What to consider when creating digital Help & Support experiences

Support experiences provide a safety net which customers can rely on. Here's how to nail them every time.

Abstract illustration of a smartphone screen on a blue background with chat message bubbles lifting off the screen

Your digital Help & Support experience is the safety net for your family of digital products and services.

Here are some tips on making sure this part of your experience works well for your customers when they need it.

Help & Support sections are an often-neglected part of many digital platforms, whenever we get a brief to work on them, part of me jumps for joy. They’re usually inconsistent in look and feel when considered against the rest of the experience, hard to navigate or even to find. But they’re the silent workhorse supporting your products and services. To that end, I believe these hard-working and cost-saving hubs deserve more attention than they’re currently receiving.

Now, you might think that you should simply focus on building the best, most intuitive self-service platform making it so good it doesn’t need Help & Support. Sometimes, this works if you have a relatively straightforward product or service with minimal journeys. Anything beyond that and something will fall through the cracks. At that point, a good Help & Support platform is critical to your overall user experience.

It’s not as easy as it might sound – having customers effectively use a digital Help & Support platform is a change management process. Think about it: if you were a customer, would you move from a tried-and-tested helpline to a strange-and-unfamiliar help platform? Me neither. 

To make this work, we have to understand the comfort that customers need and make sure that these platforms are designed to deliver it. It has to be easier, quicker and better to use than picking up the phone. To validate this we use customer research to inform design decisions about these platforms: exploring hopes, fears, barriers and motivations underlying using digital Help & Support.

Here are a few things we’ve learnt along the way:

1. Please, don’t just pull the helpline

It’s easy to think that once you pull the customer helpline, people will naturally move to the digital Help & Support section. But effectively redirecting people into these channel matters, without it their complaints could go anywhere: customer support emails, your social media platforms, or even your competitors.

It’s important to keep the service design thinking throughout all of this and make sure that other touch-points are still available as appropriate. Making your helpline prominently visible is an interesting experiment in itself – are your customers turning to it out of habit, or are they unable to find the help they need? The former is a behavioural insight, the latter is a product insight – both can be designed around, but you will never know the underlying frustration if the helpline is gone.

2. People looking for help are generally not in the best of moods

A customer looking for Help & Support is often feeling frustrated, angry and (literally) helpless. That’s a bad emotional state to be in meaning it’s not the time to be asking customers to learn complex and difficult interactions. More than anything else, Help & Support is about time to satisfaction. 

Customers will use a digital help section if they perceive that it will give them answers faster than a helpline, but picture this: you go through an arduous journey just trying to find the help section. After you get there it’s either impossible to use or does not have the information you need. In that moment, the amount of time before they can get help starts to feel like it’s extending to infinity. And that’s when they pick up the phone, long call waiting times and all – a disgruntled nightmare.

3. The help section is a product in itself

The help section often suffers from nobody’s child syndrome. We get it – you’re a product centred company and your core products rightfully get the lion’s share of resources and attention. But the help section is a product too – it’s the product which supports your other products. Having a dedicated product team looking at it and giving it time, care and attention will ensure that it integrates seamlessly and efficiently with the other products it supports, and remains effective for its users.

Ultimately, the key is to keep in mind that your Help & Support service is a safety net: it’s not the star of the show, it may not even be used most of the time, but you need to keep it in good condition because it will save customer relationships. Find the comfort that your customers are looking for, understand what cracks customers are falling through and stay curious to why it sees use. This will serve you in more ways than one. And please, don’t just pull the helpline!

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