September Update: We Take Your Feedback Seriously

Dmitriy Buterin 30 September 2016 6 comments

sept updateWe try our best to understand and respond to every one of your messages. It’s your feedback that has made Wild Apricot the product that it is today. It’s common for us to share your messages with everyone in the company so that we keep your concerns top of mind.

We recently received a message from a customer who had concerns about why we changed the email wizard when other features need improvement. I wanted to share what she said and our response to her, because it highlights some of the internal struggles we’ve been having and why some product releases have taken longer than others.

Reading through the below messages will take about five minutes.

On September 7th, Katheryn, a customer of ours wrote her a concern of hers on our UserVoice WishList forum. Here is what she wrote:

“I am surprised that you spent so much time on changing the interface for emails. This was unexpected. I understood and accepted the fact the fact that you had to invest time and money into the architecture of this product to be able to provide features to your customers at a higher quality and a faster time to market. I would like to understand how this area was chosen to be redesigned over all of the other items on our wish list? This area only impacts the administrators of the system. I am not sure you advanced this area at long. Takes more steps and I don't see any significant improvements.

A simplified event would have been an awesome surprise to many of us. Even something like allowing a member to cancel their reservation to free event. Or allowing a member to quickly so No, I dont want to come, so that they aren't bombarded with registration emails. Very disappointed in the lastest release. I could get past the downtime issues you had, but am disappointed that this enhancement was chosen over the others. Not sure why you are asking for feedback and preferences from your customers and we are surprised when the new app hits our website with little or no time to communicate to our users.

To a positive, your help desk has been patient and quite helpful.”

Evgeny Zaritovskiy, our Product Manager responded openly and candidly to Katheryn’s concern:

“Hi Katheryn!

Let me start from appreciating your feedback – it takes time to write down comments and I value it a lot.

I also share your frustration about “Not sure why you are asking for feedback and preferences from your customers” – I can see that you’ve been using our Wishlist forum a lot, voted for a number of ideas. You’ve spent time on it, and you want to see some results back from us. Not seeing good enough progress creates an impression that we’re doing nothing and basically are lying that we want to hear our customers. I can totally understand this and as I said, I do share your frustration about this.

Having said this, let me share some internal details that may clarify our position – or may not :)

As you mentioned, we “had to invest time and money into the architecture of this product to be able to provide features to your customers at a higher quality and a faster time to market”. But this was not the only investment we did. A bigger investment was into our internal company structure and processes around Wild Apricot software development.

We used to have a single team of engineers doing development, testing, deployments and all other works related to software development and maintenance. In this setup, we had a single person (Product Manager – me, and before me – our president, Dmitri) who was responsible for general product roadmap and prioritization of features. This was working for some time, but not great for a number of reasons I cannot really quickly share here. Overall, we saw that we had hit some ceiling and we cannot make a major breakthrough in our internal growth and as a result, we cannot deliver to our clients what they want and what we want as well.

Over a year ago we started a big change – we grew a lot and reorganized our development teams into a set of smaller teams, each of them focusing on particular area of our product. This was happening at the same time as we were doing this architecture change you mentioned. Both changes have been very stressful for all of us, as it was not just about some issues in software, but changes in very basic business collaboration processes creating a lot of confusion inside our global team.

The biggest change was creation of independent product development teams (we call them crews) that are totally focused on particular product areas – like Event management, Emailing, Website, Membership, Payments and Finances, Mobile. Plus a number of other service teams that are helping with a numerous internal product services and tasks. Each of product teams is totally responsible for the whole area, including collaborating with customers to better understand needs and share preliminary results of their work.

As of now, I can say that the teams are in a more or less in a good state and starting to recover from all the “investments”. It is still stressful and we’re not doing the best we can, but I clearly see that we’ve been able to create a scalable business structure where each crew, independently, can evolve their part of the product experience. There are still a number of internal issues we want to solve, but I’m sure it’s going to be ok over time.

Now, going back to the problem you mentioned.

Our email development team is one of the teams I mentioned. They are focused on this area only and this was their “debut”. Wether it’s successful or not, I don’t really want to comment here, there a number of reason why they did that. And even if it was not the best shot, I’m very confident that they will listen and improve. If you’re interested in their position and want to know more details about this particular email redesign, you can read recent post from one of the crew developers – see https://forums.wildapricot.com/forums/308932/suggestions/15971686

As for events, another development team is fully focused on improving this area. I would say that they are still warming up and recovering from all the internal work we’ve been doing so far, but they getting better and already working on some changes that will be done in Q4 and much more next year. You can see more at our Product Roadmap – https://help.wildapricot.com/display/DOC/Product+roadmap. I do agree with you, that events is a very important area and we’re dropping the ball here a little, but with all above I feel confident about the future. We will cover all the major request in events, no doubt about this.

The last thing I want to mention: wishlist is our top priority for product roadmap. I’m personally, as a Product Manager, having constant ongoing discussions with all development teams to make sure that we’re having progress over top requested features. I really hope that the big change we’ve been investing a lot, will show some ROI over time. Wether it’s happening or not, we will see from the reaction of valued clients like you. So far it’s not been reality, but I do hope it’s turning into the right direction now.

To put in a nutshell all above

  • I share your frustration
  • It’s been hard time for Wild Apricot, a lot of internal restructuring, not just architecture
  • We have multiple independent team dedicated on areas of product
  • Some of them are faster (like Emailing), some slower (like Events), but we’re speeding up
  • We believe that all the changes were required and soon we’re going to see results of it
  • Thanks again for your time and feedback, Katheryn.”
And here is Katheryn’s response to Evgeny’s comment:

“Hi There – 
First, I wanted to thank you for your detailed explanation. It was appreciated that you not only responded, you responded with details and you did it rather quickly. That was awesome customer service. As I mentioned before, I totally understand and applaud the leadership at WA to recognize that they had a make a significant investment in IT architecture in order for WA to grow and provide a valuable service to your customers. I have been in technology for years, in application development, creating commercial products and know how challenging it is to tell your customers you essentially that you need 6 months to a year to change the foundation in order for you to deliver world class enhancements in the future. 

I also understand how you have divided you application teams, and why email enhancements came out first. I am still unclear as to the real need for this improvement, as it seems more cumbersome, but if your others users are happy with it, I can’t really complain, as I know you cannot please everyone. However, some advanced warning about the change would have been preferred. 

In the future, I hope when you are determining what features makes it to the roadmap that you also focus on “my customer”. I feel I can deal with jumping through hoops, pulling manual reports, creating manual work arounds etc … it is easy to do on the administrative side of WA. It is my customers that I want to please and make them want to visit the site to see what’s happening and signing up for events. To date, the biggest complaints I have regarding WA from my customers side is that registering for an event take too many steps. They just was a simple, “Yes I want to come” vs going through many screens. They understand the need, when there are costs, menu selection, seating choices, guests etc…. but the majority of what they do is just a simple “Yes I will be there” or “No, I can’t make it”. I can have the best administrative area and send out the best invitations, but, if they refuse to complete the form electronically and choose to send me an email with sign me up please.. I cannot justify the costs of this product. 

Again, thanks for everything you do. And most importantly, thank you for listening. 

Katheryn, Customer Advocate Apricot”


I hope Evgeny's response answers some of the questions that you may have. Please feel free to write us any time. We have many channels where we collect your feedback. If you have anything to share, please contact us through customer support, our WishList forum, or simply by commenting on this post.

Learning from Our Mistakes

You may have experienced several service interruptions over these last few months in which you were not able to access your Wild Apricot website. While we aim to have 100% uptime, I want to address what happened, because  we have not done a good job of communicating why or when these interruptions happened.

One of the main reasons for these service interruptions was due to our current hosting service, which hasn’t been able to provide us with the consistent uptime we require. Consequently, we have chosen a new, more reliable platform with a proven reputation of stability. We believe that this new platform will solve this issue, however it will still take a few more months to fully move over to this new host.

However, our most recent, and lengthy service interruption occurred after our last major update on August 31st. This was entirely our fault. The cause was traced to a code change that we believed to be minor and so proper testing was not performed.

We’ve since introduced a zero tolerance policy for any code being introduced into the system without the review and approval of our Quality Assurance team (read more in our Service Notice history).

Still, this does not excuse our lack of communication during this downtime. Typically, we post Services Notices and release notes on our help site, but we realize that these are not the best forms of communication if another service outage occurs.

Going forward, we will begin using all the communication channels at our disposal – including email, our newsletter, Facebook, and Twitter. We want to alert you of downtime, upcoming releases and updates. We will also be using these channels to communicate bugs and other known issues, such as the one below.

Known Bug with Firefox Users

A recent update to the Firefox browser introduced a number of problems into Wild Apricot's admin backend. The most frequently reported issues have been the appearance of totally unrelated green action buttons at the top of the screen, and being unable to save an event because of an erroneous "Description required" message. Fixes will be included in upcoming releases of Wild Apricot, but until then, we strongly recommend using another browser such as Google Chrome.

Looking for Tips to Grow, Engage, and Retain Your Membership?

Do you struggle to find sponsors? How do you follow-up with potential members that attend your events? How can you optimize cash collection for your event registrations?

If you’re looking for practical ways to grow your membership, then like us on Facebook. Every day for the past month, our very own Shiv Narayanan, Membership Educator, has been posting answers to questions like these on our Facebook Page.

Shiv videos

To watch these videos, simply like us on Facebook. We’ll be posting more videos every day, so make sure you look out for our videos in your Facebook feed.


That's all for this month. Happy Fall!

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

Posted by Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

Published Friday, 30 September 2016 at 10:32 AM

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Comments

  • Sharon Frey said:

    Friday, 30 September 2016 at 2:54 PM
    I am the President of our Art Assoc and the primary administrator of the wild apricot service. I recently filled out a survey with some issues that concerned me and did get a response but it was not the response I was looking for.
    My members still have difficulty signing up for events... I think this area could be streamlined considerably.
    I still cannot take deposits for an event on one date and then issue an invoice for the final payment on that event... currently I have to set up two events. One called Deposit and the other called Final Payment.
    I have tried to reach the technical support group all week and have gotten a busy signal from morning to night on all days of the week. I can't even get past the busy signal to leave a message that I need to talk with someone. And I don't like having someone call me, because I am away from my computer when they call and then I can't work on the problem with them, so the call is useless.
    I need to import a slide show of photos of our latest Fall Show and am running into difficulties. The Help area starts talking about importing code and I am not familiar with any of that and need to do this in a much simpler way. I am just a regular user, not some sort of computer geek and have no idea about using code.
    And I would like to have Sponsor Donors added without them getting an email when I send it out to all contacts. Isn't there some way to turn off the email for certain people, yet still retain their email address??
    And we have a newsletter which has to go out in an eblast, but then there is no place to save it on the site for members to refer back to if they want. There should be a way to produce a newsletter and then keep them in their own file which is accessible from the Home page directory.
    And so you can see that I am running into issues all of the time. Yes, I am very happy that we now have all of our members being tracked and renewal notices are being sent and people are finding us on the Web. And yes, I am glad we can put up our events and collect the money on line etc.
    But I need to talk with someone to get my slide show up and running .... ASAP and I need to have some of these issues cleared up. Some of which I have put on the Wish list... but nothing has been done.
    I can see you are dealing with some internal stuff.... but at the very least, you need to have enough phone lines so that when I am having difficulties, I can call someone, right then, while I am at the computer.
    I would appreciate a response from you that is a serious effort and helping me and not just thanking me for liking the system when I am being so frustrated. Thanks, Sharon Frey 520-609-7929 AZ Pastel Artists Assn #197419
  • Gwyneth Moss said:

    Saturday, 01 October 2016 at 6:21 AM
    I agree with Katheryn that we need an easy way for people to cancel free events. We run small group online meetings, no charge to attend, these are often oversubscribed. So if people don't contact the admin to cancel and don't show up for the meeting then the host is waiting for everyone on the list before starting the meeting and people who could have had a place are denied it. If there was an easy way for people to cancel this would not happen. Also it makes it hard to keep records up to date. Some of these events count towards practitioner evaluation. We need to have a clear record of who attended. The events are free so there is no bother about a refund. A link in the Reminder email would be ideal. This has been on the Wish List since I set up a WAp site three years ago.
  • Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

    Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot] said:

    Saturday, 01 October 2016 at 12:34 PM
    Hi Sharon,

    Thanks for writing. We can certainly help you get some of these issues sorted out. I'm sorry you weren't able to get in touch with us. I will have our support team call you, but perhaps it might be better for you if we set up a scheduled call? I will email you privately.
  • Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

    Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot] said:

    Saturday, 01 October 2016 at 12:48 PM
    Hi Gwyneth,

    I appreciate your feedback. You're right about the frustration with attendees not being able to cancel their registration at free events, and the only way I can think of to ensure you track attendees accurately is to use the check-in feature when they show up to an event, but I suspect you're doing this already. I will pass on your comments to our Event Crew.
  • Janet Barclay said:

    Monday, 03 October 2016 at 4:04 PM
    I would also like to see a simpler registration process for free events. Often my members tell me they've registered when there's no record of it in the system, and I'm sure they just haven't clicked through enough times. And for them to be able to cancel online would be wonderful too!
  • Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

    Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 04 October 2016 at 6:33 AM
    Hi Janet,

    Thanks for your comments also. I've passed your feedback on to our events team :)
Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.