How Onshape Made their Customers’ Voice Matter with a Strong Digital Customer Experience with Vanilla – Vanilla Forums Library

Using Vanilla Forums allowed Onshape to create a vibrant support community that helped reduce support team workload

Onshape is a revolutionary CAD system which allows multiple users to access and work concurrently on a single design over the cloud with any computer, tablet or smartphone. Unlike other CAD software, Onshape makes expensive hardware and software obsolete by offering service through a regularly updated web-based interface, requiring minimal maintenance from users.

Lou Gallo, director of support, became involved in the Onshape community early on. Not only is he responsible for support, he is also heavily involved in UX, product definition and operations. One of his key goals has been to ensure that all the tools customers need work seamlessly together.

Succeeding in this goal meant laying the foundations for a strong customer experience through a Vanilla-powered digital community.

20% decrease in ticket support
The new community platform encouraged peer-to-peer support which helped deflect customer support tickets, saving money and resources.

Over 3500 questions answered
Members of the community answered over 3500 questions, leading to more efficient customer on-boarding and reduced support burden.

65% of questions marked as resolved by community members
Peer-to-peer responses to product questions has made it possible for Onshape to leverage their online community platform to provide better technical support to their users.

What was the Problem/Challenge?

In 2014, Onshape was approaching the release of their first public beta. They quickly realized that in order to create a robust product that really met their customers’ needs, they would require a space for people to congregate and share ideas. Following the heels of success with a private community, they moved to expand it even further with a public community in Q1 of 2015. That meant implementing a solution to provide the community with:

  • a transparent customer communications portal for announcing product updates and releases to the public,
  • a customer-centric community for free and education (EDU) users seeking crowd-sourced support at no additional cost,
  • a development-focused community for sharing feedback and ideas to help drive product improvement.

Furthermore, Onshape needed a solution that would integrate with their existing software ecosystem, including industry-leading platforms like HubSpot, Zendesk, Salesforce and Jira. This was vital for both internal adoption and team feedback.

To keep customers engaged in the community, they wanted to integrate gamification features and provide a rewards-focused system.

From a support standpoint, making sure support issues were properly tracked and addressed, the community needed to be able to push support issues, work assignments and bugs to Zendesk and Jira. And finally, to address customer questions as they arose, they required a full-featured question-and-answer (Q&A) platform.

“I know it sounds simple, but just pinning up the question ‘Have a question? Ask the community.’ upfront brought us surprising results. The community has taken to really helping one another and it’s positively impacted the workload for the support team. We couldn’t be happier.”

Lou Gallo, Director of Support

Reasons for Product Selection

Vanilla was chosen from the start. It offered maximum flexibility to grow with Onshape and connect to their existing ecosystem. It also allowed them to integrate gamification features, such as badges, to provide a reward-driven experience and engage and motivate community members. The badges system would also provide useful, data-driven insights to regularly increase the value of the community.

As SaaS experts, Onshape also had the opportunity to host Vanilla themselves, thanks to its open-source model. However, they realized that they didn’t want to focus on maintenance and upkeep as they built up their product. Instead, thanks to Vanilla’s out-of-the-box integrations with Zendesk and the flexible API, they decided to use it as their community hub and the first spot for users to leave their questions and feedback.


Since opening their community support forums, about 3,500 questions have been posted, only 10 of which remain unanswered. Furthermore, some 65% of questions and answers were marked by members of the community as resolved.

As Gallo notes: “It’s pretty neat to see the full loop of a user asking a question, another member answering it, before the asker selects the right answer to the question”.

Once Gallo changed the forum policy that sends users to the right forum sections to ask their how-to and support-related questions, he saw some impressive results: “We used to get 35% of tickets from pro users, and the rest was from free and education users. However, when we sent members to use the community for support instead of opening a ticket, we saw things flip. Now, 65% of tickets are from pro users and the rest are from free and EDU users. It was pretty substantial. The number of tickets dropped, and we saw a reduction of up to 20%”.

The forum has also had a direct impact on business growth; one of the key goals for the director of partnerships. The community allows partners to quickly find answers to their most common questions while helping new partners to get up to speed. Furthermore, the community also allows the product team to track feedback on new products and features.

While a major part of success was ensuring ticket deflection, another focus was on reducing email workloads for the developers. To help with that, they now use the forums as a hub for product knowledge and insights. They have a rapid-release cycle, with new changes every 3 weeks, and they needed a space that made it easy to communicate these changes.

Vanilla is used extensively in this way, and has proven very popular with their users. As Gallo notes, “We definitely see a surge, like a 75% jump in traffic when we do a release. Everyone knows it’s the place to get the info. We have a lot of regular visitors too, but we also have these jumps when we announce these new releases.”

As a long-term user of Vanilla, we asked Gallo what his biggest surprise was when migrating to a Vanilla-powered community: “I know it sounds simple, but just pinning up the question ‘Have a question? Ask the community.’ upfront brought us surprising results. The community has taken to really helping one another and it’s positively impacted the workload for the support team. We couldn’t be happier.”


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