see that if you are an end-user and not a developer, there’s no way you would know how to ask a good question.  You don’t know the debugging process at all, and you shouldn’t have to.

Who can really blame the user that simply asks “Why is my logo missing” and doesn’t provide more context, if no one tells them to do otherwise?  Code is still magic to them.

Either way, you don’t need to blame anyone – you just have to deal with the unnecessary time drain it creates.

There are some excellent guides scattered around the internet about how to ask developers support questions (some specifically about WordPress), but they don’t help you or your customers where they are now.

The Solution

The guide below is for you to add to your support center.

It’s an easy-to-follow, step-by-step process that will lead your customers to ask better support questions.  It started with a lot of content and was simplified and reduced repeatedly until it became only the most helpful steps explained in the most concise way.

I would recommend putting it in the place your users look RIGHT before asking a question.  For instance, for a plugin on the WordPress repository, I would post these guidelines or a link to these guidelines in a sticky post at the top.

Below the guide you will find a list of 3 different downloadable formats.

How to Get Better, Faster Support

Please follow these eight steps when you ask a question.  It helps us provide you with better support.

The Steps:

  1. Search First
  2. Ask the Right Person
  3. Tell Us What is Wrong
  4. State Your Original Goal
  5. List the Symptoms
  6. What Happened Before the Symptoms?
  7. What Have You Tried Already?
  8. Share Your Environment

 1) Search First

Before asking any questions, please check our FAQ and documentation.

2) Ask the Right Person

Please only send us questions about our products.

3) Tell Us What is Wrong

Please refrain from using phrases like “I need help” or “Help needed- urgent” in your subject lines.  Write your subject line in Object – Deviation format.


  • “Logo in header not showing”
  • “Read more links on blog page lead to 404 pages”
  • “Slider and header – large gap between them”

This quickly tells us what you are having trouble with and how it is different from normal.

4) State Your Original Goal

If you want to make a change to your site tell us your original goal.

BAD Examples:

  • “How can I get the wrapper background to override the header background?”
  • “Can I get the wrapper background to override the header background?”

GOOD Example:

  • “How can I change the site’s background color?”

By stating your original goal, we can help you find the best course of action for achieving it.

5) List the symptoms

State any other symptoms your site is having.


  • My logo disappeared
  • My site is loading slower
  • Posts won’t save

If you get an error message, please copy and paste the entire error for us to see.

6) What Happened Before the Symptoms?

Include what happened before the symptoms started showing.


  • I installed a new plugin
  • I just published a new post
  • A scheduled backup just finished

Include them in the order they happened if you can remember.

7) What have you tried already?

If you’ve made an attempt to fix the issue yourself, let us know what you’ve tried already.


  • “I tried reducing the padding on the nav bar, but it didn’t move”

8) Share Your Environment

What is your:

  • URL
  • Browser
  • Current WordPress version (find in the bottom-right corner of your admin menu)
  • Is WordPress Multisite active?

If your question is related to a specific theme or plugin, please state the current version you are using.  This can be found in the “Themes” or “Installed Plugins” menus respectively.

One More Thing!

We love solving problems!  If the solution we sent you works, please take a minute to let us know.  We take great satisfaction in assisting our customers.

Following the steps above helps us tremendously in providing you with the best support we can. 

So that’s the guide.  It’s available on Gist in 3 different formats, so you can download or simply copy and paste the code.

The Envato version is formatted for a profile and the WordPress version is formatted for a support forum thread, so you can simply copy and paste either.

For styling purposes, in the full HTML version each step is inside a div with the class “step” which should make it easy to quickly add consistent styling.

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  1. I cannot disagree with a single word in this post and thank you also for deciding to include my “How To Ask For WordPress Support” post in your excellent guides category.

    The problem here is that most users fall into one of two categories. Either they actually read the documentation or the FAQ and this gives them enough to sort out their problem., or they want their problem solved NOW and thus neither want to read documentation, FAQs, or sticky posts on forums.

    For the first category of users, your hard written documentation and FAQ are unsung heroes; the job has been done and you never hear from this category.

    The second category of users either ignore or just don’t read your instructions and hints on how to get support.

    Before I wrote that post on asking for WordPress support, around 80% of support questions I got were along the lines of “it doesn’t work, can you help me?”. After I wrote that post, put a link to it in a sticky thread on the WordPress forums and even summarised that post’s main points in the sticky thread, around 80% of the support questions I still get are along the lines of “it doesn’t work, can you help me?”.

    Sadly, I don’t see this changing.

    • Gary,

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving such an insightful comment. That’s disappointing that your post/forum thread had such little impact on the quality of support requests you received. Clearly the problem stems from something deeper than a lack of education – as you’ve explained it’s the psychology of the users.

      I’d love to hear the impact this guide has for anyone who decides to use it. I’d consider any improvement a win. In the meantime, I’ll be searching & studying – there must be other approaches to improving the quality of support exchanges between more developers and end-users.

  2. Louis Reingold Louis Reingold

    I’m going to use test this guide out for our plugin WP All Import.

    Right now we get a lot of requests that result in multiple back-and-forth e-mails before we are even ready to begin crafting a solution.

    Check with me after a couple of months and I’ll tell you how this has worked out for us!

  3. Awesome post,

    Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t want to spend time going over everything written here. I suppose the list could be trimmed down a little bit.

    Also, this is where those nasty pop-ups could find its use. Before posting anything, a user has to read it and checks she/he understands what’s written.

    • Dragan,

      That would be a great way to implement it. If anything I would trim the first two since they are a bit redundant for anyone already choosing to read the rules before posting.

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