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Creating the right self-service content for customers

Businesses need to provide useful content to customers to help them solve problems without contacting customer service. Providing effective content gives customers answers quickly.

If customers have a question about a product, sometimes it is easiest for them to navigate to the company website and see if self-service content can answer the question on their own.

Most companies have some level of self-service on their websites, such as FAQs and detailed step-by-step directions. But no matter the organization, self-help portals have one purpose: to make customers more successful.

Many organizations focus on the cost-saving nature of effective self-service portals. If a customer can find an answer online, that is one less question a service representative must answer directly, freeing up time for other tasks. While self-service options are cost effective, they also lead to portals that are full of information and may cause frustration, as answers are often hard to find or understand. When organizations take the time to deliver good content and make it findable, the portal can quickly direct customers to the right answers.

The importance of delivering effective self-service content

Customers arrive at self-service portals with a problem -- sometimes urgent -- and businesses must give them the information that meets their needs quickly.

An effective self-service portal is faster than trading emails or waiting for a customer service representative to answer the phone. An effective portal also builds a customer's trust in the organization. Providing answers to possible challenges a customer could face shows honesty about the capabilities of the business's offerings.

However, if content is poorly organized and doesn't answer customers' questions, they will leave the portal and call the customer support number. Some self-service sites cause users so much frustration that they call the support number, which often houses its own level of frustration. The last thing a business wants is its customers having to yell "agent" into the phone until they reach a human being.

To avoid customer frustration and potential customer retention issues, self-service content must be well-written and organized.

Organize the content

Self-service content should match the mindsets of the customers that are searching for answers. For many organizations, this begins with a fully searchable knowledge base. Businesses can use tools such as ServiceNow or a plugin for their current content management system. Whatever the tool, the goal is to have an organized collection of articles that customers can use to find their answers. This means implementing a full text search -- similar to a Google search -- that connects customers to the articles answering their questions.

To avoid causing customer frustration and potential customer retention issues, self-service content must be well-written and organized.

A business's site must also provide different paths to finding the right answer. Not everyone prefers to use full text search. They may prefer narrowing down the topic, especially after an initial search failed.

Regardless of how users look for their answers, the content should tell customers how to solve a problem. Content should not necessarily focus on how to use a feature -- that is what documentation should do. Customers may not even know what feature would solve their problem. Because of this, content titles should address the problem.

Here are some examples of how to rephrase content titles:

  • Say, "How do I change the emails I receive?" not "Update your communication preferences."
  • Say, "How do I connect my new router to the internet?" not "Configure the router gateway."
  • Say, "How do I change my subscription options?" not "Upgrade your plan today!"

Organizations should use terms that customers know and phrases that match the task they are trying to accomplish. Businesses should not use terms that reflect a menu option on their website or product. If those terms were clear to them, the customers wouldn't be looking in the self-service portal.

It is important for companies to tag the content in detail. Content tags can include technical terms, but they must include common phrases that customers use. If the business isn't sure what those common terms are, it should look at the self-service site's search history. The search history shows what terms customers are searching for and the company can use them for titles and tags. While including content tags is optional, they enable more accurate search results. Content tags enable more direct navigation to content because businesses can use them to sort and categorize articles.

For example, a business's product or offering may have an analytics function. The self-service portal should reference reports, metrics and analytics. This enables customers to find answers based upon the terms that they know, not the marketing terms that businesses use to get the attention of industry analysts.

Craft clear, concise content

For customers, finding the right content is the first step. The second step is understanding the answers in the content. Businesses need to use professional writers that explain answers with clear and concise language. Well-written answers in a language that is not overly technical is important to ensure customer understanding.

benefits of self-service content

Writers should cater to the technical level of customers. If the business can't -- or doesn't want -- to take the time to explain the concepts to the writer, the customers likely won't be able to understand the content, either.

Each entry in a knowledge base should answer a question, solving a single problem from start to finish in a clear and concise manner. Businesses should not assume customers have looked at any other pages on their site. Customers may have directly followed a link from another site or a Google search result.

Every piece of content needs to provide a clear description of the problem, how to confirm that is the issue and detailed steps on addressing the problem. The level of detail depends on the type of help a customer needs. For example, updating a customer profile can be brief but debugging a customer's internet connectivity may require a detailed write-up. There should be links to related content in case the answer is not what they needed or there is a next task.

If customers don't find what they need, organizations need to give them options that don't involve starting the whole process over. This includes links to related answers, or how to contact support directly. If the customer must start a new search for answers or a human being, their frustration level at finding an answer will rise.

When a business rolls out a new product or update, it must create new content that answers questions similar to the ones for existing products. Even if the new product is easier to use, many people will search for the step-by-step help to ensure they know how to use the product.

Take it up a level

To provide more detailed assistance, organizations can use video to show customers how to perform these actions in a step-by-step basis. The videos should not include slides or highlight people talking. They should be short, succinct videos that visually take customers through a process with links to related content that a customer would want to see.

Videos can add clarity, but they should only supplement written content. Organizations should embed videos in the website, but also store and stream them from a video streaming service, such as a cloud-based DAM system or YouTube. Businesses should provide full transcripts of the video with descriptions of the actions shown. Accessibility matters, as not every customer can see or hear the video.

Finally, companies must make it easy for a customer to switch from self-service to a human being. By providing any needed escalation within the context of the portal, businesses can map when people give up and reach out directly. This enables organizations to monitor and identify areas of improvement and keeps customer frustration levels lower.

Continuous improvement

A good self-service portal is always changing. Along with changes to new products or product lines that the company creates, there is always content that businesses can improve or add. The best source of content topics is the self-service portal and customer service representatives.

Organizations need to continuously evaluate the site's metrics by monitoring their knowledge base to see which pieces of content effectively answer questions, which lead customers to look elsewhere and which answers end in a phone call with customer support. Businesses can use analytics tools, such as Google Analytics and Talkdesk Guide, that work with the knowledge base to track viewed pages, bounce rates and new and returning users.

Over time, the portal will answer more and more questions, leading to greater customer satisfaction. This increased satisfaction leads to greater customer retention and new customer referrals. When done well, what may have begun as a cost-cutting measure transforms into a revenue driving tool.

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