Move beyond a simple knowledge base or FAQ and reap the benefits of a channel that’s efficient, functional, relevant and open 24/7.

As customers become increasingly tech-savvy, more and more are preferring to self-serve over contacting a support agent. This is great news for customer support managers: self-service is a cost-effective way to serve large numbers of customers across several locations and with a relatively small team. Rather than taking up valuable time tackling repetitive tickets across channels, they can instead focus on handling more complex customer issues – particularly useful when customer support is in firefighting mode.

Customers will always opt for the path of least resistance. Being able to control their support experience by self-serving immediately, rather than waiting for a response, is only likely to improve their opinion of your product or service. Some customers will even prefer to completely abandon a task or transaction, rather than interact with a customer support agent.

When you consider the importance we place on the products and services we use, it’s little wonder customers place such great value on having access to an intuitive, guided and simple knowledge base. But self-service is only a viable option if done well. Customers are so used to performing various searches online that they will expect similar levels of service from your knowledge base. They don’t want to wade through a jumble of predetermined questions and irrelevant information. They want the one right answer to their question and to leave as quickly as they arrived.

How can you deliver a great self-service support experience for your customers? It means making sure your support content is:

  • Focused on your customer’s needs
  • Easy to find via site search and Google
  • Contextualized to your customer’s situation and device
  • Kept current and relevant
  • Drawing on your team’s collective knowledge and skills

Let’s go through each of these points in more detail:

Work out what support content your customers need

What are customers most confused about? What type of tickets results in bad satisfaction surveys most often? What existing help content are customers having difficulty finding? Establishing a clear and consistent tagging structure when answering tickets will enable you to proactively flag gaps in your self-service content. With accurate tagging, you can easily isolate tickets that fit each criteria.

If you don’t already track your site searches, set it up in Google Analytics. Not only will it show what problems your customers come to you with, but also the exact terms they use to describe elements of your product or service.

When a customer calls us and asks for help on an issue that there is no self-service option for, we actually take a few seconds to say, ‘We’re collecting data from customers on a new-self service functionality. If we built out functionality that allowed you to do what it is you’re calling me about today, would you be interested?’ This gives us a good understand on the things customers need.

Matthew Dixon, Chief Product & Research Officer at Tethr, Co-author of The Challenger Sale, The Challenger Customer and The Effortless Experience

Make your knowledge base content easy to find

Your help content isn’t useful if no one can find it. Does the content appear in the navigation or easily via site search? Does your navigational structure work, or does it introduce a paradox of choice? These are all things you can test with customers.

Give every topic and article a meaningful name that captures the most important aspects of the article and is tagged with the right category so customers can find it whether they’re browsing or searching.

Customers will frequently turn to Google to try to find answers within your knowledge base. Write metadata that’s appropriate and specific to each article. It’s also worth testing that your content is being indexed correctly. You can do this by copying a sentence from an article and perform a Google search for it in quotes. If Google shows no results, you need to make your content more accessible.

Optimize your support content for your customers

With so many people using smartphones to manage their businesses and personal lives, it’s critical to provide a consistent multichannel experience so your customers can solve their problems on the go. But designing for context encompasses quite a lot more than just access methods. You can’t accurately predict what your customers are doing when they need you, nor can you assume their emotional state or depth of knowledge. Their context includes actions, constraints, emotions, and more. That in turn affects the ways in which the user interacts with content.

Clear, consistent, practical content

Making sense to someone who isn’t you isn’t easy, but you can’t go too far wrong by aiming for content that’s clear, consistent, and practical. It will make them feel as though they’re listening to someone they know and trust.

Always write in your customer’s own language. They won’t understand your internal jargon. Look through your ticket archive to see how they frequently refer to elements of your product or service. Then use these names and labels consistently. Being consistent and being repetitive aren’t the same thing. Consistent names reduce the number of things users have to remember. If you have to use technical terminology, explain them in the form of a glossary or at the first mention in an article.

SCREENSHOT CONSISTENCY

Establish some screenshot guidelines and keep track of product or service changes that will require a new image. Try to aim for the happy medium where you capture just what you need for each screenshot. Capture too little and your customers won’t have enough context to understand what they’re seeing. Too much, and the shot will take more effort for them to decipher.

Under most circumstances, PNG (.png) tends to be the ideal file format for screenshots, because they aren’t compressed, so they don’t lose quality and maintain transparency. Use tools like TinyPNG to help compress and optimize your screenshots.

Regularly review your articles

The content in your knowledge base is never really finished. You need to continuously improve your articles to make sure your support site is working as hard as it can for your customers. You’ll need to be proactive to keep pace with developments to your product or service.

Start by periodically reviewing all your knowledge base articles to maintain accuracy, consistency, timeliness, and audience relevance (including graphics and video). Some will need to be reviewed more frequently and deeply than others, but you should aim to look at each at least every quarter. You can help keep track of your review cycles by making sure every article has an expiration date on a content calendar. No matter the circumstances, products and features will change or interfaces will occasionally receive a makeover.

Another way to ensure your content stays fresh is to give customers the opportunity to rate it, so they can tell you what needs improvement. Identify the top 10 lowest rated articles and make reviewing and editing these a priority. Examine any written feedback to help you pinpoint where the issues are.

Involve your team as much as possible

Depending on the size of your team, you’ll want to get as many of them involved in requesting, creating, and maintaining self-service content. They’ll have a deep knowledge on specific topics that they’ll be able to convey clearly to your customers. After all, it’s what they already do day in, day out.

What you do need to make clear is who’s responsible for what. If not, you’re going to end up with duplicate tasks, unclear authority, and a general lack of quality control. Find owners for each section, or individual topics if you have the numbers, and ask them to write and edit the content, or coordinate contributions from others.

Of course, not everyone is a confident writer. You may also have willing individuals but with very little time for these additional responsibilities. In these cases, hiring a dedicated technical writer and editor can make all the difference. They’ll be able to oversee the whole self-service support operation, coordinating contributions from your team. As well as writing content themselves, they can edit anything your team writes to ensure quality, consistency, and accuracy.

Where to start

What are the most common types of issues your customers want resolved? There’s your starting point. Publish a series of short, targeted articles that address these issues and make them really easy to find.

Addressing these will likely result in big time savings and a marked increase in your CSAT score. It’s benefits like these that mean you should look to improve your self-service at the earliest available opportunity.

If you already use a knowledge management tool, like Tettra, to help provide consistent responses to frequently asked questions, this might be a good source to pull content from. If you don’t have a public knowledge base or your existing one is no longer fit for purpose, here are some off the shelf options that may suit your needs and budget:

Every little step you take is another step closer to delivering amazing self-service support. If your time is limited, be happy with the little wins. You can always go back and improve it further.

Introduction

The Center of Happiness

Stages of a customer support team

Firefighting

You’re swamped, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Carving out time to think beyond the barrage of tickets, and being smart about your priorities, can turn things around.

Levelling up

You can’t firefight forever. It’s time to get some fundamental tools and processes in place, so you can give consistently brilliant support to your customers.

Above and beyond

Your team is firing on all cylinders and your customers are delighted. How do you take things to the next level?

Advice articles

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The landscape of tools and software for support teams is vast and ever-changing. Get up to speed with some of the emerging trends that can help give your support team the edge.

Channel overload: less is more

It may be tempting to offer support through many channels, but do your customers really care? Learn how trimming the number of channels you offer can help improve service levels.

Persuasion & buy in: how to sell customer support internally

Customer Support sometimes doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, but a few easy tactics can help you and your team become superheroes in the eyes of the company.

Metrics: how to choose them and define what success looks like

Numbers might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but they’re critical for guiding your team and keeping the rest of the company in the loop.

Hiring: getting it right

Finding, recruiting and interviewing quality candidates can be a daunting experience at the best of times, but stick to the fundamentals and you’ll have a great fit in no time.

Motivation & happiness: stay energized!

Providing great support is hard, so it’s really important that managers understand how to motivate their team to keep them happy and productive.

Onboarding team members: make the first weeks count

As you bring new talent into your team, get your new hires off to the best possible start by helping them to integrate into your company structure, processes, culture and tone of voice.

Distributing workloads: balancing inbox zero and long term improvements

Your team knows more about your customers than anyone else. Organize regular time out of the queue for them to work on long-term support projects that will benefit the whole company.

Self service done well: help your customers help themselves