Free support is vital to the success of your freemium plugin business. It can be demanding at times (ok most of the time), and you’ll always come across those rude users who expect everything for nothing, but despite these hurdles having great free support can make all the difference to your business.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the pros and cons of free support for your WordPress.org and why ultimately, it’s the right path forward.
4 Pros of Free Support
Before we dive into the things that we all dislike, let’s take a look at the positive impact that providing free support can offer both you, your business and your users.
Pro 1: More Actionable Feedback
If you’ve ever sent a survey to your users and got close to nothing back in return you’ll have experienced the frustrations of developers across the globe — actionable user feedback.
By offering free support, you stand much more chance of people trying your plugin and then providing their input into what they’d like to see added and where they stumbled. Ultimately it’s a game of numbers, and free support means you get more data. Over time more input should equal a better product.
Just remember not to take anything literally in the case of development; it’s not always the customer knows best.
Pro 2: Better Rankings on the WordPress.org Plugin Directory
Part of the publicly available algorithm that WordPress.org uses to rank is resolved support threads. So if you have customers asking questions, but you don’t provide free support, you’ll be automatically deranked, whereas by answering and resolving threads, your rank will improve.
In fact, if you have an actively used plugin on WordPress.org offering free support can be one of the easiest ways to gain installs and users.
Then you can track it over time, either manually or using a tool like Plugin Rank to see how offering free support improves your search position.
Pro 3: User Trust
If you have a freemium plugin that doesn’t offer support it can leave a sour taste in the user’s mouth, it’s prevalent for a user to ask a question before buying just to see how the request is dealt with and if you don’t offer free support they’ll never know and may never buy.
Offering free support with a freemium plugin shows that you care about your end-users and care about the product you’re selling. In fact I’ve personally seen plugins before not offering free support and actively ignoring bug reports as they weren’t a premium customer!
Even if you don’t want to offer free support, there are still certain requests you should never ignore.
- Security reports — any user reported security issue with your plugin should always be investigated. After all you don’t want your plugin to be the one hackers exploit to gain access to someone’s website.
- Bug reports — tricky if you don’t offer free support as a bug report is often of high importance, but it can take both time and a back and forth over email until you get enough details to replicate and fix it.
Pro 4: More Chance of Conversions
Conversions are a numbers game, and by offering free support, you’ll get more downloads and more users. More downloads and more users should equal more conversions, while it won’t necessarily improve your actual conversion rate you should overall get more conversions.
Free support gives your users confidence in your product and company, meaning they’re more likely to upgrade down the road should you release a premium feature they can’t live without, or they just want to have that warm fuzzy feeling of supporting a small business.
Now we’ve covered the pros of offering support, let’s look at the cons.
4 Cons of Free Support
Con 1: Support Load
It’ll come as no surprise that offering free support means the support load can dramatically increase, and that doesn’t always mean more paying more customers to offset the additional load.
This can cause issues with customers receiving slower support or your overall profit getting cut by having to bring on more staff to cope with the support load.
You can combat this though by providing priority support to premium customers and answering the free support after. Or consider outsourcing your WordPress plugin support.
Although you shouldn’t keep free support waiting for weeks it’s a good balance between being able to offer both free and premium support whilst also ensuring premium paying customers feel like they are looked after.
Con 2: Demanding Users
The fact is that selling anything (not just software) comes with demanding customers that believe the world revolves around them, they are always right, and you should do whatever they ask.
Of course, it’s not realistic, and it can be both disheartening and draining to have users be demanding of all your time and then threaten negative reviews when you don’t implement some obscure feature they asked for.
Like having an increased support load, this can be combated, and often the best method is to be firm but fair, give them a warning and eventually just tell them you won’t deal with them anymore. They may very well leave a negative review, but there’s nothing you can do to stop that.
Con 3: More Expensive
Someone has to reply to all those additional support requests, and chances are it isn’t going to be someone doing it for free.
If your support loads increases to the point where you need to spend an extra 20 hours a week on it and you have to hire someone to take that on — even if you’re paying a very low rate of $10/hr which would often get you a support worker in the Asia region, that’s still $800/month you’re putting in with no return.
Doesn’t look like great business when you put it like that does it?
Con 4: Negative Reviews
Ok, so not everyone who only uses free plugins is demanding and unrelenting. Still, there is unfortunately a small subset of users who will leave negative reviews without evening contacting you.
Premium only support tends to make people contact you before leaving a bad review. If you operate in a niche where alternative plugins are available most users won’t think twice of leaving you a bad review and going on their way to an alternative plugin.
So Should you Offer Free Support?
Despite these cons I’m still a strong believer that for freemium plugins offering free support is a must as it gives users insights into how your business operates and makes them confident enough to buy the premium version.
But just because you’re offering free support it doesn’t mean you need to suffer. Here are our top tips on surviving free support in WordPress.
3 top tips on Surviving Offering Free Support in WordPress
Tip 1: Take a Mental Health day
Let’s be real; any support whether free or premium is a recipe for stress and burn out, a never-ending ticket queue, people asking for follow-ups, and all while trying to manage the day-to-day tasks of a business and family life.
Remember the tickets don’t need answering immediately, sure it’s great to send a quick response, but a well-thought-out helpful response is better.
And ultimately, every month or two, take a day off completely disconnected, recharge your batteries and come back fresh. It may not seem a lot, but to have a day where you aren’t getting threats of negative reviews or dealing with demanding customers can work wonders.
Tip 2: Cherry Pick Those Tickets
Ok, this goes against almost all welcome packs for WordPress support teams, but hear me out by cherry-picking the easy tickets first helps bring down the queue and will make you more relaxed.
Then after that, take the tickets that look like they could escalate; maybe that’s because the user is already known to you as awkward or it appears to be a bug.
Only once those are taken care of should you then go through in date order and work through the tickets.
Also, the easy tickets can be perfect for a virtual assistant where they can reply with quick, simple answers taking some of the pressure off your back.
Tip 3: Don’t Update on Fridays
If you like your weekends to be relaxing and hassle free, never ever release on a Friday even if it was a one-word change. Users always blame “issues” on a new release even if it never changed anything related to that particular piece of functionality.
New plugin updates always cause an avalanche of tickets, more popular plugins and releasing on a Friday is a sure fire way to stress yourself out.
Free support is time-consuming and frequently frustrating. Overall, the net positive impact it has of getting more users and more user feedback offsets the negatives of providing free support for your WordPress plugins.
Do you have any tips on how to avoid free support burn-out? Perhaps you have the perfect reason why free support shouldn’t be offered? Let me know in the comments below.