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Customer retention and loyalty is heavily dependent upon a businesses’ ability empower their customers. Products are becoming more complex with each release cycle and, even with strong usability designs, customers require more information to become experts. The challenge for businesses is figuring out how to capitalize on this need, lower the barriers to entry, and provide quality support services so that their customers can educate themselves in the shortest amount of time possible. Companies that focus on customer success enjoy a high ROI for a simple reason: your product is only as good as your customers’ ability to use it.

In the following video MindTouch CEO Aaron Fulkerson and Forrester Research Principal Analyst Kate Leggett will offer strategies, statistics, and data on trends in the customer success space. MindTouch, a SaaS organization, has top-tier clients such MakerBot, Intuit, and Paypal and knows how B2B and B2C businesses should engage their customers. Get the MindTouch & Forrester Research Webinar HERE. If you want to stay one step ahead of the competition and incentivize your customers to learn, you need to watch this video.

Why not just send my customer to a customer support agent?

Customers have high expectations and want easy access to information. By forcing your customer to engage with a support agent as the only means to obtain knowledge, you are increasing the probability that the customer may have a poor interaction with your agent. Traditionally, customers run into the following problems:

  • Broken Cross-Channel Communications – Customers cannot start an interaction on one channel (such as chat, SMS, or email) and continue to another channel (such as phone or voice) without having to repeat themselves and start the conversation again.
  • Lack of Knowledge Expertise by Agents – Many businesses are cyclic and bring on temp. workers for customer support. Due to the unintegrated, complex web of unintegrated technologies, agents (especially those who are temps.) have a hard time finding the information they need to answer a customer’s questions which may result in delays, poor answer quality, and ultimately unsatisfied customers.

Most importantly, customer support agents are expensive. Depending upon the volume of support tickets, businesses can easily spend millions just to support a faulty, broken infrastructure. This is why industry leaders such as Accenture, Paypal, MakerBot, Intuit, and many others, are adopting MindTouch customer success tactics to cut costs and better engage their customer base, support their customer service agents, and deflect tickets.

So, how should I engage and educate my customer?

Customers are using search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing, to find answers to their questions. This is why it is important for businesses to deliver knowledge in a web-native, SEO-friendly format instead of bulky, traditional PDF files. By giving customers this option of self-service and prompting discovery, businesses incentivize customers to become experts, lessen customer dependence upon traditional, fractured communication channels, and lessen the business costs associated with maintaining a customer support infrastructure.

About: MindTouch has helped thousands of businesses improve their customer success metrics by utilizing machine learning algorithms to guide product and customer subject experts (both internal and external to an organization) so that they can capture & reuse quality content, and collaborate with one another so that they can author, edit, and request documentation in real time; all of which is aimed towards helping businesses invest in customer success, create a self-improving knowledge center, and identify up-sell opportunities. MindTouch clients can also seamlessly utilize MindTouch to intuitively cluster content knowledge, surface articles in real time (such as while a customer types a support ticket or search query), and auto-recommend engaging, pertinent content to users so that they will be prompted to explore, discover, and learn.

If you to save money, keep your customers happy, and stay one step of your competitors, you should watch the MindTouch & Forrester Research Webinar, Making Leaders Successful Every Day: Customer Support Practices For Creating A Profit Center  to understand what the best techniques are for promoting customer success.

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About a month ago we introduced a new feature we call faceted search. Faceted search is more than just a fancy way to filter search results. It’s a quick and powerful way to sort results into categories that help users find the answers they need without drowning them in irrelevant information they don’t want.

We’ve been talking about faceted search for a long time so we’re thrilled to put this exciting technology into the hands of your customers for a better user experience. Take a look at this screenshot of faceted search in action and then we’ll talk about why it’s so special.

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We know customers don’t want to waste time sifting through reams of product documentation just to figure out how to change a battery or connect a power source. Faceted search takes the most annoying aspect of searching online documentation and delights users by allowing them to:

  • Filter search results based on Category, User Guide, or Article
  • Drill down into Articles and further sort them by type: Topic, How-To, and Reference
  • Easily bookmark and share relevant results with others
  • Access information across your entire website in a single browser tab
  • Uncover and bookmark related search results for immediate or future reference
  • Use Advanced Search to target specific words, phrases, tags, or even exclude words

Poor online help documentation isn’t just a time sink for your customers. It’s an albatross around the neck of your help desk, too. The superior results offered by faceted search mean users can find what they need without contacting tech support. That translates to a higher ticket deflection rate and infinitely happier users.

Satisfied customers are loyal customers but that doesn’t mean we want to make our customer base dependent on the support desk to walk them through every issue they encounter. Self-service help features like faceted search groom customers to become product experts and, eventually, product advocates.

Available only on MindTouch 4, faceted search takes the annoyance factor out of online product help and replaces it with something truly useful for the customer: The right answer exactly when they need it, without fighting tooth and nail to find it.

Did we miss something? Let us know what you think.

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As consumers, we’re an impatient bunch.

We expect instant gratification and have trouble waiting four seconds for an online shopping cart to load after we’ve decided to buy something. We’ve become accustomed to shopping online vs. schlepping to a free-standing geographically-located structure (that’s a “store” for you kids out there). We’d rather quickly click some buttons on a laptop instead of calling a help line and stumbling through a phone tree. We want to flip through online documentation while making purchasing decisions, not spend an hour getting a hardcore pitch from a sales rep.

In fairness, we can partly blame technology for giving us the attention span of a fruit fly and, overall, businesses have done and admirable job of keeping pace with our  restlessness. They’re getting really good at following us around the internet, ready to fling themselves in front of us the instant we decide to make a purchase or troubleshoot an issue. Meanwhile behind the scenes, companies busily build redundancy-filled fortresses to process and protect customer data.

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It’s great to have proactive customer experience strategies in place and it’s critical to safeguard customer data, but the two are not mutually exclusive. It’s vital to take a good look at your customer service channels and treat them with the same importance you give to protecting your databases.

Forrester’s Rachel Dines notes that even the most proactive companies have a bit of a problem with resiliency. They’re so busy planning what to do if backend mechanisms fail that they forget to plan for unexpected customer-facing service slips:

“I’ve found that resiliency initiatives often fail to get momentum because they are so focused on disasters and downtime, and fail to link back to critical business processes and services. …[W]e should be focusing our investments in resiliency on the customer experience. It doesn’t matter if the data center is under 5 feet of water or if someone accidentally deleted a critical file, if the customer experience suffers, we need to have a plan.”

Admittedly, infrastructure overhaul can take months but there’s at least one area you can focus on to get immediate results: Product documentation. Customers must be able to flawlessly and consistently find instant answers on your website to issues that plague them. Not just any answers will do, of course. They have to be useful and, above all, correct. It really doesn’t matter what the product docs have to say about Your Awesome App 2.3 when you’ve just launched v3.1.

Naturally, if you sell a product on your site, a working shopping cart should be your number one priority. Next up on the list must be tight product support so you don’t lose the customers you worked so hard to get. Some studies show that up to 48% of customers will abandon a website if they don’t get a quality response in less than five minutes.

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It’s unacceptable to have outdated support docs on your website when implementing a cloud-delivered, self-service help center is so easy. Excellent product documentation is one of the fundamental principles of an excellent overall customer experience and users won’t want to hear a sob story about why a meteor shower interfered with their ability to find the answers they need. When you think about resiliency strategies, don’t forget about how to keep your product support intact. It’s easier — and more important — than you think.

Image: Javier Alvarez, Jon Worth, woodleywonderworks

Social help systems can benefit nearly every type of online business you can think of, but e-commerce is one area where it really shines. Lets take a look at five ways social help improves the customer experience and how some companies are using it to build brand loyalty with their users.

 

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1. In-line help for complex forms. The Internal Revenue Service is famous for deluging hapless U.S. citizens with frightening help docs filled with algorithms, charts, and tables. It’s unlikely anyone finds these useful and they’ve probably caused more than one stress-related eating binge. Don’t be like the IRS. Offer users in-line assistance if they run into issues while filling in forms on your site. As a bonus, since in-line support is easier to keep current and updated, it trumps PDFs any day of the week.

 

 

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2. Access to why certain information is required.  Though the U.S. government flunks customer service 101 when it comes to complex forms, it got a help feature right on another one of its sites. The State Department requires a lot of confidential information from visitors who are applying for passports online, which can be off-putting for many people. However, clicking on the question mark next to each input field brings up an explanation of why the data is necessary — a particularly useful feature for quelling fears customers sometimes have about sharing personal information online. Snag this idea for reassuring visitors to your website or use it to serve up info on error messages people may stumble upon while they’re there.

 

 

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3. Offer support and troubleshooting for users to work through without resorting to the company help line.  Don’t assume your customers want to call your toll-free number for support because, frankly, they probably don’t. Instead, take a cue from Amazon. It gives customers seven different ways to get the information they need, with phone contact coming in as a last resort. Users love having a batch of options to choose from and you’ll love that you can cut way down on your trouble tickets and support calls just by implementing this one simple feature.

 

 

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4. Provide straightforward answers alongside related topics. One sure way to delight customers is to turn them expert users who can navigate your product with ease. HTC‘s online product documentation strategy includes offering extra product education alongside product support material on its website. Customers can deep-dive into topics related to their question or issue and become product experts. Long-term, these become the loyal customers and brand advocates all companies love to have.

 

PayPal

5. Connect people with a community of users who are working through the same problems and may have identified the answers.  Where do your product experts and brand advocates most often end up? Sharing their knowledge and expertise with others in online community forums. Paypal smartly adds links to its onsite forum and pointers to the hottest discussion topics directly from its support pages along with . That’s a terrific way to encourage users to help each other work through common issues and free up your support team for other projects.

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There’s been quite a hue and cry this week over Adobe’s decision to shift Creative Suite to a subscription-only business model. Beginning in June, the company’s flagship boxed set of widely used tools like Illustrator and Photoshop will be moved to, and supported in, the cloud.

It’s a bold move, but not a shocking one, as more software vendors see the benefit of pushing their business to the cloud. It’s certainly more cost-effective than shipping CDs and vying for product placement on crowded store shelves, to say nothing of how easy it is to roll out updates or patches.

Interestingly, Adobe’s other big seller, Adobe Technical Communication Suite, isn’t headed to the cloud. Why? The most likely answer is because desktop publishing tools are becoming increasingly obsolete. With its heavy focus on collaborative PDFs, this particular collection of apps doesn’t have much maneuvering room as companies shift away from reliance on PDFs as their primary information delivery system.

Internal document management and online product help manuals are key reasons companies use PDFs. While the former isn’t likely to change anytime soon, the latter is heading the way of the dodo bird because customers simply don’t like PDF support docs.

When it comes to product help, PDFs as an exclusive means of documentation will work against you. You may have the best product or service your corner of the market has ever seen but if all your supports docs are PDFs, you might as well be offering manuals on stone tablets.

Today’s product manuals aren’t really manuals in the traditional sense. They’re collaborative, fluid, current, living databases filled with knowledge. User Manual 2.0, if you will.

Here are five cold, hard truths about PDF product support:

crybabyPDFs make customers cry. Here’s a typical usage scenario: Have a product question, head to the company wesbite’s help section. Hope for a quick answer, get directed to a huge PDF instead. Make a sandwich while it downloads. Try searching the document for your question, get 93 hits on your search term. Sigh audibly.

Make a stiff drink, then bravely poke through each response to find a useful answer. Rejoice when answer #89 seems to be what you need. Cry when you discover the PDF hasn’t been updated in two years and the information is wrong. Launch laptop at the wall.

If you want to be responsible for tears and crushed dreams, make sure all your product help docs are PDFs.

A living knowledge base, on the other hand, lets users quickly find the answers they need. Since it’s easy to update and keep current, customers know they’re getting the right answers every time. Software vendors can take product support a step further with in-product contextual help that allows users to access information related to what they see onscreen — without ever leaving your app.

 

burning_moneyPDFs cost your company money. Static documents are expensive to maintain. Somebody (or several somebodys) need to constantly monitor them for accuracy, make changes as needed, convert and upload documents, and so on. The hours your team spends managing PDFs are far better spent helping customers directly instead of tinkering with static manuals.

A living knowledge base helps maintain itself by continually updating across all channels. It’s a collaborative system that gives customers and support agents the real-time information they need, when they need it. On top of that, you’re not paying team members to constantly update PDFs or losing money when frustrated users jump ship for a company with better customer support.

 

gogglesPDFs look unprofessional. Back when the world was on dial-up, websites were single-page affairs, and hosting space was a million dollars a GB, there weren’t many options for getting product help into the hands of users. Today, there’s simply no reason for companies to overlook technology that makes life easier for customers.

Do you really want to force customers to print out reams of pages at their own expense just to figure out how to use your product? Does it warm your heart to picture the PDFs you worked so hard to assemble shoved in a file in the bowels of someone’s hard drive and forgotten?

PDF product help docs make your company look dated and unprofessional. They send the message that you don’t value your customers’ time or resources. A slick online database filled with loads of documentation that’s easily searchable looks far more professional than an outdated website with huge files to download.

 


dunce_capPDFs don’t help users become experts.
The entire point of customer support is to help users help themselves, to offer them a buffet of options that assist them in finding answers quickly and efficiently. Done right, a good help strategy turns your users into product experts by giving them multiple access points to useful product documentation.

PDF-based support systems have a number of potential fail points and customers have frustratingly few options if the documents are wrong. Sure, they can call a toll-free number or open a trouble ticket, but those avenues make users more dependent on your support team, not less.

Knowledge-based help systems give users multiple channels for finding help and troubleshooting issues. Customers expect to have content that adapts to who they are and the channel they’re accessing. You can’t do that with a static PDF.

 

great_wallPDFs build walls around your teams. Data silos can’t exist within a living knowledge base that’s continually updated and accessed by everyone in the company. PDFs, on the other hand, are locked data points controlled by tech writers.

To be sure, tech writers are an extremely valuable component of product support, but they shouldn’t be the only source of branded product knowledge. Marketing, Sales, Support, Community Managers, and even ancillary support teams have value to add to your existing content, but they can’t do that if all your help docs are protected PDFs.

Collaborative knowledge bases tear walls instead of reinforcing them. If your own teams can’t use your product help effectively, think how your customers must feel.

Used sparingly, PDFs do have their place on a company website. They’re fine for media kits, press releases, printable maps, or for delivering information that rarely or never changes. They’re a terrible method for managing product support info, however. A real-time knowledge base is the help platform your customers need. It’s the new user manual.

Images: Storyvillegirl, Purpleslog, Elvissa, CogdogblogKeith Roper