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How to create the right self-service content for customers

Organizations should provide useful content to customers to help them solve problems without contacting customer service. Effective content gives customers answers quickly.

If customers have questions about a product, they often try to answer it on their own. So, they navigate to the company website and see if self-service content can help.

Most organizations have some level of self-service content on their websites, such as FAQs and step-by-step directions. While the content's volume and quality can vary, self-help portals have one purpose: to make customers more successful. Self-service portals can also benefit organizations and help cut costs. If a customer can find an answer online, it frees up a service representative's time for other tasks.

However, focusing purely upon cost leads to self-service portals full of disorganized or hard-to-understand information, which can frustrate customers. When organizations take time to create good, well-organized content, the portal can quickly direct customers to the right answers.

The importance of effective self-service content

When customers arrive at a self-service portal with a problem, they should be able to find information they need quickly.

An effective self-service portal moves faster than emails or waiting for a customer service representative to answer the phone. An effective portal also builds a customer's trust in the organization. If the portal offers answers to possible customer challenges, it enables the organization to be honest about its offerings and their capabilities.

However, poorly organized content that doesn't answer customers' questions can cause them to leave the portal and call the support number. Some self-service sites cause users so much frustration that they avoid the portal altogether and call the support number first, which often houses its own level of frustration.

A chart of self-service content's potential benefits for organizations
The right self-service content can free up service agents' workloads and enhance customer trust.

To avoid frustration and potential customer retention issues, self-service content must be well written and organized. Follow these steps to create effective self-service content and ensure it meets customer needs.

Step 1. Identify important topics

Content teams should know what content to place in the self-service portal. For example, documentation addresses how to use a product when everything goes as planned, while portals address what's in the documentation and what happens when things don't go as planned.

To understand common issues, content teams should listen to the customers. They constantly tell organizations what they need. For example, content teams can ask themselves the following questions:

  • What questions do customers often ask?
  • What requests do customer service representatives receive?
  • What search terms do customers enter into support portals?

If the list of questions is long, teams can begin with the most frequent requests and slowly add more content over time.

Self-service content should tell customers how to solve a problem. It should not focus on how to use a feature -- that is what documentation should do. Additionally, customers may not know what feature would solve their problems, but they know the problem they face. So, content titles should reveal how to address problems and challenges they may face.

Some examples of how to rephrase content titles are the following:

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

Customer portals should also use terms customers know and phrases that match the task they want to accomplish. After all, the portal is for the customer, not the business.

Organizations should avoid terms that reflect a menu option on their website or product. If those terms were clear to customers, they wouldn't be in the self-service portal.

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

Step 2. Craft clear, concise content

Organizations should use professional writers that can explain answers with clear and concise language. Well-written answers without overly technical language can ensure customers understand the content.

Each entry in a knowledge base should clearly and concisely answer a single question and solve a problem from start to finish. Organizations should not assume customers have looked at any other pages on their sites, as customers may have followed a link from another site or a Google search result.

Content teams should include the following points in self-service content:

  • An introduction to the issue. The introduction could include a clear description of the problem, how to confirm the issue and detailed steps on addressing the problem.
  • Detailed instructions to solve the problem. The level of detail depends on the type of help customers need. For example, customer profile updates can have brief instructions, but debugging a customer's internet connectivity may require a long, detailed write-up.
  • Links to other articles. Content should include links to related content in case it doesn't answer the customers' questions. If customers don't find what they need, the content can provide links to answers for similar problems or how to contact support directly. If customers have to restart their searches to find an answer, their frustration levels rise.

Step 3. Organize the content

Content teams should organize self-service content to match customers' mindsets. To create a well-organized self-service portal, organizations can take the following steps:

  1. Create a knowledge base. Organizations can build a knowledge base, use tools such as ServiceNow or install a knowledge base plugin for their content management system. Whatever the tool, content teams should have an organized collection of articles customers can use to find their answers.
  2. Make the knowledge base searchable. These systems should also include a full text search -- like a Google search -- that connects customers to relevant articles.
  3. Give customers choices. A self-service portal should offer different paths to find the right answer. Not everyone prefers full text search. They may prefer to browse, especially after an initial search failed.
  4. Include tags and metadata. Tags can help customers fine-tune a search without starting over. Content teams should tag all their content in detail. Content tags can include technical terms, but they must include common phrases that customers use. If content teams don't know what those terms are, they can look at the self-service portal's search history. The history shows terms customers search for, which the company can use for titles and tags.
  5. Create new content based on existing, effective content. When rolling out a new product or update, content teams should create new content that answers questions people have had for existing products. Even if the new product is easier to use, many people may still search for step-by-step instructions to ensure they know how to use the product.

While self-service portals don't require content tags, they enable more accurate search results and help refine the search engine. Tags also enable more direct navigation to content because the portal can share them with the customers, which enables them to sort and categorize content.

For example, an organization's product or offering may have an analytics function. The self-service portal should reference the product's reports, metrics, results and analytics. These keywords enable customers to find answers based on terms they know, not marketing terms.

Step 4. Make the content easily accessible

Many people do not start their searches on a customer portal. They start with their favorite search engine. If they don't arrive at an organization's site after a search, that business loses metrics that indicate what challenges customers face as they try to use its products.

Some organizations force customers to log in to their account to access their customer support, which can make valuable content inaccessible and create the perception that the organization has something to hide.

Readily available support content can evoke trust. If people think an organization hides information, they have less trust in that business. If potential customers hesitate to buy something because they heard about a particular issue, seeing the organization acknowledge the issue and publish a fix can alleviate concerns. Openness can also build trust around the company's ability to fix future issues.

Additionally, organizations should make the switch from self-service to a live agent easy. If not, the process can annoy already frustrated customers. Organizations should map when the switch occurs so CX teams can monitor and identify areas of improvement to lower customer frustration levels.

Step 5. Embrace video

For more detailed self-service answers, content teams can use video to show customers how to perform actions step by step. Videos can add clarity, but they should only supplement written content.

To create effective videos, content teams can use the following tips:

  • Videos should not include slides or highlight people talking. They should be short, succinct and visually take customers through a process with links to related content.
  • Content teams should provide full video transcripts with descriptions of the actions. Transcripts improve accessibility, as not every customer can hear videos.
  • Closed captions that accurately reflect the speakers can also improve accessibility. When displayed without blocking the action onscreen, captions can help customers understand the video without having to switch to a transcript or syncing the transcript with the video.
  • Teams should embed videos in their websites and provide them from a video streaming service, such as a cloud-based digital asset management system or YouTube. This tactic enables broader content reach and helps customers share the videos with others.

Step 6. Continuous improvement

A good self-service portal always changes. Along with changes to new products or product lines, content teams can always improve or add content. The self-service portal and customer service representatives can provide new topic ideas using many of the same sources used to create the initial content.

Organizations must continuously evaluate the site's metrics. Teams can monitor their knowledge base to see which pieces of content effectively answer questions and which lead customers to look elsewhere. Organizations can use analytics tools, such as Google Analytics and Talkdesk Guide, that work with the knowledge base to track page views, bounce rates, and new and returning users.

Over time, the portal can answer more questions, leading to greater customer satisfaction. Increased satisfaction can lead to greater customer retention rates and new customer referrals. When done well, what may have begun as a cost-cutting measure can transform and drive revenue.

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