Wild Apricot Software News - March 2011

Dmitriy Buterin 31 March 2011 6 comments

In this post:

  • How I (re-)learned to not come across as rude in email
  • Next update coming up
  • Attention Web Designers!
  • Sneak peak into Version 4.3

How I (re-)learned to not come across as rude in email

I want to start off by sharing a recently (re-)learned lesson.

I frequently pitch in with Wild Apricot tech support - a great way for me to stay tuned in to direct feedback from our clients. I get frequent insights that we apply in marketing, product design and planning as well as for fine-tuning our business procedures, such as billing. If you've ever interacted with our tech support, you probably know that we stay away from fluffy scripted responses  - you know, when you get 10 paragraphs telling you how much your business is appreciated and profuse thanks for contacting the organization - and then a skimpy unhelpful generic response to your specific question. I hate getting answers like that from other organizations - so one of key rules in our tech support is to quickly get to the point!

Another way I stay on top of our customer service is by reading all tech support satisfaction surveys at the end of each month. So as I was reviewing recent surveys, I was pretty unhappy to find this comment (quoted verbatim):

"Support from the Managing Director could be a little more friendly as opposed to rude. Email etiquette techniques need to be utilised. I.e. Hi or Hello in an email rather than a direct name at opening would show that he is interested in his customers as opposed to emailing someone in a derogatory tone from the outset for something he believes the customer should know despite limited use of the system. May attract more customers if he is able to communicate to clients in a more polite and positive manner."

Even though I call myself Chief Apricot and never Managing Director, it was pretty clear that this person was referring to an interaction with me. I tracked down the original support ticket and tried to figure out what happened.

Here's the deal:

The ticket came in over the weekend. Our tech support is not officially open on the weekend - but I regularly check and reply to support tickets on weekends, especially if a quick scan of subject line indicates an urgent issue. Now, I am not a workaholic and most of my time on weekends are for my family and personal stuff - so I try to jump in for 30 minutes and be as efficient as possible with my replies - and move on. So doing this quick weekend support check-in, I noticed a ticket which seemed to indicate that a customer couldn't access their Wild Apricot website - potentially a major issue! I was relieved to find out that the site was working just fine, apparently one of their account administrators had changed the website URL without informing other users in the organization. So I banged out a very quick reply and went on to check other tickets. The client replied back with a follow-up and I sent another quick reply.

Now to my lesson:

One of my personal philosophies - and thus a cornerstone here at Wild Apricot - is to be personal and genuine. I frequently start my replies addressing people by their first name.

In this situation this backfired - I totally underestimated the emotional load (they thought that our system has screwed up and their website was down), my first-name reply combined with brevity of my weekend reply was perceived as rude and uncaring by this customer. 

Here's the lesson I re-learned:

It's great to address the problem itself quickly and efficiently, but do not forget to acknowledge, respect and address the emotions / feelings of your correspondent. And remember that email is a very limited communication medium so take your time and make an extra effort to communicate well! I will also try not to forget to say hi/hello, however rushed.

Though I have to admit that I will keep calling people by their first name - you are not going to see support replies from us starting with "Dear Mister Smith, I am writing in regard to your request..." any time soon :-)


Next update coming up

I have already talked about the main features in our next version 4.2 coming up in May (see January and February's updates) - so I will not go into that. I do want to mention that we are almost finished with development - so the next ~6 weeks will be devoted to testing and retesting our system. How I miss the early days of Wild Apricot when the system was much smaller and simpler and we could roll out new releases every month! We now have the responsibility of ensuring that our great new enhancements interfere as little as possible with day-to-day operations of thousands of organizations already on the Wild Apricot platform! 

As I was reviewing the list of issues (our internal work items) in the upcoming 4.3 release I noticed a few more smaller items I wanted to mention:

  • To help new administrators coming on board, we will now send one automatic email to each administrator added to your account - with links to our help site, intro and links to our discussion forums, training videos and support portal. (If you would not like us to do that for your account, contact support once the new version is launched and we will switch it off).
  • It will become possible to switch between member and admin view at any time without logging out (instead of the current way where view has to be selected at each login).
  • We are changing the algorithm for renewal date calculation in case a member renews/rejoins after a (possibly very long) period of being inactive. In the current version, next renewal date is always calculated from the last renewal date (even if it was 2 years in the past!). In the new version you will be able to control it through member status. Active members will still be renewed on the same calculation. However, lapsed members will be renewed from the date of the renewal.
  • Administrators will be able to preview donation forms and subscription form in admin mode. 
  • Member directory and profiles will now be shown to admins based on their membership level (current setup showed everything to admins, which frequently led to confusion as they could not figure out why other members could not see some fields etc.
  • Email any contact right from their contact record screen
  • One item of bad news is that we were not able to complete a development of a new design theme in time - so no new themes will be included in version 4.2. Nevertheless, we have built a very solid new foundation for theme design in Wild Apricot so expect to see new and very cool and different theme designs in the subsequent version 4.3.

Attention Web Designers!

Our next version 4.2 will have a totally re-architected CMS (Content Management System). In the current version, every Wild Apricot website is based on exactly the same HTML layout and all the customization has to be done via CSS. CSS is a great technology which makes it possible to create really cool designs for Wild Apricot websites - but it is tricky to master and to provide wide customization capabilities we have to wrap each HTML element in up to 9 nested DIVs (!!). In our new architecture in version 4.2 we will open up the capability for designers to override HTML code generated by Wild Apricot - which significantly expands their customization capabilities while working with Wild Apricot websites.

We are considering releasing some documentation and maybe offering some kind of sandbox playground in advance of our release in May - so if you are a designer interested in this, please drop me a line at db@wildapricot.com


Sneak peek into version 4.3 

Version 4.3 is on the drawing board - it's development will not start until May and what specific enhancements will be included will not be decided for a few more weeks. Nevertheless, there are two areas which represent the biggest chunks of work - and will most probably be included into version 4.3 in any case.

The first one we refer to as "Payments from profile". 

Here is a quick sneak peek - one (out of more than 200) mockup screens prepared for this feature:

Payments from Profile

It shows a new tab on member profile with a list of prior invoices and payments and one new unpaid invoice - that member can go ahead and pay at any time. 

This feature is based largely on this thread - but it also creates a foundation we need to implement an online store in subsequent release 4.4

The second one is a new interface for the Content Management System module in Wild Apricot (Web pages tab).One big reason we have been redesigning our content management system is to make it easier/faster for web designers to build really cool websites on the Wild Apricot platform. Another - and even more important - reason is to give our end users much more powerful AND easier to use capabilities to customize their websites.

Let me share a couple of mockup screens:

New page editing interface - we are getting rid of special 'functional' pages and will instead allow users to take any page and drop layout or functional modules onto it.

Drag and Drop

Replacing a separate Page management page with a pullout toolbar to move and manage pages:

Pull-out Toolbar

Ability to create multiple different page templates:

Page Templates


Wishing everyone a very enjoyable spring!



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Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

Posted by Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

Published Thursday, 31 March 2011 at 11:00 AM

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  • Victoria Ring said:

    Thursday, 31 March 2011 at 8:50 AM

    I appreciate the changes you are planning in the design of web pages; but I think it is much more important to implement a way to PROTECT the media files. When I upload a file and the student clicks on the link to view the video, audio, etc. they can still log out and visit the URL to see the video, audio, etc. This means that non-students who are NOT enrolled can view the materials and this severely limits new enrollments and I am losing money but there is no way to secure the files. Please consider fixing this security issue which is more important than the look of a web page.

  • Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

    Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 31 March 2011 at 9:33 AM

    Hi Victoria,

    This issue is indeed known to us and is on our wishlist. We have a bit of a technical problem which stops us from moving on that - our file management editor is a third-party component and it's limitations prevent us from proceeding. We are trying to get the developers to update it - if we do not succeed in the next few months we will have to switch to another component. So we will take care of that one way or another - though it will likely still be a while.

  • David said:

    Thursday, 31 March 2011 at 11:02 AM

    Good news on the move to an easier CSS-based layout. This will also make it better for mobile phones and other devices.

    I would like to see the sandbox concept available for everyone to make private testing of design layouts. Although I can do mock-ups using plugins for Firefox such as firebug, it isn't the same as viewing the actual content. So a sandbox would be a great idea.

  • Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

    Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 31 March 2011 at 12:00 PM

    Hi David,

    I think we have a thread about sandbox on our forums - though frankly it's a pretty big chunk of work so it will not happen for at least the next 12 months. There are two common workarounds:

    - open a free trial account and use it as your sandbox

    - or contact support to have them create a free test copy of your current account (it will be a new separate account but with  a copy of current content.)

  • Mike Hamilton said:

    Friday, 01 April 2011 at 11:24 AM

    We are badly in need of a store. Since I'm not aware of the programming issues, I may be way off here, but I would be happy to buy some store software if you would offer a whatchamacallit (API?) that would allow me to hook it up to the site.

    Or maybe Wufoo would be a way to get there...I've been very happy with their forms, which have allowed me to drop a relatively expensive polling service that didn't offer any significant advantages.

  • Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

    Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] said:

    Friday, 01 April 2011 at 11:36 AM

    Hi Mike,

    We are working towards the store - sorry, API route would not work. We have designed the first 'foundational' step for version 4.3 and plan to start with online store in version 4.4

Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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