Once upon a time, I was in the market for a special relationship with a product that would change my life. Together, we would rule the world (or my corner of it). It wasn’t easy, but I put myself out there; cruising websites, trying all kinds of makes and models until finally found my soul mate. I was ready to make a commitment.
Our first few days together were, frankly, pretty awesome. I was caught up in the heady fun of a new romance and I’d thought we’d have many happy years together. Then something went wrong. You weren’t behaving as expected and I wasn’t sure what was wrong.
I figured it would be an easy fix so I rushed to the computer and went to the website where we met, looking for answers. Reliable advice was nowhere to be found, but I did find a 164-page downloadable PDF your parents put together way back when you were born.
There was a live chat button, but no one answered the other end. I found a contact form buried in the depths of the site but it seemed so cold and dismissive. The FAQ support page was littered with outdated information, broken links, and technical jargon I didn’t understand.
There had to be another way.
I nosed around in forums where people in similar relationships congregated to share their stories. I was glad to discover I wasn’t the only one encountering the challenges we faced but no one could really give me any straight answers about how to fix what went wrong between us. Sure, they had a lot of advice that might work but the hours I spent combing the conversations produced more questions than answers.
Despondent, I turned to my friends on Twitter and Facebook but they were even less enlightened. Some of my buddies tried gamely to help but most of them just talked about how happy they were in their relationships with others who weren’t…you.
I tried to make it work, I really did. I did my best to understand you but when things got complicated I had nowhere to turn. When I needed support, I got headaches. When I needed guidance, I got none. We’re breaking up. It’s not me, it’s you.
Write a Better Love Story
Sound familiar? Thought so. We’ve all been on the receiving end of truly abominable support documentation and no matter how wonderful the product in-hand is, there comes a point where you want to just chuck it out the nearest window. It usually happens when you’re left floundering around trying to fix the intimate object of your affection by traipsing through 20 different information channels to find one nugget of useful advice.
Take Garmin, for example. They’re one of the leading GPS manufacturers in the industry but you’d never know it from their customer support. They get off to a good start with a seemingly helpful support page but things disintegrate quickly. There are eight different PDF manuals for just one watch! The first two have a total 57 pages between them, for Pete’s sake. How are you supposed to decide which one has the information you need unless you download them all? Not terribly inviting.
If that’s too daunting, feel free to browse though the 100-question online FAQ. Don’t bother looking for a search option to make parsing all the data a little easier. There isn’t one. Garmin sells eight categories of products, each with dozens of items specific to that category. Do the math on how many pages of documentation that company must be trying and failing) to wrangle.
Garmin’s not the only mega-corp with lousy product support. Roku is a popular device around MindTouch HQ but their documentation would make Ghandi lose his patience. Here’s just one example: There are six “Featured Questions” on the main support page. Five of them date back to 2010. ‘Nuff said.
TiVo, the TV time-shifting darling many of us adore, has such notoriously dismal product support that its user community rallied together in what we can only assume is a plot to keep potential customers from noticing. TiVo started its own forums in response, but it only added to the documentation confusion on its site. In addition to the forums, visitors can “find answers” in five different categories containing a whopping 47 sub-categories. Type “set up TiVo Premiere” into the search box and get ready to sift through 468 articles, one or two of which might answer your question.
All three of these companies make wonderful products. Indeed, they’re so well-liked that they manage to have loyal followers in spite of the product documentation they offer to customers. If you aspire to achieve the same level of customer loyalty as Garmin, Roku, and TiVo, then start by not making your users cry.
What would a good customer support experience look like? We’re glad you asked.
Silos are for farmers. Get rid of documentation silos that run customers into brick walls before giving them the answers they need. A good support strategy seamlessly offers users all the product information you have no matter where or how they access your documentation.
The Holy Grail of Help. Let customers access troubleshooting steps and product documentation right where they need it, without having to leave your software application to find it.
No phone, no email, no problem. Allow users to offer feedback or ask questions right inside your documentation without stopping to email or direct-dial customer support.
Avoid analysis paralysis. The ability to easily identify customer pain points mean you can respond rapidly to their needs and learn which support materials need to be re-tooled. Detailed data on user search patterns is icing on the cake.
Cop to speedy tickets. Some companies swear by their ticketing systems. A customer support strategy that integrates with your existing CRM to allow agents to search, answer, and publish in real-time kicks up the ticketing process about 10 levels for better all-around customer service.
The common denominator among these things is that they deliver knowledge-as-a-service across all support channels rather than forcing customers to slog through cobbled-together advice spread out all over the internet. Sure, there’s a time, a place, and a need for PDF manuals, FAQs, knowledge base articles, “chat now” website buttons, and all the other myriad forms of support options. Advances in technology and software make it easier than ever for companies to harness that information into collaborative, searchable data that saves customers time and their sanity. Users are catching on to that fact and are even willing to pay a premium for it.
Customer service used to be an either/or experience: Users either looked online for answers, or called a support number. There weren’t a lot of other channels for businesses to reach their customers. Now it’s possible to offer several customer support options at once, and keeping them all harmoniously updated doesn’t have to be a chore.
Let’s face it, every industry is competitive these days and there’s no room for slackers. All things being equal, the support experience makes the difference between whether you and your customer have a long, happy life together or they drop you like radioactive waste.