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Theme Stores Should Provide More Than Just Forum Support

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Sufyan recently wrote a good review of the major providers of premium WordPress themes (the article will be published on WP Mods next week). In the article Sufyan mentions the support options that each theme store provides.

In addition to FAQ pages and documentation on how to use and modify designs, theme stores generally provide support via community forums and an email or ticket support system. Some stores only offer forum support or email support but not both. One company that does this is StudioPress, they only provide support through their discussion forums.

StudioPress No Contact Message

Providing support solely through a discussion forum shouldn’t be a major problem, as long as it is actively monitored. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

I recently decided to change the design slightly for one of my content websites. Previously, the website was using Headway however I found a great looking child theme of Genesis so decided to try StudioPress’s flagship framework out.

From a non-developers point of view, Genesis is not as advanced as some other frameworks that are available though I am a big fan of its design and it is very easy to use. I did however run into a simple problem though.

My website was designed with the home page and information pages using the same structure, specifically a three column setup with the main content in the middle and a sidebar to the left and right hand side of the content. It was important that I kept this structure due to the way that content is published on the site. The blog index and blog pages used a two column structure with only a right sidebar and the main content area being extended by around 150 pixels. This allowed me to post larger videos and pictures in my blog (something that wasn’t needed in the main part of the site).

Unfortunately, unlike other frameworks, it isn’t easy to set this up through Genesis. This is no slight on the framework itself. I have yet to find the perfect framework. In fact, I don’t believe any exists as everyone uses frameworks for different things, therefore most frameworks excel in some areas and fall behind in others.

Thankfully, StudioPress have provided a large tutorial area that documents how you can modify Genesis to do a number of different things. I followed the relevant tutorials word for word but the modification procedure caused errors.

StudioPress Support

Unfortunately, none of the articles are dated, therefore it is unclear when they were written or if they are still relevant. I quickly found out that they were out of date as most of the articles referred to code that was no longer in the Genesis framework or caused an error when you added the code to the template.

StudioPress Support

3 days later and I still hadn’t had a reply to my support question so I bumped the thread in the hope that my queries would be addressed.

StudioPress Support

Sadly, I never heard a reply so I had to spend hours restructuring my site and resizing videos in blog posts so that the site had a 3 column structure at all times. It’s not really the best solution for the content I have on the site but I didn’t really have a choice.

Out of frustration I posted a message today (after two weeks of no replies) and asked what I am supposed to do. I must admit the experience wasted a lot of my time. I know how to add sidebars manually to WordPress themes though I chose a framework to save me a lot of time. Unfortunately, Genesis uses hooks and is coded differently from a theme such as Twenty Ten, so I was totally lost.

StudioPress Support

An hour or so later a helpful community member did reply to my message today. They suggested that my question was not addressed because I left a reply to my original question an hour after I posted it. The thing is – when i posted the additional reply I was just adding that I had followed another tutorial and it had also caused errors. It feels like I didn’t get a response because I provided more information for them find a solution.

StudioPress Support

I would like to point out before I move on that I don’t think StudioPress provides bad support. Far from it. I have checked the forums and the majority of members are very happy with the support that is provided through the community forums. So please don’t let what I experienced put you off from buying a theme there as most support questions appear to be addressed within a day or so.

I do believe however that their support system is flawed. Any support system in which a paying customer can have their query unanswered for 2-3 weeks needs to be looked at. StudioPress perhaps only search for threads with no replies and then address those queries. The problem is, customers may sometimes come back and post additional information to the thread. Also, it is not uncommon for another forum member to reply to a thread with suggestions though this doesn’t mean the query has been resolved.

In my opinion, theme stores need to provide email support in addition to providing support in forums. Forums are a great method of support as common questions can be answered for everyone to see, plus other members can help out too; however there needs to be a backup option when support via the forums is not up to scratch.

It is my hope that theme stores that only offer support via discussion forums take all this on board. I understand that providing support solely through forums saves a lot of time but unless your forum support system is full proof (i.e. no support queries can ever go unanswered) I believe that you need to provide email support for customers.

If you have ever purchased a theme from a company that only offers support via a discussion forum, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about your experience with this support method.

Thanks for reading,

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Comments (10)

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Comment by Chris Howard says:

G’day Kevin

As an author of paid add-ons for the Headway framework, my opinion on forums is mixed.

As an individual, I found managing a single stream, such as one email account, easiest. For a time I was feeding that thru the Freshdesk system and found that quite manageable.

The most efficient means of support I’ve found is the user providing login for their site. It saves a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, but does require a private support system. It does require some trust by the user, and accountability by the support, but no more than when you hand your car keys to the mechanic. Email support allows this, forums don’t without PMing that info, which then fragments the support stream.

However, Headway now require third-party developers to use the HW forums to provide support. With multiple add-ons, plus the forum inbox and some folks still using my support email, I am having to manage multiple streams and find this quite challenging. In the end I had to bite the bullet and pay someone to help out.

(Which also raises the issue of the cost of support. I take $17.50 for each sale, but users expect infinite support. And that comes free. And now I’m paying someone else. Many times I’ve spent hours or days on specific problems for a user, most fortunately are under 10 mins. You hope it balances out with those who don’t need support. I don’t use a subscription model so all support is free and some users do lose appreciation of that as they demand a total commitment to their problem…)

My personal opinion on forums is I don’t like them as a means for providing support. I don’t find them at all efficient and find job tracking particularly difficult as they simply don’t provide mechanisms for that.

For example, if I go into a forum, there’s no way of checking on the status of a request without actually reading it (unless it is closed). Read/unread is the only status a forum post has and that is obviously limited.

There’s certainly an opportunity for someone to write a forum system that is truly suited to support. I know some have attempted but the ones I’ve tried, such as ZenDesk, I didn’t find had succeeded. (Tho, it is 12-18 mths since I last used ZenDesk, so I must revisit them to see how much they’ve improved. At that time, they also frustrated because their development focus was on things that didn’t make request management any easier)

Forums are valuable for the reasons Dalton outlined above. I just want one that provides greater request management *built-in*, so I can do things like set priorities, post privately (for times when private information such as logins is required), categorize threads, easy to use filtering, powerful searching especially for finding solutions. (Most forums are PoCI-PoCO… i.e. Pile of Crap In, Pile of Crap Out. You search them then have to wade thru a pile of results to find the relevant one. Even Apple’s forums are this bad.)

If you find a great forum system for support, let me know!

Thanks – and sorry for the length of this.

Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

Hi Tom,

Yes I used to have the Revolution theme too (I used it as one of my first designs of

I’m certainly not looking for an apology, I just want support. I was asked to post the question in another room (which I have done) and I still haven’t had a reply. I’ve really been surprised by this as StudioPress have such a good reputation.

However, their whole support system is setup to automate things. This means that you will never get a response quickly, only when a moderator logins and replies. It’s a shame as the Genesis framework is ok and they have some good child themes available for it.

Comment by Tom says:

I completely agree, Kevin. Especially when Studiopress releases their themes under the GPL, the ONLY thing that you’re paying for is the support. If they don’t have a system in place to “wow” their paying customers, then people won’t find very many reasons to become customers.

I was surprised though, because I remember when I started my first blog in 2008, I used one of Brian Gardner’s free Revolution themes and I had a question regarding the CSS in his theme and shot him an email. He emailed me back with the answer pretty quickly.

I would be surprised if someone from Studiopress doesn’t come by here to apologize and make things right. I guess time will tell!

Comment by Pippin says:

Absolutely agree, Kevin, though I don’t think this applies to just theme stores. I’d say anyone that offers products or services, should always include email support as one method for customers to get their questions answered.

Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

bbPress should hopefully improve over the next few months. I’ve used it on WP Mods on the start though it is very lacking in some areas. I was pleased when the news came out that it the next release will be as a WordPress plugin as it should encourage development.

Comment by Dalton says:

Yeah, BBPress has a similar “Not Resolved” query. We just switched to BBPress, it’s a pretty nice system, and that definitely helps!

Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

Some good points there Dalton.

I should have perhaps clarified some my points more clearly in my post. When I say email as a backup I mean that customers should be able to email if their forum question has not been addressed.

I helpdesk system is useful if there is more than one person providing support via email, though a forum would be better if it was set up correctly. vBulletin used to have a plugin that set all threads to not resolved until the query had been address by someone from the support team.

I do agree with you that a forum is great for keeping all of the content searchable and in the open.

Comment by Dalton says:

Hi Kevin,

I think I can respond from the other side of the equation, as I run a small company that sells plugins & themes. We are only able to offer support via our forum… there is just no way to handle the number of incoming requests I get via email. A helpdesk might be a good alternative solution, but the forum keeps everything out in the open, which gives users the benefit of being able to search to see if someone else has had the same problem and for other community members to comment if they have a similar problem or possible solution.

I have a rule – no support request for a paid product goes more than 24 hours without a reply. More often than not, it’s less than a couple of hours. I can’t provide the same level of support for our free plugins, but I do what I can there, too.

The crux of your position is “there needs to be a backup option when support via the forums is not up to scratch.” That’s exactly it – I believe a forum can be a great solution, as long as the developer is active and stands behind their products. It’s up to the vendor to provide a solution that works and then support it completely. Anything less is poor business, in my opinion.


Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

I agree Pippin. I do appreciate the benefits of using a forum for support, however forums, by their very nature, are going to be monitored less than an inbox.

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