Earlier this week, a thread was created on the ThemeForest.net forums that deals with how developers can provide quality WordPress theme support to those who purchase their premium downloads. The thread, entitled Tip: Getting Those Five Stars, gives suggestions on how to obtain the highest rating possible from customers and has already received over 30 replies since Monday.
Developer Shorti (who created the thread’s opening post) has released three items on the ThemeForest market so far and has accumulated 205 purchases. Most importantly, of the 18 individuals who have rated his products, none of them have failed to deliver on a 5 Star Rating.
How To Obtain A 5 Star Rating
Developer Shorti began his post by stating, “As an author I’m trying to put myself in the buyer’s shoes. What do you they want? What are common features they are looking for? What do they expect when purchasing a theme? etc. Not only do I want to provide a quality theme for their satisfaction, but I also want to maintain 5 starts on every theme as a good support for other potential buyers. Below are a few things I’ve noticed help me get 5 stars for all my themes/templates.”
First of all, the theme author recommends performing free customizations and additions outside the theme’s ability. As many in the WordPress community know, this is a controversial concept and occasionally treads on a fine line that many developers try not to cross very often. This is because extra time on an individual project not only requires the author to perform additional tasks that often go unpaid, but also can significantly raise the expectations of future buyers due to the quick word-of-mouth communication that dominates today’s online forum environment. “I found that the more greedy I am about being paid for every single customization, I lose potential buyers and possibly get a bad rating,” Shorti wrote.
The other two suggestions of spending as much time as possible working out bugs before officially releasing a product, and responding in a timely manner to customer support emails are more straight forward.
The Debate Begins
Not long after the thread was posted, fellow developers who offer their projects up for sale on the ThemeForest market gave their opinions. One of the main arguments for not performing time consuming tasks for customers was that focusing solely on obtaining a 5 Star Rating may not be the most profitable course of action in the long run. Theme author mafloral rebutted that the “problem is that some people that buy don’t rate the file. So it’s hard to say what the tricks are. I try to be courteous to my clients but as i said if they don’t rate the file your ratings gonna be crap.” RubenBristian (who has accrued more than 10,000 ThemeForest sales – 2,492 of which have come from the Now Way theme) stated that he prefers not to offer free customizations and accepts that his products may receive an overall 4 Star Rating as a result.
Well known theme author Siiimple posted that “there are some obstacles you may not be considering. The most obvious is that the more products you have available, the more difficult it is to offer ‘free customizations’ – or, for that matter, paid customizations. And very often (more often than not, perhaps) there is no such thing as a single customization. Where do you cut it off? 1? 2? 5 customizations? Certain buyers (obviously not all) will take you for a ride if you are willing to offer personal, free customizations. It’s a very slippery slope.”
As of Wednesday, the overwhelming majority of those who posted in the thread believe that offering free customizations to customers is an incorrect course of action. “Free customizations don’t help anyone in the long run,” wrote one developer. Asking for volunteer payments in exchange for formal compensation was one alternative offered by Shorti.
Finding A Balance
Larger theme companies traditionally rely on Knowledge Bases as a way to offer more information on how to add-on to a completed theme without draining programming resources directly. Many developer decisions that involve customer support ultimately have some impact on the marketplace because they either raise or lower the expectations bar.
Establishing some form of “middle ground” between un-monetized customer support and the need to maximize business opportunities is a concept that has been debated heavily in forums. With a WordPress industry that is in many regards still in its infancy, online forum debates can serve to shed light on future trends.