Since customer support tools are the last line of defense and it’s what (eventually) is used to facilitate solving a user’s problem at some expense, they've never had the chance to evolve into something more powerful than reactive systems.
What's more, because it's the last line of defence it's what often gets the credit. It's like giving morphine credit for fixing a broken arm. Sure it took the pain away, but the root problem's still there.
The major players in the online support system space (like Zendesk, Help Scout, etc) have got support handled, well. They've had years to perfect and hone their platforms to provide a nice flow of a support ticket from the user, through the support team, to a happy resolution.
And the support professionals that use those tools are an asset to any team, but can they be given more power to drive the company forward?
What follows aims to look at the reasons customer support systems can blind you of a deeper problem, identifies what that deeper problem is, and what you can do to combat it.
It's also to show that your support teams knowledge and charm shouldn't be hidden behind a ticketing system, there's a much greater impact they can have on your entire companies success, waiting to be unleashed.
Agree, disagree? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
The current support landscape, and its fatal flaw
Online support systems are a dime a dozen. So a lot of companies understandably will follow the masses and use “what everyone else is using”.
And that’s OK, it’s safe. But it doesn’t mean it’s right or that you should blindly follow what you've seen others do.
The main issue with assisted support channels is that their use and perceived reliance is often a symptom of a deeper issue.
Often a company will start out small and rely simply on email for support, then as they scale up support loads grow so they drink the kool-aid and use a support tool to better handle the increase in incoming support.
They see this increase in support load as an indicator that things are going well and they’re growing, they treat it like a badge of honour, not noticing that an increase in support load is actually a symptom of a deeper problem.
Don't get me wrong, there's absolutely a place for customer support tools. Support tools were created to support, and they do that well. So you need to ask yourself what is the root cause of a user requiring that support in the first place.
If a user gets to the point of needing to reach out to you for 1 on 1 help through an assisted support channel because they're confused (e.g., live chat, a support ticket, or phone call), you’ve already failed them in product education. This is where a support system can help them not slip through the cracks, but you must fix the cracks.
Major players aside, it seems like every month a new support tool appears which is incrementally better than what’s in the market in one area, but markedly worse in other areas.
Nobody has found the solution yet, because they're yet to correctly define the root problem. Instead, they’re labelling outputs of the problem as the problem itself.
So then, what is the root problem?
In other words, if assisted support is the right answer to the wrong problem, then what is the "right" problem you should be looking at?
Why not utilise your support teams knowledge to empower your user base?
Support loads, retention, engagement, conversion rates; they all stem from the single discipline of user education, or a lack thereof. If a user has a way to easily understand your product and how it can drive value for them, this is the largest domino to fall and sets them up for success.
In many products user education seems to be an afterthought, which manifests itself in unnecessary support loads, avoidable retention and engagement issues, and conversions that go begging.
With an educated user base however, they're able to handle most tasks themselves whichs boosts their ego, and leaves your support team to handle the more complex tasks or further improve yoru user education efforts. It's like compounding interest.
Some stats for the data lovers out there:
- Over 50% of customers think it’s important to solve product issues themselves rather than rely on customer service. (Zendesk)
- Self-service usage increased from 67% in 2012 to 76% in 2014. (Forrester)
- 40% of customers prefer self-service to human contact. (Steven Van Belleghem)
- 72% of customers prefer to use a company’s website to get answers to their questions rather than use phone or email. (Forrester)
Think about your current product, how well do you think a new user understands what it can do for them and what value it can provide them and their users. And importantly, how easily can they gain that knowledge.
To get them to the “aha moment”, first they need to understand your product.
It's OK for your product to be hard to use, but it must be easy to learn.
You can have a below average interface, you can have bugs, you can be missing major features, and it wont matter if your user base understands the ins and outs of your product.
They’ll find their way through your crappy interface, they’ll be accepting and let you know of the bugs, and they’ll be patient and find their own workarounds for missing features.
Just as marketing is an important part of any company to bring in new users, user education should be a part of your company DNA to educate those new users. It should be a line item on your monthly expenses.
So just to recap, the benefits of prioritising user education rather than relying on customer support; increased engagement, increased conversions, increased retention, reduced costs, reduced customer frustration... the list goes on.
Armed with this knowledge, what can you do?
In our learnings over the past few years in the user education space at elevio, we’ve discovered that to combat this there are four key areas of user education you can use to encourage your user base to self-educate and up-skill themselves with your product.
For this to be effective though, it must become a part of your companies DNA, it can't be an afterthought.
To help our customers with that we created the CDMI process, and now we're sharing it with you:
Making the move to effective user education and allowing your users to self-serve their own support is as simple as covering the four areas below:
The User Education Playbook: CDMI
The first step in educating customers is the creation of educational content, makes sense right? Kind of, but not all content is created equal.
In general, there are two main forms of educational content, long and short form. Both have their place, but serve very different purposes.
With long form, you need to consider who you’re targeting with the content. In most cases you can’t write a one-size-fits-all long form piece. You need to think about if this user is a first time user, or someone who already understands your product fairly well and can grasp more complex concepts as you guide them deeper into your product and towards “power user” state.
Short form content (under 100 words), is much easier to create, manage and digest.
With short form content, users are more easily able to get the specific help they need and move on quickly, rather than needing to read an entire manual. If someone needs to go deeper, link them off to a long form piece, but for the most part you should be delivering short form as a first step to your users.
Understanding shorter pieces of content is made a lot easier when paired with contextual delivery (see deliver below), it allows you to go straight to the answer rather than leading in and needing to write the context into the content itself.
Content sitting in a silo isn’t good for anybody. It’s like the saying “if a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, does it really make a sound”, if you create supporting content and nobody consumes it, did you really create helpful content?
Unceremoniously directing people to an off-site knowledge base when they get stuck assumes they already have some domain knowledge about your product, it’s safer to assume they don’t. If a user doesn’t yet understand the concept or terminology of your product, they won’t know where to even start their quest for help either by browsing or searching. It’s a great way to tell your users you don’t care about them.
This is where contextual delivery of supporting content shines. Delivering your supporting content on-site / in-product brings context to the situation, giving you the ability to direct the user to the help they need where and when they need it, with little to no effort on their part (removing friction is crucial when you want someone to take action).
Ideally a user will be able to click a single link, and be immediately shown what they need to move forward, in context. They shouldn’t be sent offsite, they shouldn’t be asked to fill in a form, and they definitely shouldn’t be told “we typically respond in a few hours”. It’s the 90’s equivalent of “please hold, your call is important to us”.
There’s a great quote in regards to marketing that “if content is king, context is god”, that holds even more true when it comes to user education. The content itself is a great first step, but delivering that content in context for the user is a complete game changer.
Every section of your product is different, as a result different support content should be suggested in each context to your users. You should be pulling the diamonds in the rough out for them, not letting them get stuck then hope and pray they start a whole process of battling through or reaching out for help and waiting, they’ll only do that journey so many times.
Automatically surfacing the right support content based on where a user is in your site provides a streamlined way for your users to self-serve their own support. When this happens, your user is given a feeling of accomplishment (“I figured it out myself”), which leads to a greater bond with your product.
User education turns what could have been a roadblock, into a engagement increasing experience.
Being able to deliver support content in app, and in context has a massive advantage over legacy support systems. Being able to connect the dots and know exactly where the user was when they initially ran into trouble, is invaluable when it comes to knowing what components of your system are failing you, and what needs your attention. This could be in the form of small quick wins, through to critical roadblocks in your customer’s journey.
A reporting system that is designed specifically for measuring the effectiveness of your user education is crucial for your customer success.
The kinds of questions such a reporting system should be able to answer are:
- What pages are people getting stuck and reaching out for help the most on?
- What topics are people having the most trouble with?
- What are people trying to learn, but can’t understand?
- What topics are people searching for help on, but finding nothing?
- Where is my support content lacking?
- Where are the roadblocks in my product?
Armed with this information, you’re able to see where you can improve your user education and provide solutions and workarounds in areas that your users are getting stuck. You can also see which areas of your product are causing the most friction, and could do with some thought and planning on how to make it more intuitive.
As powerful as the first three pillars are alone, there is still something missing, something integral. Improvement.
Creating, delivering and measuring your supporting content is only useful if you learn from it and continually improve that content based on how users are consuming and responding to it (or a lack thereof).
The more a system learns about how your users interact with your site and your support content, the more accurate any suggested updates can be.
The power and importance of this really can’t be overstated. If you can commit to making improvements to the content that is underperforming, or fixing the worst performing areas of your product just 5% per week, by the end of the year your customer success will be more than 10 times as effective as it is today. That’s a pretty solid win.
That sort of improvement has a huge impact on your rate of retention, and your support loads.
Once you’ve setup your processes, your richly rewarded with the holy grail of small input, huge output.
While this does require some discipline, provided you make it part of your weekly routine to check your reporting and identify where the areas for improvement are, you’ll see the benefits in no time and wonder how people ever understood your product in the first place.
Bringing it all together
It’s no secret that we’re bullish on user education here at elevio, it’s what we do, but with good reason; it works, and it works well.
It combats a deeper problem than traditionally what support systems respond to, and acts earlier than what your reporting system will show you as a lost lead.
I’ll leave you with a quote that sums up the importance of user education from someone a lot smarter than myself:
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” — Benjamin Franklin
elevio is a user education platform, designed strongly around the above four pillars of user education to increase user education, engagement and customer success, while driving down support loads. We believe that a strong focus on user education is a cornerstone of any successful company, and want to make that accessible to all companies.
500+ companies including the likes of Dell, Atlassian, Staples, and Heap, understand the importance of user education and trust elevio to streamline this process for them. Start a free trial to experience the results yourself.