Some people think that creating a great help section is as simple as hiring great support staff, or that it’s just a matter of writing down the answers to every question your customers may ask. However, creating help documents without a sound strategy simply won’t get you where you’re going.
Today, I’m going to outline some proven strategies for best results. Here are the basics:
- Understand your audience.
- Arrange your content properly.
- Support intelligent search.
- Integrate feedback early and often.
1. The first key point to internalize is that you are communicating with a specific audience.
Not just the audience that likes your product or the audience who downloaded your app, but the audience that will choose to find and use your help resources. Let’s call these folks “solution-oriented customers” — they have the temperament, aptitude, and experience to isolate the issue they are having, and to articulate that issue to themselves.
The most common mistake when creating help resources is to spend too much time addressing a very different audience instead: one that strongly prefers one-to-one assistance via email, live chat or by phone.
Let’s call these other folks “issue-oriented customers.” They know they are having a problem and may even have arrived at the correct solution, but for various reasons they just do not feel that attempting to solve the problem on their own is the best course.
Many issue-oriented customers fear doing further harm by attempting solutions they may not fully understand, while some just feel more comfortable having a second opinion before taking action.
Issue-oriented customers are more costly to assist due to the level of staff time required, but this reality shouldn’t affect your help section design. Don’t waste time trying to make your help portal inviting enough for an issue-oriented customer, nor trying to craft the perfect diagram or video that will comfort the issue-oriented customer. An issue-oriented customer has precisely one question on their mind when they visit a help page: “What is your contact information?”
I’ve communicated with many tens of thousands of customers by phone and by email, and literally millions of customers via my help articles, and over time the pattern has become crystal clear: give each type of customer the help resources that they will perceive as helpful!
2. Therefore, arrange the splash page for your help section to serve all of your customers:
- Give solution-oriented customers quick, helpful access to the information tools they need.
- Give issue-oriented customers clear, friendly access to one-to-one help resources, like email or chat.
- Place your solution-oriented content on the top and the left side of your splash page, to give the rare customers on the fence a few seconds to ponder solving the problem themselves.
A good rule of thumb is to dedicate a maximum of 20% of your help resources to addressing issue-oriented customers. This applies both to visual space on your splash page, as well as to the percentage of total help articles that you offer in your Knowledge Base or FAQ section.
I’ve learned the hard way that most articles aimed at issue-oriented customers simply go unread, clogging up search results and straining the patience of the solution-oriented customers who are actually using your help resources.
Also, be sure to offer both a table of contents for your help articles, as well as a robust search system. Most people do indeed try search first, but show respect for your audience by making it easy for them to scan your content manually if search doesn’t work for them.
When I helped Pandora upgrade their help section splash page by including a two-tier index, there was an immediate sharp reduction in the number of inbound technical emails. Trust solution-oriented customers to keep digging on their own to find the information they need, and they’ll love you for it!
3. For best search results, tag your help articles thoroughly.
When in doubt, add more tags. This technique will help overcome any search algorithm weaknesses in your documentation platform.
Of course, if you can, also use synonyms within your article itself, or even within the title of the article. Mention “opening the app” in one sentence, as well as “launching the app” in another.
But if that isn’t possible or doesn’t suit your flow, then definitely be sure to tag your article with “open,” “opened,” “opening,” “launch,” “launched,” “launching” and so on.
Also, stay alert to additional tags you might need to add later. To give you ideas, you will want to monitor both successful searches — and which articles are clicked-through most often for each word or phrase — as well as your top failed search terms. Finally, whenever you are serving a very large user base, don’t forget to include typos and common misspellings as additional tags!
4. Make sure you loop your technical writer(s) in with your support team.
I’ve found that it’s best if everyone who writes and edits your help articles also does double duty, at least part time, as one of your top-tier, the-buck-stops-here technical troubleshooters. This is crucial to ensuring that troubleshooting steps are presented in the most helpful order (e.g., the first steps should be those most likely to solve a given problem, and/or those that require the least time and effort from the customer).
Also, make sure that your help section editor has effective tools to track the volume of inbound customer contacts, sorted by topic, on a weekly or even daily basis. This allows your editor to prioritize creating new articles and expanding existing articles to save the maximum amount of staff time, and even more importantly, to give each and every one of your solution-oriented customers the tools they need, when they need them.
These best practices can help save you years of trial and error. Your customers — and your support team — will thank you!