How we built our Support Center remotely
Vincent Levinger — Support Specialist
Over the past year, the appear.in support team has remodeled the FAQ into our new Support Center. The goal for the Support Center is to create a hub where customers can go to get answers to any questions they have about appear.in. While this sounds easy in concept, in practice it was much more complex than we ever imagined. It required a deep understanding of how our customers use appear.in, while still taking into consideration common roadblocks that hinder them from using our product to its fullest potential. On top of all of this, our support team is entirely remote, so we had to come up with some creative solutions for collaborating hundreds of miles apart.
The trouble with FAQs
In the early days of SaaS and online applications, FAQs were a quick and straightforward way to help your customers find answers to common questions and learn how to use your product. In many cases, an FAQ is a great way to offer assistance when you’re bootstrapping a new company, and don’t have the time and/or funds to offer a dedicated channel. However, as your company continues to grow and expand, it’s important that your support offering grows at the same (or ideally a faster) pace. Without proper help your customers won’t understand the product, and most of them don’t have the time to figure out how to make your product work for them.
Building a qualified and passionate support team is a great way to combat this, but there are still limitations. Humans have a finite amount of time and stamina each day, and putting too much strain on your support team can lead to poor results both in response times and response quality. Before reaching the point of a fully fledged web app with thousands or millions of customers, it’s critical to start thinking about self-service options; this is where an FAQ simply won’t cut it. FAQs are great when your customers ask the same 10–20 questions all the time, but as your product grows in user base and sophistication, questions also grow in complexity.
This is where having a great Support Center or Knowledge Base comes into play. Both of these are basically a user manual that takes all aspects of your product, and bundles them together into an easy to use guide for your customers. Instead of answering common questions as users have them, you can educate them before they have questions. In the end this will lower support volume, and increase customer satisfaction.
The first thing we did was a full review of the FAQ and the nearly 200 existing articles that we had. During our review, we found many articles that had similar and redundant information, so we knew the old organization strategy had to go. Using a combination of Trello and appear.in, we put all of the existing FAQ pages into a single “review bucket”.
Then we spent some time thinking about the user journey through appear.in, and where users had questions. The goal here was to create specific product categories where similar or related features could be grouped together. For our Support Center, we decided to use a product functionality approach to organizing our articles. A great example of this is a new section called Cam, Mic, and Sharing. All of these features are used or edited inside of an appear.in room, and in general people that want to set up their cam and mic at the same time! Laying out articles like this guides a user through setup in a natural way that anticipates their next step, and puts the information right at their fingertips.
After we had the organization method defined, we used Trello to sort the existing FAQ pages into the new categories. We used tags to note when there was duplicate information, and also tagged articles that needed to be deleted entirely because they were no longer relevant. Up until this point we were just figuring out what we had to work with, and we were finally ready to start making the Support Center.
Re-write, Edit, Repeat
Once everything was organized, the big task of re-writing and combining articles began. Unlike in an FAQ, Support Center documents should use titles that are clear, concise, and not phrased as questions. This was a great way to get our heads out of the FAQ mindset, and also set the tone for our content. The goal was to use a natural tone, as if someone was sitting there explaining the feature to the customer.
For this we cloned the Trello board we were using, and created a new set of tags. These would be our new Support Center article titles, and we used them to tag the old FAQ pages that could be combined together. By getting rid of sources of duplicate information, we made it easier for our users to get answers to their questions quickly! This also means that when a product feature changes, we only need to update the information in one place.
In some cases we needed to combine four or five different FAQ articles into a single document for the Support Center! All that was left was write the content, and review our work for any mistakes or errors. In the end we trimmed our article count to less than 60, and also greatly improved the quality of our documentation.
Of course this isn’t the end for the Support Center. We’re continuing to improve our content, and we’re also making video walkthroughs of the more complicated questions! I like to think of maintaining a Support Center like painting the Golden Gate Bridge — once you finish, you go back to the beginning and start over. As our product changes, we’re constantly needing to update pictures of the interface, and adjust instructions.
Key Findings on Support Centers
Below are some of the discoveries we’ve made while researching and building a Support Center for appear.in, and we hope you’ll find them useful:
- Articles should be organized into cohesive and specific product categories. This could be features that all appear in the same menu or area of your app, or features that are commonly used together. Laying out articles like this will guide users through the app in a way that anticipates their next step, so their questions are answered as they would naturally have them.
- Article titles should be clear, concise, and not phrased as questions. Avoiding posing articles as questions is a great way to move out of the FAQ mindset. Most Support Centers will include an FAQ section in them, and this should be no longer than 20 articles or singular questions. The FAQ should contain the most common questions that new users have, and should link out to articles in the Support Center instead of answering on the page.
- The user shouldn’t have to do a lot of reading to find what they’re looking for. A great example of this is if you offer several tiers of your service. Instead of having one section that goes through all of the features that are available, segmenting features into the specific plans that they apply to will make it easy for customers to see the options that are available and which plan will be a good fit
- Make it easy for customers to contact support if they don’t find what they need. Nothing is more frustrating than searching through a Support Center and not finding what you’re looking for. Give customers an easy way out and offer the option to contact support on every page of your site. Support agents generally have the link the customer is looking for, or in some cases can report a missing article that needs to be created
In the end, a well functioning Support Center will lower support volumes, increase customer retention, and make the lives of your support agents much better. It may seem daunting at first, but it’s an investment that in my opinion you can’t afford not to make.