#TipTuesday: Hacking (Vanilla) Support

AndrewD HLV Staff
edited March 25 in Talk Community #1

Reaching out for technical support when you need help understanding something or if you think you've encountered a bug is the worst. It's time consuming and frustrating to suddenly become blocked until you get assistance. Or you might be like me: assuming that you're doing something wrong and are too embarrassed to ask for product help until it becomes absolutely critical (when it's often too late).

I am with you. I've been supporting various technical products for years, and when I have to make a support ticket for something, it is painful.

I've gone through the Slack channel for the support team here and looked for instances where someone has said "If I just had this information, I could have solved this days ago" and used that to create this little list. This #TipTuesday includes a few insider tips that should make the inevitable support ticket (and in the current day and age, it is inevitable) less painful for you and speed things along so you can get through whatever problem you're hitting and then on with your day. While written with Vanilla community support in mind, it may help you with ticketing the support team of any product.

Making Contact

This section is only going to be relevant to those trying to get support for their HL-Vanilla Community. How do you reach us?

Email: support@vanillaforums.com
If you send an email to support@higherlogic.com, it will get to us eventually but hits our support colleagues for the HL-Thrive product first. To get straight to the Vanilla support queue, make sure you're sending to @vanillaforums.com .

Ticket Portal
You can access the Support Ticket Portal through the Success Community. From the top navigation drop-down, select 'Categories' and then 'Support Portal.'

This will navigate you to a list of all the tickets you've opened with Vanilla Support.

Phone: 866.845.0815 (ext 2)

This number is monitored by Support Agents from 9am-5pm ET, Monday-Friday.

This KB article provides the above contact information, as well as some other details including our SLAs.

Support: Finding The Right Button

Sometimes software can be complicated. Within Vanilla Forums, there are thousands of add-ons and settings that you can play with so you can get your community working exactly how you need. It is a hard ask for a community manager to know every single feature available to them, especially with new ones coming out all the time. Support teams are here to help - all we do all day is tinker with this software and we have the advantage of having the rest of the Support team just a Slack message away if your question is a bit out of the ordinary. Here are some things to keep in mind to make sure we're providing you the best information.

  • Tell us what you want the end result to be. Often you may have an idea that you're pursuing and believe you have a way forward, but need clarity on some functionality. We can definitely answer any questions you might have about a specific topic, but if you tell us what you're trying to do with an addon/setting, we may be able to provide you an easier way to do it with another feature. If we can help turn a four step process into a two step process, we want to do that.
  • Going along with the first bullet here, if you have any very specific requirements, please be upfront with those. We love finding creative ways to solve problems, but if our puzzles have different pieces, it may take much longer to get to a resolution.
  • Have you checked out any documentation yet? Our first move in a lot of these cases is to point you at the right articles in our KnowledgeBase. If you've already looked at some articles, tell us which ones so we aren't sending you back to read something again. We can also use that opportunity to work with our documentation team to improve any articles that didn't answer your question.
  • Have you poked around the Success Community yet? If you're reading this post, you probably are poking around the Success Community. It's still a good thing to keep in mind - especially if you have questions about new features and want to know how other clients are using them.
  • Think you've found a bug? Check out our Known Issues list to see if it's already something we're working on (and hopefully save yourself the work of sending in a report).

Fast Support Is In The Details

This #TipTuesday post is going to dive into a lot of the specific details that we look for (or ask for) right away when support tickets come in. You can help speed things along by preemptively providing these extra details:

  • Error On A Page? A screenshot is always amazing (see the next section) or if you don't have that information, who (certain user or a guest) encountered the error and when. The When doesn't need to be exact, but "around 1pm" helps us a lot more than "earlier today."
  • SSO Problem? Credentials. Trying to solve an SSO problem without credentials is like trying to fix a car, but not having the keys to turn it on. We can guess based on your description of the issue or based on log information we have, but being able to test login ourselves really helps get to a solution faster. If your site uses SSO (connecting to anything - not just a Vanilla community), I highly recommend that you set up credentials that can be used in test scenarios - either by your own IT team or by any support team you need to work with. It's always possible to schedule a call for these types of problems, but if you're sending in a single sign-on ticket and speed is necessary please give us the keys so we can test.
  • Intermittent Error? These are the worst for everyone. The who, when and screenshot elements are important here. If someone encounters the error with their browser dev tools open, creating a HAR file can be invaluable (details on HAR files below).
  • Site Performance Concern? Our product team is always trying new ways to speed things up, but occasionally a combination of variables can cause things to get jammed up. We want to get ahead of that right away.
    • Are there a significant number of reports? Internet speed is dependent on so many variables. If only one person is reporting slowness concerns on a page, that could be an issue with their device or browser and unlikely a problem with the product. If a thousand people are reporting problems when loading a specific page, that may indicate an Issue.
    • When did it start? Giving us an indication of when you feel site performance started to degrade will help us isolate the cause. The sooner is generally the better. Knowing that a site started slowing down yesterday afternoon is more useful than knowing it has gotten slower over the past six months.
  • Did you clear your cache? This is partly a joke and mostly a plea to just clear your cache to see if the problem happens a second time. A cleared cache (or just testing incognito) helps us rule out so many potential problems. If you're not sure how to do this, here are links to instructions for all major browsers:
    • Chrome
    • Firefox
    • Safari
    • Edge
    • Opera (Yes, I'm including Opera in a list of major browsers. That's how serious I am about clearing your cache. It is a very legitimate troubleshooting step.)

A Picture (with the URL bar) Is Worth A Thousand Words

A good screenshot is gold in any support ticket. If the screenshot is good enough, it may be the only thing you need to send us if you run into a problem. What makes a good screenshot?

The URL bar.

Getting a screenshot of just the error message is helpful - that with a explanation of what you were doing at the time may be enough to get a Support team moving on an issue. The problem with most error messages is that they can be very generic. You may be familiar with Vanilla's classic error screen:

All that really tells us is that something went wrong somewhere. Of course, you can give us more information to help narrow it down but there's always the risk that you don't quite understand what went wrong or where it wrong, and you may have a different word to describe the page you were on than what a Support team is use to which can lead to confusion and lengthen the time to ticket resolution. Different vocabularies is something that is an especially big risk if you've just started using a software.

Now look at this:

Exact same message, but with the addition of the URL bar. Now we know EXACTLY where you were when the error was encountered, which makes Support's job so much easier. We can try replicating the issue on your site or on an identical page on a test instance. We can check internal release notes to see if we've made changes to that specific page. We can look at site logs and work out the exact error that was encountered and when.

From there, we can make suggestions on the best way to get around it and, if needed, file it for our devs. While that 'Something Has Gone Wrong' error seems rather generic, there is a ton of backend data that comes with it - sometimes we can point our developers to the exact line of code that caused the error, which makes resolution of these types of bugs much quicker for everyone.

Not all errors come with a full screen generic error though. Sometimes it's a bit of red text, sometimes it's a little error in the bottom-left of the screen (toast pop-up) or sometimes an error appears right in the middle of the screen with some technical gibberish in it. No matter what kind of error you see, it is always a good idea to screenshot it with the URL bar at the top.

What The HAR

You ever have a consistent problem with a page, but your co-workers don't have the same problem and when you contact a Support team, they're unable to replicate it? This is a tale as old as time. There's a million things that could make your experience browsing a site different from someone sitting next to you. What should you do if you're the only one encountering an error?

Make a HAR file.

A HAR file is a snapshot of everything happening in a browser on a page load. Once it's created, you can pass that to a Support team, they can load it and experience the problem you're hitting for themselves - and get a ton of information at the same time. Here is how you make one:

  • In your browser, open up the Developer Tools. This will create a side-bar of all information loaded on the page.
  • Make sure you're on the 'Network' tab of the Developer Tools.
  • Replicate the problem you're seeing.
  • Hit the 'Export HAR' button in the the Developer Tools.
  • The file will download to the folder you designate.
  • Send that file to the support team.

The whole process looks like this:

Once we receive that file, we can upload it to our own browser and look at all that information that loaded for you within our own browser Developer Tools. This will help us identify any errors that are occurring or anything that might be blocking required processes from firing off at expected times. Sometimes these are problems within the software itself, but please remain open to the idea that the problem could be with your device and may require an update(s), a settings change or further troubleshooting specific to that device.

This KB article goes into a few more details about the process, in case this summary doesn't quite work for you.

When The Bug Is A Feature (Request)

As a Support Team, we can only fix things if they're not working the way that they're suppose to. Occasionally, a new feature will seem like the answer to your problem but upon testing, it does not work at all. Any Support Team will be happy to dig into that problem, but what sometimes is discovered is that your specific use-case for a feature wasn't considered and simply wasn't designed to work in the way you're using it.

When this happens, our objective switches from fixing the problem to getting you to the right person to hear your concerns. We can not fix something that's working how it was designed. If there's a vital function a feature is missing, our product team is the best team to hear about that.

Our product managers are very active on the Success community, and are open to any ideas you may have for the product. They are always reading the 'Product Ideas' category and making adjustments to the roadmap based on votes from other clients. If missing functionality is a major concern for you, the Support team can help add weight to your idea by bringing it up internally, but at the end of the day, if an idea gets a ton of votes, that is going to be the best way to push an improvement forward and make it a reality.

Cheat Code: Jam.Dev

This next bit is going to seem like an ad. I am not sorry.

I spend way more time than I'd like to admit researching things to make Support better. One of my most recent tech discoveries/obsessions on that topic is jam.dev. This is a little browser extension that you can flip on to take a screenshot or recording of your screen, and it records EVERYTHING. All the information I talked about above, you can grab all at once with this tool. It's very simple to use too:

  1. Hit Jam icon and select screenshot or recording.
  2. Take screenshot of page or perform action during recording.
  3. Save.
  4. Send the jam.dev link to us.

I've used this internally to highlight problems to our developers, and it's been a game-changer. I can easily show them the problem, they can grab any information they need from the built-in developer tools and we can even communicate on the jam.dev link itself to talk about specific points.

It is also free. There's some advantages to using a paid version, but at this time, all my needs have been met without upgrading.

If you don't feel you're a technical person and would like to 'speedrun' through a conversation you need to have with a Support team, being able to provide one of these showcasing the problem you're having will save you a lot of time. Not just with Vanilla Support either - any support team that has a web-based platform would benefit from getting one of these links.

For the curious, I made a quick jam.dev recording of me logging into the Success community: https://jam.dev/c/c3726426-ca67-4fb7-9483-258b4f70a0b4 . I purposely chose an action that required sign-in so you can see how it hides that kind of data.

Huge time-saver and you don't need to worry about uploading any lengthy videos, downloading HAR files or anything like that. Start the recording, save and send us the link.

In Conclusion

There's a lot of information here, but none of the above is required when you're reaching out for assistance with something. These are just some tips to help us find you a solution faster and avoid having to spend time answering simple questions that we truly need to know. And these tips can apply to most interactions with support teams at other similar companies. If this post can reduce a support ticket by a single comment, then I think its been successful.

At the end of the day, we're here to help you use the product and fix any problems that might come up. Just tell us what's wrong in whatever way makes the most sense to you.

We have your back.

Let us know in the comments if you have any unique strategies when approaching a Support team with a question or issue!


  • stefanieb
    stefanieb Vanilla Flower


    @AndrewD Thank you so much for this article!
    I didn't know about HAR files before reading through this! That is such an amazing and helpful pro-tip!

    Just want to make sure I do right by the WONDERFUL Vanilla Support Team- when I create my next Jam (because your suggestions are golden!) that won't capture the Har File right?

    So, if possible, including both JAM and HAR would be best?

  • AndrewD
    AndrewD HLV Staff

    If you are able to send a Jam link, that has pretty much everything we would need, so sending a HAR wouldn't be necessary.

    I just included the steps for creating a HAR in case some people weren't allowed to add 3rd-party browser extensions to their work machines. Every browser has a way to export a HAR file.