Monday, December 1, 2008

How to handle completely clueless users?

I admit I'm sort of a email traffic controller.

It irks me to the point of a pet peeve, when I spatter the contact page of my project with notes that say, "DO NOT CONTACT ME FOR SUPPORT UNLESS YOU WANT TO BUCK UP SOME MONEY", and I get tons of support emails, wanting free support.


What I don't want to do, is take the time and go,

"Look. We have forums. We have mailing lists. Use those. Thanks." And then not answer they're question.

What I do is exactly that.

I don't want to do this, because I know how much of a pain it is for the person to now, *rewrite* what they just ask me. It also is a pretty weird introduction to what should be a really valuable exchange - someone actually wants to talk to *me* about *my* thingy.

The curious thing is, I don't want to be hired to fix some stupid bug - I have better things to do. I'd rather help fix the bug for *free* - and its beneficial - users let me know it's there, I (or them - ha!) open up a bug report, it gets fixed (probably by me) and *there's a thread of, "something just happened"* that lives far away from my inbox and takes on a life of its own. I don't have to write the same thing twice and with a little work by the user (or if they dare help themselves) they can find it themselves, and keep a thread going. When I say, "thread" - I mean, anything - a forum post about a problem, with a reply of a confirmation that it's a bug, with a link posted to a bug report, that may then give you a patch in a day or so - which then gets referred in another forum post - etc. But, a trail is there.

The thing is, there's better ways to ask the questions.

What's the better way to point them to the right way?

For a while, I just had a auto responder that said,

"Hey, if this is a support question - go here, and here and here and read this and that and then post to this thing or that thing and away you go! America!"

"...but, if this isn't a support question, well, disregard all that, and I'll get back to you, soon"

That seemed a little foolish.

Right now, I'm trying something different - I'm just making up a mail template that first, welcomes the new person emailing me to the *community* and then gives a very brief list of resources that say, "Here's what to read", "Here's where to ask questions"


well, then if I can, I'll answer they're question - I haven't yet said, "And next time, POST HERE", cause again, that makes me think I'm reprimanding someone for something they may have just missed. Or something. Anyways - let's think positive and we're all humans here, and we probably all have a strong sense to belong.

But, what I want to do is get people active in the program and community. It's pretty hard, since, well, usually my audience is general users and they just have Work They Need To Do, and aren't nerdy enough to get excited about some program. Understandably.

Perhaps, by simply giving a welcome, some encouragement, some links to check out and a head-start on solving the problem, they'll feel as if they're welcome in a community, instead of just a bother to me.

As far as I'm concerned, community in anything is everything. If you're not building a community, you have almost nothing, no matter how great you are, you have nothing without people.

Anyways, I'll let you know how it goes, but I'd be interested in hearing other ideas you yourself may have,