Why WPMU DEV Has the BEST Support in the WordPress Community. Period.

Our support team works hard behind the scenes to help members using our 140+ plugins and 150+ themes. This is the story behind our head of support, Tim Bowers, and our awesome support crew.

Tim likes to remind our CEO James Farmer that he was rejected the first time he applied for a job on the support team.

All in jest, of course.

Back in 2005, Tim was driving buses and limousines and freelancing (creating small sites, hosting and reselling domains) when he first started using WordPress and WordPress MU (now Multisite) for a network of paranormal sites that he managed.

He was kicking ass online, but things weren’t so great IRL. His day job sucked and things came to a head when his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and his employer fired him for taking time off to spend with his dad.

“It was a shitty company to work for. Them sacking me gave me the motivation to turn a hobby and passion into a career so I guess there was a silver lining.”

Tim
WPMU DEV Head of Support Tim Bowers works from home and gets to spend lots of time with his daughter Erin.

In 2007 he stumbled upon WPMU DEV and signed up, but it wasn’t until 2010 when membership points were introduced that he took his membership seriously. Seeing an opportunity, Tim got stuck into helping other members in the forums. In less than three weeks, he secured a free lifetime membership – and was also the first person to do so.

Not long after when WPMU DEV advertised for two positions on the support team, Tim jumped at the chance. And… was rejected.

“I applied for a job but James turned me down in favour of two other applicants,” he says.

“Then some months later he contacted me out of the blue and offered me a position. I said ‘yes,’ obviously!”

As it turns out, the guys James hired didn’t stick around long.

Tim says the support team back then was tiny.

“If I remember correctly it was just Mason James and I for a while and then we set on some more staff,” he says.

“I worked everything: emails, support, documentation, testing. Whatever was needed, I did it.

“I loved the work, it was great.”

Tim proved to have staying power, outlasting Mason and becoming our support lead in January 2013.

The WPMU DEV Support Team

The times they are a-changin’. Tim now manages a crew of about 15 support staff based all over the world as part of the distributed team at WPMU DEV.

“We have some guys who are fantastic with product knowledge and advise on plugins, their features, that kind of thing,” Tim says.

“Then on the other end of the scale we have developers who work support.”

Support times
Since Tim took over the lead support role, response times have dropped dramatically and are still falling.

He says communication and trust are key to the success of the team.

“I think it’s important to express how difficult it can be with distributed teams. We need to trust in each other explicitly. And I need to know that I can depend on the guys who work for me,” he says.

“Managing a team of this size has its own challenges. We’re all in different timezones, for one. You can’t just have the usual friendly banter that you might be accustomed to within an office, a shop or a production line.

“It’s important we keep team spirit going.”

Average staff response times
Average staff response times. Click image for a large view.

So how do you encourage team spirit within a distributed support team?

Our company “water cooler” is our internal P2 site where we chat, talk shop and share pictures of cats. Support staff also regularly catch up on Skype and Google Hangouts to, well, hang out.

“Most days I check in on stats to see how things are going. I then share the love with our team, praising those with exceptionally high positive ratings and encouraging the rest of the team to compete for top position. We recognise the top dog with our monthly awards, too,” Tim says.

Joining the WPMU DEV Support Team

Just like joining our developer team, applying for a support job at WPMU DEV is no easy task.

Hoang Ngo
Developer/support staff member Hoang Ngo hard at work.

First, you’ve got to get through an interview with Tim.

“It involves us chatting about them, not WordPress, not the job, just them. We want to know that the people we work with are caring, sharing, team players. We need to know who they are, if they’re dependable,” he says.

“You can have the world’s most talented support guy, a proficient coder with extensive knowledge in many areas, but if he’s an arrogant ass who thinks only of himself then he could end up rubbing the whole team the wrong way.”

Applicants are then asked to complete two task sheets – one focusing on how they might interact with WPMU DEV members, and another exploring their WordPress know-how.

Those who get through to the next round are offered a trial period on the support team and are assigned a couple of training buddies. If they impress, they are offered a full-time job.

“This process has worked pretty well for us so far,” Tim says.

“It’s given us quality people whilst weeding out those less capable ones.”

All Ages, All Skill Levels

Patrick Cohen
Patrick Cohen prefers to work outdoors while helping our members.

Our support crew are a cool bunch of guys (and hopefully more girls in the not too distant future!) who have one thing in common – they know their stuff when it comes to WordPress.

Patrick Cohen, who lives in Montreal, Quebec, started writing for WPMU DEV part-time in 2012 before moving to support and documentation full-time soon after.

While he usually works from his home office or on the couch with his cat, his CCO (chief cuddle officer), Patrick likes to get out and about on his bike.

“When in the country, you’ll usually spot me working in the middle of the woods,” he says.

“What I love most about working at WPMU DEV is being able to call on anyone at pretty much any time to leverage their expertise when faced with a particularly tricky member issue, “tricky” being a subjective operator, of course.”

One of our youngest support stars is Jack Kitterhing from Kent in the UK, who, at 19, has been with WPMU DEV well over a year and is a workaholic.

“I’m on the computer from 8am till 9-10pm six days a week and I love it!” Jack says.

“Yes I’m a nerd. Even on my day off I’m sitting at a computer.”

air-and-greece
Support guys Aristeides Stathopoulos and George Michael from Greece at our company meetup in New York last year.

Jack started learning WordPress when he was just 12 and hasn’t stopped. After signing up for a WPMU DEV membership, Jack immediately set out to earn a free lifetime membership. Within five weeks, he was offered a job on the support team before he even received his lifetime membership.

Jack says he enjoys the team atmosphere at WPMU DEV (“Who would have thought you could have any atmosphere in a remote job, let alone a great one!”) and gets a lot of satisfaction helping members.

“The members are all round awesome! Sure, there’s the occasional one that isn’t so happy, but for every one of them there’s a thousand who appreciate what we do and the help we provide,” he says.

Fun fact about Jack: he covered a staggering 20,000 support questions last year!

Then there’s David Mallonee from sunny Los Angeles, who was on the support team with Tim in the early days before leaving and returning last year.

David, a former professional hip hop dancer/breakdancer, says he initially experimented with Joomla, Drupal and C5.

“I tried WordPress and fell in love, dropped everything else. No other beauty compares!” he says.

“I love chatting with the support team and members about this awesome platform. Keeps me keen on it all.

“I’ve had members get really thrilled when I give them code snippets to provide a feature they need. It’s really cool to see them get so happy and feel so glad they joined the service.”

Hoang Ngo from Vietnam, who only recently joined WPMU DEV, after worked as a developer on serta.com. He works across both the support and developer teams.

For Pranaya Chaudhary (PC), who lives in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, India, working from home is “like a dream come true.”

“I used to imagine going to office in shorts and wearing an old t-shirt ,but now I can do all of that,” PC says.

“A typical day consists of setting alarms to wake up on time for the dedicated hours, having or not having a quick shower and then spending the day with my laptop. I keep changing the locations while I am working so that the surroundings keep changing and the creative juices do not stop flowing.

“The strangest place I have worked from is a Jungle Camp in Nainital and from the roadside when I am driving places. Thanks to mobile Internet, I can be almost anywhere and still work.”

And let’s not forget Tim, who lives in a loud “full house of women,” including twin 13-week-old girls, a two-year-old daughter, his wife and his mother.

He says his “office” is his living room.

“I sit next to a 55-inch TV that often plays Peppa Pig during the day for my daughter. The living room is also her playroom,” he says.

“So I get to work and spend quality time with my kids.”

Meet and Greet Our Crew

Our support guys don’t just sit in front of their computers all day (or in Patrick’s case, sit in the woods!). They also get along to WordCamps and Meetups.

In January, PC and Ashok Kumar Nath, from Bangladesh, went along to WordCamp Baroda where they met members and gave away free memberships.

Say “hello” next time you see someone with a WPMU DEV t-shirt on at a WordPress event – you’ll probably get a free membership.

Ashok and PC with former WPMU DEV writer Siobhan McKeown at WordCamp Baroda in January.
Ashok and PC with former WPMU DEV writer Siobhan McKeown at WordCamp Baroda in January.

What’s Next?

Since taking on the lead support role, Tim has streamlined how we help our members, slashing response times and instigating dedicated responder hours.

More recently, he oversaw the implementation of a staff overview system. Whenever a staff member responds to a ticket, this system places any responses from members within their dedicated feed.

There will also soon be a new buddy support system to ensure there are more sets of eyes on individual support tickets, as well as a new Second Level Support group. This group of mostly developers will focus on resolving more complex and time consuming threads that often need custom solutions.

And, of course, Tim is always working on reducing response times and making sure our members are happy.

It seems James made a good call hiring Tim after all.

We’re releasing a new post each week to give a little insight into WPMU DEV, who we are, what we’re doing and where we’re taking our members.

Past posts in this series:

Part 1: How an English Lit. Grad. Who Didn’t Know PHP from FTP Bootstrapped a Successful WordPress Company.
Part 2: Meet the WPMU DEV-elopers.

17 Responses

  • New Recruit

    Nice article.

    My first office job at 21 was front end support for a retail software.
    Almost 14 yrs after that I’m operating my own WP support service and make a nice living out of it.

    Support is not just replying to someone’s question or giving a solution to a problem, its like teaching or coaching where you feel happy by making someone’s life better.

    The closing email or comment you receive from a client saying “Thank you!” is the best reward and proof that you are doing it right.

  • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

    Interesting feel-good stuff. Just wondering though, do you keep stats on actually resolving issues? Like what percentage ever get resolved and how long that actually takes.

    It seems that is response time is recorded as being the moment a staff member makes a post, then you are counting the many, many instances where a staff member says “Can you explain further?” or “I’ll have to check on that.” In these cases it can often be days before an answer is ever advanced.

    In many cases like those I describe, the user may have abandoned the effort that was causing the problem or went elsewhere for help to find a workaround, and the thread ends with something like “Glad to got it sorted out.”

    Not trying to be a wet blanket, but the current process has a lot to be desired. There’s no codex and you baulked at the idea of creating one, the forums aren’t broken out into plugin categories so there’s no easy way to read all posts regarding a particular plugin, whatever ticketing system you are using doesn’t delegate well, so if the first staff member that touched the post gets sick or goes on vacation your post will sit unanswered until that person returns, and many of the “usage” instructions are vague and have a poor general overview, so users aren’t really sure how the plugins are *supposed* to operate.

    On the bright side, it’s a strong concept, but implementation is everything and it just seems a bit premature to be doing a “we’re the best” post.

    And with that, it’s probably safe to say I’ll be the last one to get an answer to any support questions, but hey, if the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes…

    • Chief Pigeon

      We track various stats, but not enough, yet. We’re just implementing better and more advanced stat tracking right now.

      To know something is truly resolved when someone abandons a thread is impossible. I know I’ve been on a number of sites in the past, asked a questions, the answer solves the issue and I forget to post back confirming all content in the knowledge everything is good again.

      The “I’ll have to check on that” should not occur any more except in the instances where they’ve flagged a developer or Second Level Support (SLS) and then we usually state this is what we’re doing. If I see it happening I usually correct it ;) The reason being is that people forget and they can end up becoming dropped threads.

      We never baulked at the idea of a codex, in fact we even tried a wiki based one where some members that asked for it were involved. Enthusiasm from those who kept asking for it quickly dwindled and we abandoned the project. But we are looking at implementing PHPDoc still.

      You then said we don’t categorise plugins, but we do. It’s done via tagging, here’s the latest plugin we released:

      https://premium.wpmudev.org/forums/tags/multisite-theme-manager

      You then brought up illness and sickness, not sure if you saw in the post where we adressed that but here’s the quote “There will also soon be a new buddy system system to ensure there are more sets of eyes on individual support tickets”, in fact that’s now live and working pretty well so far. We’ve actually been beta testing it for a while, it just wasn’t official.

      FYI, we use bbPress. The really old but extremely customised version.

      Usage instructions, you know one of the most reported issues with Domain Mapping (for example) is that they can’t map the domain. And you know that 99.9% of the time it’s because their IP Address does not have the DocumentRoot set so that it loads their website when they enter it in the address bar. Guess what one of the first things is on the usage page?

      “Dedicated IP: For using A Record setups, you need to ensure you have a dedicated IP. This IP would fall onto your multisite setup. i.e. when you enter the IP you see your multisite.”

      Around 70% to 80% of reported issues are due to not following information that is contained within the usage docs. But if something is missing then please feel free to bring that up in the forum and we can flag our writers to address it. The rest can be conflicts with other developers work (like themes not following WP standards for example), bugs, or issues with third party API setup.

      So who do you feel do offer the best support then?

      Who is willing to help out with custom code where possible (obviously complex stuff still needs them to hire a developer), debugging issues that don’t relate to their products?

      Here’s a great example of us supporting a premium item that isn’t our product:

      https://premium.wpmudev.org/forums/topic/basata-theme-no-admin-panel-for-admins-in-multisite

      There are plenty of examples of this kind of support, so I hope I’ll be forgiven (being biased and all) but I do think “we’re the best”. And no your support tickets won’t suffer because you had an opinion. ;)

      Have a great day! :)

      • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

        Okay! You’re working on it. Sweet. Seriously, everybody is rooting for you. Like I said, it’s a powerful concept and would be nice to have available. But with paid support on your own product, hours works; days does not. As for obscure help on tangential WP issues you may be best – not sure how you’d measure that.

        Regarding your example…

        “Dedicated IP: For using A Record setups, you need to ensure you have a dedicated IP. This IP would fall onto your multisite setup. i.e. when you enter the IP you see your multisite.”

        That’s not actually true, and you can certainly accomplish the same thing (domain mapping in multisite) more easily than using the WPMUDEV plugin. But I get your point that people are excited to get going and don’t read things very carefully. Agreed, but if they don’t have a visual representation of what they are trying to do (beyond some general concept) they are a bit disoriented to begin with.

        Something that would help amazingly would be a demo site for every single plugin. The demo site for the plugin could be the “usage” site. I mean seeing is believing, so that would help a lot.

        And on the forum tagging approach – fine, but you might turn the long URL’s like https://premium.wpmudev.org/forums/tags/multisite-theme-manager into a dropbox with real names or at least spread some links around so it’s not a mystery to get there. (Maybe one on the plugin’s own page like you do with “Ask a question about…”)

        And while I’m glad to hear about the buddy system, new responsive themes, and other things that may or may not materialize in the future, I would like to see more now – while I’m paying. Not the end of the world, but that’s the way I see it.

        Gotta go, be well.

        • Chief Pigeon

          The example was totally true, people often try to use A Records and either have no Dedicated IP or the DocumentRoot is wrong. And it’s there in the docs, it’s the most covered issue in the support forums for that plugin. It’s just an example of one of the most asked support questions, we are looking at ways to improve stuff like this within plugins themselves to lower the amount of questions and we actually hired a dedicated UI/UX guy for this purpose. :)

          We tried demos too, wow it was a hassle maintaining them, updating them, making sure they look good. With so many projects it was a nightmare.

          We’re not moving towards a better profile system, like you see in the Pro’s area. The idea is that you’ll be able to show off how you use our plugins. Nothing better than seeing how customers already do it and for real.

          For the link to each project, it was on the project pages. Not sure why it isn’t there but I’ll certainly bring this up. :)

          More now I hear ya say, there is lots now. We just released a brand new theme manager plugin, we’re releasing tons of updates too. Ultimate Branding for one example, that got a new admin menu system with drag and drop ordering. We released our translation area, our jobs board (which is coming as a plugin too), loads of stuff is happening. Not sure if you check the changelogs but it’s always worth a quick nosey to see. Improved support and support times, you know 2 years ago the average first response could be 3+ days sometimes when it’s really busy and especially over weekends.

          Loads of stuff is happening all the time, and we’re setting on more staff to handle the load and keep things smooth.

          The themes were tested recently, another beta going out to some lifetime members very soon.

          Have an awesome day! :)

          • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

            Yeah, I was saying that it wasn’t true that you need a dedicated IP address to map domains on Multisite. I get why you made that a prerequisite – it eliminates an entire spectrum of potential issues – but it isn’t actually necessary.

            “We tried demos too, wow it was a hassle maintaining them, updating them, making sure they look good. With so many projects it was a nightmare.”

            My point exactly! If you have people maintaining demos, they begin to understand the headaches your customers are experiencing with features that don’t function as expected, aesthetic issues, and other problems that they can report to the developers. And of course, if I see something in action I can more quickly decide if it will serve the purpose I need it to – without spending a lot of everyone’s time trying to load and test it.

            “Loads of stuff is happening all the time, and we’re setting on more staff to handle the load and keep things smooth.”

            Sweet. I’ll have to revisit the your repository and “taste it again for the first time.”

          • Chief Pigeon

            The hassle was making quality content unique to them all, something that’s interesting and helps demonstrate the functionality, and then maintaining the content to be relevant with the times so that it’s not dated and stale.

            Then maintaining the tons of variations possible, like MarketPress on it’s own, MarketPress in a multisite with adaptive gateways and allowing a sandbox checkout, then MarketPress with Appointments+ integration, and then with Events + integration. MarketPress with Pro Sites integration too.

            On top of that in order to make it meaningful, allow people access to test things and then reset those things after set periods. For companies within one or a small handful of plugins it’s much easier to maintain but for a company with hundreds of plugins and potentially thousands of combinations (settings, integrations, etc) it’s hundreds/thousands of websites to maintain.

            Surely our time is better spent developing than making dummy sites that may or may not generate a couple more sales.

            It’s much easier to demonstrate through video and talk about the features.

  • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

    Hi Timothy,

    I am really routing for you, your business, your staff, your founder and your customers and I really do know what it’s like to be involved in a rapidly growing web based business. I founded one in 1997, sold 13% of it in 2000 for £8.5m, retired and bought a yacht in 2003, then went sailing. Back in the UK starting another new venture and your business provides exactly what I need to make it effective.

    However, I am really, really struggling with support on the current Ultimate Facebook issues and I do feel like I am not getting proper support. It’s a month today since the problems started. I have not even had an answer to the question has anybody at wpmudev got their UF app approved by Facebook yet.

    Anyway I do not want go on about it here but could desperately do with a bit of help.

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