Why not talking to your customers can be a good thing

Jan 12, 2017 · 8 min read
Illustration by Eric R. Mortensen for Inside Intercom.

No matter how good your support team is, it’s an inescapable fact that some customers simply don’t want to talk to them.

But great support doesn’t always involve a conversation with a support team. Perhaps the issue they are trying to resolve feels so simple they just want to be quickly pointed in the right direction. Maybe they’ve had bad support experiences in the past (with other companies, naturally) and don’t fancy hanging around for a response.

And then there are some people who just prefer to learn things for themselves rather than have the answer spoon-fed to them.

Whatever the reason there’s an expectation on behalf of customers that they should be able to easily find useful and relevant documentation to help themselves. And in our “always on” world, it’s increasingly apparent that 24-hour access is becoming table stakes — regardless of the kind of product you are providing.

In this post, we’ll explore the jobs help content does for you, your company and your customers and share strategies that have worked for us.

Excerpted from our latest book, Intercom on Customer Support, which shares our strategies for delivering world-class support. Download it here.

Your self-service content may take the form of FAQs, best practice guides, very focused how-to’s, or setup guides for new users. It might be text only, rely heavily on screenshots, or employ gifs and videos. It can live on a website in a traditional knowledge base or you can insert it into conversations with your customers at the time they are requesting help.

The type of self-service you provide isn’t just a matter of personal preference. It will have a significant impact on how much time, money and other resources you have to invest in maintaining self-serve resources like documentation, videos and screenshots.

Not only does self-service content allow you to provide great customer service at a large scale, but the cost of providing such service is much lower than every other channel of support.

Don’t believe us? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

What jobs does help content perform?

1. Enables customers to help themselves

A help center is the ideal medium to help customers with a specific question get a quick answer.

So many support queries come from new customers who don’t necessarily have a “problem” but are simply confused about a particular issue.

Self-service provides new customers with a great tool, and also attracts the natural DIYers.

Need to reset your password but don’t know how to do it? Clearly a concise document describing the process, which is surfaced at the correct moment for the customer, is the ideal way to answer this kind of question.

No matter how efficient your support team or how quickly you respond to questions, these kind of low value transactional queries are best handled in a self-service format. The name of the game here is guiding the customer from question to answer in as speedy and efficient a manner as possible. There’s usually little value for you or the customer in making the interaction any more complex.

How do you measure success?

Firstly, are your users finding the documentation when they need it? e.g. did the number of contacts regarding password resets decrease after you created a document about it? If not you might want to consider:

  • Macro issues e.g. have you structured your help center in the optimum manner? Are new users easily able to discover the articles they need
  • Document-specific issues e.g. does the heading on the document clearly reflect the content? Does the document contain the keywords that will ensure it is found when users search for it?

The ultimate measure of success here is direct feedback on the document in question. If users are providing positive feedback that their issue has been resolved — whether that’s in the form of a thumbs up/smiley face, comments on the article, or conversations initiated from that page — then you are succeeding at this job.

2. Provides an environment for continuous learning

In Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit, Leonardo Inghilleri and Micah Solomon explain why reactive customer service is on its way out — it’s an ineffective way to create loyal customers.

“The magic happens when your business anticipates the needs of your customers, learning to recognize and respond to the needs of your customers before they are expressed — sometimes before your customers even realize they have a need.”

Help centers are the best way of anticipating problems in the first place, giving customers the materials they need to get to grips with your product.

People come to your help site with the intent of having questions answered and learning more about your product. Only answering a single question at a time when they are positively disposed towards learning more is a huge wasted opportunity. The power of customer intent should never be underestimated: remember, Google built a multi-billion dollar advertising business because people searching for products or services are considered to have a far greater intent to purchase them.

How do you measure success?

You should see an increase in pages per session as you build out the amount of documentation you provide. If all your visitors are coming to your site, reading one article and bouncing again you need to consider how you can improve your current articles and expose visitors to more of your content.

3. Promotes best practice

If you’re familiar with Intercom’s help content, you’ll know we are big believers in providing educational and motivational help content.

It’s been our experience that instead of pointing customers to a threadbare FAQ or providing them with a series of functional how-tos, creating best practice content leads to loyal and engaged users.

We work hard to uncover real-life examples, expert tips and insider secrets so our customers don’t have to.

An example of this in practice was creating a guide to writing engaging message content, rather than a series of how-tos around our Engage product. Best practice guides like that give us a chance to educate customers and make them more successful with Intercom.

How do you measure success?

The success of best practice content is hard to measure quantitatively. You should certainly expect to get positive customer feedback — whether that’s solicited (e.g. surveys) or unsolicited (e.g. communicated to your frontline support staff). If your best practice guides are performing effectively then you should also see increased product usage e.g. if Intercom produces a guide to sending the right message, to the right user at the right time, then we’d like to see increased use of our Engage product.

4. Sells your product

Most startups assume their help content will only be read by people who already use their product but are having a difficulty with it.

But there’s another really important constituency self-service content addresses — people who are considering buying it and want to learn more.

For example they may have seen it in use on the web but want to know if you have an iOS client. Or maybe they want to know what level of customization you provide. Or which of the existing tools they use you have off-the-shelf integrations with.

This will be especially true if you have a fundamentally different approach to solving a problem compared to the products you compete with. If that’s the case, you might want to consider creating documentation that addresses questions people are likely to have when they are assessing your product.

How do you measure success?

If this strategy is successful your sales and support teams should have to deal with less of these queries. And if you’ve created sales-specific content you’ll want to see salespeople using those articles to help close deals.

5. Raises your visibility

According to Pew Internet Research, 92% of adults use search engines to find information on the web. So where is the first place your customers will turn to for help with your product? The search bar in their web browser. It’s essential that you own the problem and that you are answering customer issues.

The alternative is well- intentioned but possibly ill-informed users on third party forums, or worse still your competitors. That’s why it is so important your help site, at a bare minimum, follows the basics of good SEO. This also helps your content to be discovered in the pre-sales stage as discussed earlier.

There’s a whole other book to be written on the topic of SEO but suffice to say you need to get the basics right to ensure your help content is discoverable e.g. use clear headings and titles, include the words that site visitors are searching for but don’t engage in shady tactics like keyword stuffing, and remember that ultimately high quality content will win out over time.

How do you measure success?

Does the organic search traffic to your help site increase after you add new docs or optimize existing ones? That’s a pretty simple query to run in Google Analytics.

Excerpt from Intercom on Customer Support, which shares guidelines and frameworks to get a handle on support before it handles you.

Available in ePub, mobi, and PDF, download it for free today.

Inside Intercom

Stories from the makers of Intercom


Written by


We make customer communication simple and personal | www.intercom.com

Inside Intercom

Stories from the makers of Intercom

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade