Why Team Members Don’t Give Private Support

Posted by iWisdom in Support on January 26th, 2009

Not giving private support has been a policy on since I joined over three years ago. There is, in fact, a rule against contacting team members for private support:

Support is offered only via these forums and #phpbb on Do not contact team members privately (via any method) to ask for support. Users found to be contacting team members asking for support will be warned.

While this may sound a little stern (it is by far the most warned offense here at, the reasoning for this is actually quite true.

Most people who contact team members for private support do so because they figure they can get a faster response and that doing so will take very little time for the team member to answer because they “know their stuff”. Now, either of these cases may be true if only one user is doing it. Let’s now consider the scenario where multiple users a day (maybe even 5-10 or more) have this reasoning and choose to do so. That’s 5-10 PMs that must be answered or handled per the rule above. Now repeat that again for 50+ team members. Assuming each PM takes 2 minutes to deal with (this is a very sparse estimate), that’s 8 hours 20 minutes of time spent dealing with these PMs instead of helping other users (not to mention the time the Moderator Team spends issuing warnings).

Just consider for a moment what we could do with that time. Most users PM team members because they think their response will be quicker — in fact, by doing so, you are not only slowing down the response you will receive, but the response others will as well!

The reasoning, then, is quite simple: because private support will take time away from you, the end user. Answering questions takes time. Add on to that the fact that a PM helps only one person, and you have a lose-lose situation. Most of us would much rather take the time to answer topics in the support forum that could potentially benefit hundreds of users than spend equal (or more) time answering PMs that will help only one. ;)

So, remember: next time you go to send a PM to try to get a quicker answer, stop and think for a second: What will be the side-effects of this? Aside from being warned, it takes time away from helping you, the user. The warning isn’t since we’re uptight and don’t have a sense of humour (believe me, we do) — it’s because such PMs take away from our time that could otherwise be spent helping you.


22 Responses to “Why Team Members Don’t Give Private Support”

Posted by Eelke on January 26th, 2009 at 9:06 am:

Don’t forget the other side of the story. It certainly isn’t a good thing from the POV of the people answering questions, but what about the people asking the question? Is it really such a great idea to contact one single individual privately? Of course not, because in that case you are depending on that one person actually knowing the answer and for that person to actually come to your question in some timely fashion. If you post on the board, the chance that someone who also knows the answer sees your question before your designated guru gets to, is quite large, actually. So, the rule also benefits the people that ask questions.

Any forum really should have a policy of “ask questions on the board, answer question on the board”. Some users will also add “Please reply by email because I don’t come to this board very often” at the end of their post. No. If the board is worth coming to to ask the question, it is worth coming back to, to read the answer. Besides, usually you can get an email subscription, so it doesn’t mean you have to monitor the thread for answers, you’ll get a notification when there is one.

The other side of the story is that users need to understand when personal communication is better. Sometimes, threads get several subsequent posts, alternating between A and user B, that are really of no interest to anyone but user A and user B. In that case, they should have taken the conversation to PM or email.

Posted by Horst on January 26th, 2009 at 9:54 am:

There are also those people who first post a topic, wait for 5 minutes, and then decide that they want *you* to read their topic. Naturally there are some cases where private support *could* be better, but in the other 99.9% of the cases it’s better to rephrase the question to make it also applicable to other people.

Posted by John Semple on January 27th, 2009 at 9:53 am:

Why do some of the support team “advertise” private support on their signatures?

Posted by ChrisRLG on January 27th, 2009 at 1:06 pm:

Answer to John Semple : All members (including team members) are able to have signatures with links to commercial activities (unless those otherwise are breaking the rules), also they must not make those links in a way that suggests they are offering official support. If you feel any such links are being made in a way that breaks the rules, please let the team leader of that team member aware by PM. If not a team member please let a moderator team member aware, again by PM. Team members do not have any special privilege with those commercial links.

Posted by Linas Van on January 27th, 2009 at 4:27 pm:

very good policy, we also use the same one couple of years 🙂

Posted by Joshua Smellie on January 28th, 2009 at 3:08 am:

It seems better to ask publicly anyway because that way, if anyone else has the same problem, it may be answered as well without them needing to make a new topic.

Posted by cherokee red on January 28th, 2009 at 11:04 am:

/me slaps iWisdom about with a large trout 😛

Very good blog post, something imo that should be highlighted. Yes sometimes private support is a good thing, but with a site such as this it just doesn’t work.
Keep it to the forums or IRC. Not only will you keep your nose clean, but you may help other people too. Remember that this site is very well indexed by Google 😉
If no-one replys, bump after 6 hours. Support topics can get bogged dow pretty quickly, so don’t think you’re being ignored. Just takes time for your topic to be seen.

Posted by bd22051 on January 29th, 2009 at 11:39 am:

How can we contact a team member whn we keep getting automatically logged off each time we move from the log on page. FAQ says to contact them but there is no way to do that.

Posted by evil3 on January 29th, 2009 at 7:13 pm:

Very good post, i think I’ll link to it from my signature. 🙂

bd22051, it seems like you have a problem with the cookies. Try clearing them. I never have problems with logging in.

Posted by Pony99CA on January 31st, 2009 at 11:34 pm:

I think Eelke said it better and in fewer words than the original blog entry. Asking one person for help only gets help (maybe) from that one person; asking in the forum potentially gets hundreds of people who can help. Plus, the response may be faster, too.

Also, getting help in private doesn’t help anybody else with the same question. A post in the forum can. (That’s why I’m surprised you offer support via IRC, which is transient.)

In fact, I’m not sure that I buy the claim that responding to PMs slows things down compared to responding in the forums. However, the above reasons more than justify the policy.

On boards that I frequent, if I get private requests for help, those are the reasons that I give. I tell the person to post in the forums and send me a link to the post if they *really* want me to look at it.

Posted by Anon on February 11th, 2009 at 10:25 am:

bd22051: If it’s a problem with your board, the support forums. If it’s a problem with, you can always ask on IRC to alert us to the issue. But as has been said, it most likely is a problem with your browser – have you tried a different one (Firefox, Opera etc) to see if it has the same problem?

Posted by Rapport on February 15th, 2009 at 9:33 pm:

Policy is policy ! Rule is rule ! Good post. There is not question anymore

Posted by Steve on February 16th, 2009 at 8:29 pm:

Why are we even asking this?

If an answer help you, it could help someone else.

Posted by jwxie on February 17th, 2009 at 2:38 am:

or make it simple, let’s consider 1000 people asking you via pm
and how can you help them out?
if i am on holiday, what happen to all your pm questions?
and you will be mad at me, right?
too bad, lol i agree with it
never pm people asking questions

Posted by Faisal on March 20th, 2009 at 2:27 pm:

Well; I totally agree with this !!! I think best thing is to ask for help on support forum !!!

Posted by Richard on March 30th, 2009 at 3:49 pm:

I can see where you are coming from on the PM’s, but when you ask a question, they are talking ten levels above you. I did get warned about a pm, but he had a pm link there, so I thought it would be okay. It was not the reason as stated above, but I didn’t want to sound so foolish to the rest of the board. When I tried to figure out what they were trying to tell me, I still was lost. I can do webpages, and have done them for people using html, so I thought this would not be too hard. I was way wrong. I also did have some people tell me they would do it for 20 bucks, but I shied away from them. I guess I should of just did it, and I wouldn’t be in the mess I am at.

Posted by Dave on May 6th, 2009 at 5:14 pm:

One thing folks forget is to do a fair bit of research before asking questions. In my experience, I’m usually able to find the answer to my question by using Google and rearranging the query a few times to see if the question has been asked and answered before. With rare exception, I can find the answer to my question without having to ask it in forums. The bottom-line is don’t be too quick to just ask a question without doing some research. A question not asked saves the most time of all. Then you can post the question and answer for all to use.

Posted by Dan27 on May 21st, 2009 at 5:18 pm:

This rule is pointless to be honest, because there are not many team members active, yeah lots are online but when you look at the ‘Who is online’ section most team members were last active hours ago if you know what I mean, so this rule is pointless because if people need support they should get it fast. Either this rule should be removed or phpBB should get more team members to help.

Posted by ToonArmy on May 22nd, 2009 at 12:19 am:

Dan as iWisdom explains answering topics in the public forums leaves the answer out there for anybody else to read and use. If we converse in private this resource becomes depleted. Search is a useful tool, I’m sure most issues that arise could be solved by a simple search of the 3.0 forum and reading the documentation.

Posted by william on June 4th, 2009 at 4:30 pm:

I have committed this cardinal sin myself just recently. I am a newbie, and of course did not read these threads first. MY deep apologies to having sent a PM to Andy, my thoughts were exactly what was all stated here. I am such an IDIOT!!!! I will NEVER do it again unless asked to by the person themselves. I have received such incredible support through the main forum I must have had a brain fart and esnt a pM to Andy Miller thinking he was the one who needed to help me. It wasn’t based on “wanting a fster response” it was more of thinking he was the smartest guy to help me. MY DEEP APOLOGIES ANDY!!!!! Now I know the “REST” of the story and will follw these rules accordingly!!

FORGIVE ME ALL!!!! Newbie for sure, but only need to be told once!

Posted by Patrick Skelly on June 21st, 2009 at 3:16 am:

So what is the alternative?

I’ve been in the computer business since the mid-50s. I’ve thought in octal, coded in assembly language, and knew ALGOL.

But I’m seemingly too dense to migrate from phpBB2 to phpBB3 – but certainly not for lack of trying. I’d even be willing to ***, yet have no sense of even how or where to ask for Third Millennium migr***** supp***.

(I’ve spent an hour trying to outline the nature of my problems and needs, but I’ve trashed them all as seeming to cross the borderline into banned conversation.)

Where does one go for unpublic supp*** ? Is there an association for unchained phpBB wizards, of the level exhibited by your team members?

Thank you.

– Patrick Skelly

Posted by swirlsociety on October 17th, 2009 at 4:08 pm:

maybe start a thread where ppeople can post jobs they want done that are willing to pay for them, for example people with no html or web development experience have no options to change templates or do any cpanel work without bringing down their site

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