User support across instances

Here’s the beginning of a conversation about sharing user support among instances (English-speaking at first). Since we have chosen to land on a spherical planet where it’s all times all at once depending on where we are, there may be an opportunity to provide what amounts to 24 hrs/day support to users. The advantages of building this process include responsiveness to users, efficiency, learning and teaching between instances, identification and use of best practices, the start of a global knowledge base. Some possible disadvantages might include disproportionate/uneven contribution from instances, awkward hand off of “cases” between instances, integration of support as a function of service levels (i.e. if a user pays more for a higher level of support, how does that get done?), maintaining a fairly consistent communication/cultural style with case management, selection and use of the right tool to manage user cases, communication, and capture of solutions, and more.

Topic born in Slack and moved here for more consideration. Just to capture that conversation:

@tschumilas: So yes - if you want to set up a separate slack that would be great. Just noting Jen’s comment above that we don’t want the channel in this slack account. Jen - do you think we should set up another slack account with the intention that any instance that wants to use it for user-support can?

@lauriewayne1: you should have an invite in your email to join ( . There is a channel for usa and a channel for canada at the moment but of course we can organize it however we want (and you can easily switch between workspaces).

@Jen: perhaps just worth floating with the community more broadly that you’re setting this up

@lauriewayne1 : Yep Jen, good point. It’s created but not in use yet. Theresa, should we put a proposal together for a slack-based user support process?

@Jen: or, I wonder if now is the moment to go to your other idea Laurie of a stack exchange user support system, where solutions can get votes ? If we’re bothering to build community around something should we choose a technology system that permits that plus better searchability (which is not great in slack)? That said, better done than perfect, so don’t let my suggestion derail momentum

@lauriewayne1: we (in the US) looked a while back at setting up a discourse instance for user support (like the UK have) - that would definitely be better, except we didn’t have the capacity to set that up and maintain it. Zendesk would be sweet one day, especially if it was supporting a process that would allow for stack exchange. I can see that picking from the tools we already have and use makes sense for now, but I am constantly losing things in Slack, an I agree that its searchability leaves a lot to be desired. Trello is lovely but for me there’s a capacity issue there too (and it becomes yet another tool to fire up) - likewise with Airtable. For now I think a new workspace can help (a) isolate users from the conversations taking place in this global workspace and (b) create a cross-instance environment for user support. Sorry, I am realizing this is a discourse-level discussion - I’ll move it over there

…and here we are!

I’m excited about mutualizing support in any way we can, and happy to contribute. And if we don’t want to do that as a global community, I’m happy for the US and CAN to do something together at least. I don’t have a huge appetite for learning a new tool which is why I have suggested Discourse or Slack - BUT I am willing to tackle something new if it has better bells and whistles. I agree that Slack is not the best idea because its hard to find old contributions. But CAN-US might start there and switch to something else in the future – if anyone wants to join this OFN Support Slack that would be great. If anyone knows how to set up a discourse just for support - that would b great. Or if we want to create a channel in our current community just for support - that is great too (be good to change the welcoming message for the community then - so that when newbies land there, they don’t get lost in our global community stuff). IDEALLY the tool would give us easy peasy screen sharing for the user as well as the supporter. IDEALLY it would have great notification features so the supporter can monitor from anywhere. IDEALLY it has a place where we can make easy access to the user guide too. IDEALLY - lots of things - but where to start? I don’t want us to get paralyzed while we discuss and debate. There can be multiple solutions of course.

@EmilyRogers @lbwright22 @Kirsten @Rachel @lin_d_hop @danielle keen to hear your thoughts on supporting users and sharing support globally

I think slack isn’t the right tool as we all know how much things get lost there and I believe that if we start there we’ll end up sticking with it and just be answering the same questions over and over rather than building a repository of FAQs or similar that help users troubleshoot on their own.

I also think a channel on our current slack definitely isn’t what we want - I think we need an openness to conversations there that wouldn’t be possible if all our users are in there too, and we already have enough trouble keeping people out of the dev channel! I suppose we could do it as channel only guests, but that seems to make it impossible for people to join on their own.

@Rachel does France use vtiger? Would that work?

I think it’s a good idea in principle. Definitely. But it’s the details that need to be sorted out and that’s where the complexity lies. All the points @lauriewayne1 raises are good ones (uneven contribution across instances, service level agreements, and the biggest of all things the management of the global processes and team doing it during set up and then ongoing day to day.

The management of the global software dev pipe is the equivalent, and it takes time and effort to keep the processes up to date, to keep the product team and the broader community up to date on things, and to have it all running efficiently. A lot of that work is done by people like myself, @Rachel, @lin_d_hop, @Kirsten to keep things running, on top of all the other work we do. The equivalent “coordination team” will need to be set up for customer support, and I worry that the current collective group of people don’t have the capacity to do this.

If people have the capacity to dedicate time to this project, then full steam ahead. It seems like a solid thing to consider and to experiment with in the proving or disproving that a global support team will solve particular problems we’re experiencing. I think experimentation in this, validating assumptions and doing small iterative pieces will be really important.

Perhaps the next step is to quantify the benefit expected from such a set up? There’s a whole lot of assumptions in the decision to take customer support global (e.g. it will provide better customer service, it will take the load off local customer support teams, it will be more cost effective, we have the ability to set up as global with the customer support capacity we already have, our users want 24 hour support, our users are willing to pay for 24 hour support, all affiliate instances will contribute to the global support function, consistent communication/cultural style is possible, our customers want to talk with people they don’t know about their problems). Understanding these and validating them feel like the things the team should focus on first?

Also, I wonder about the problems we are solving in considering this option. And are there other options that could solve these problems more quickly or cost effectively? e.g. a shared piece of software that allows for shared knowledge that all support team members can use in supporting their local customers. Not saying we do this instead, just saying that the conversation started with a solution (global customer support team) so knowing what the overarching problems this is supposed to solve will then allow us to critically asses whether the option of going global will effectively solve those problems more than other options.

All above are my meandering thoughts, hopefully they’re helpful :smiley:

PS. Agree with Jen, no slack support channel. And, knowledge repo for support people to use seems key…potentially more key at this stage than actually globalising the support function.

Aligned with what Danni said.

@Jen we are using Vtiger because Vtiger is our CRM and their support solution answered our needs (+ they are open source :heart_eyes: ). But there is a lot of helpdesk platforms available (Zendesk, Freshdesk, Zohodesk etc). IMO a tool is needed for 3 reasons:

  1. Split the work between the people doing support: know who is assigned on what, and what questions haven’t been answered yet (all that with measurement of SLA)
  2. Have a list of bug request in progress so when there is a release you know who you need to contact to shout out the good news
  3. Understand what are your instance most asked questions and most wanted features, and again have all contacts that made the request so you can update them if there is progress on that. This need is by the way also answered by specific tools like Askbot, Canny, Discourse…

See an example of Askbot by the Jolla community:
See an example of Canny by the Gitbook community:

It’s a lot quicker to work like this as a support person, and in terms of feature request it makes it also more transparent to all users.

I find that coupling the support tool or request tool with a CRM is really important, because different people can interact with users, including people doing consultancy or other projects, not only software. When someone sends us an email and Myriam was their previous contact, I can go on their profile on the CRM and see the list of topics they already covered with Myriam, and how much are in progress/not met. If she was using her mail to do it, I would have to ask again the user for everything…

So I guess this is a question for you guys as well: if you create a global English support team, do you want to have somewhere the list of interaction a user had with this team? Does this team need to understand the local projects this hub is involved in? etc

If both answer are no, and the purpose is just to have a place users can ask question and have a quick answer on it, not sure you need a specific support tool. Maybe a dedicated discourse forum would be enough.

Interesting discussions. We have had a deep think about the support we offer in Uk (and are still pondering).
Although I like the idea of a global support team, I’m not sure it would work. In the Uk we seem to give endless support for free to very small users and it isn’t sustainable. We are working ways to streamline the support we give and build up resources for users to help themselves (after all, people dont contact big platforms like eBay etc for help regularly and that would be our goal too).
Global support has issues such as language barriers, differences in legal requirements that users may need (ie VAT compatible invoices might vary on local law to what is/isn’t acceptable), time zone differences etc…
In Uk we would like to move towards a more formulauic onboarding process and possibly monetarising hubs or users who demand intense or specialist support.
We use Trello at the moment to organise support claims with submission to the Trello board coming from an onlline form.
@lin_d_hop hope you agree?

FYI - @lauriewayne1 has set up a new slack system for CAN-US ‘support’. We know this is not perfect. But we felt we needed something. It is separate from the OFN-Community slack because we know we need to keep user Q&A stuff off of the main community slack. If any other instance wants to create a support channel on this new support slack - let Laurie know and I’m sure she can send you details.

Second - thanks for all the above responses. I think we should approach this in a stepwise fashion and learn as we go. Frankly, I am reminded about the time 2 years ago when I asked about mutualizing efforts for instance wordpress sites. Choices were for Canada to ‘go on its own’ and get something up quick, or work collaboratively. So - that took 2 years. :grin: Don’t get me wrong - result is GREAT. But because it took so long, it extended beyond the funder’s deadline and that caused us a budget problem at OFN-CAN. Anyway, in retrospect - I learned that sometimes ‘quick and dirty’ can be good. We don’t have to all move together all the time.

Third - from the above comments - it seems like a fairly simple immediate action would be to have a Support Discourse . At least that is better than slack. I found this dicussion from back in 2015-16 about this. Can anyone update where we are at with this? Is it possible to piggy back on our existing community discourse to do a support discourse for users? @maikel @danielle - you were involved in this at the time ? what do you think @Jen? and @Rachel - this old discussion suggests France was going to use discourse for support - but did you decide not to? why not? (Just trying to understand the down sides). Community Forum for OFN

@tschumilas we have our own Discourse at

But for now, only few users come around mainly because we don’t facilitate the use of it (lack of time). Also our use of Loomio overlaps a bit discourse I think. We need to clean that out soon. There is also an issue because currently the welcome mail mentions the global forum and we cannot customize this link yet:

Agreeing with this all - a global, synchronized support system is way off in the future, if it ever shows up. In the meantime, What @tschumilas and I are thinking about is using a tool we already use (slack) to be able to wrangle user questions and requests (in the US we definitely have people dipping in to the global Slack space looking for help, and it’s definitely messy). At the moment we are looking at the approach that requires the least effort and learning curve to achieve the minimum possible environment that will let us figure out a process and better understand what’s possible, what’s ideal, and what tool makes the most sense in the long run and/or when we get funding or people to support a more robust, user-friendly, and scalable solution. The slack space (which I created just before going on this two-week caregiving adventure I am currently on) is here: