4 reasons your customer care content isn’t helpful

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In my blog so far this year, I’ve been tackling the topic of how digital content adds value to businesses:

Understanding the value of content

5 ways content strategy adds value to your business

How much is your bad help content costing your business?

Now, I want to share four common causes of bad help content and how you can fix them.

The quality and consistency of information within online help channels is the key to successful customer care. In my experience, there are common mistakes businesses make with digital content that lets them and their customers down. But they’re often unaware of what’s causing the problems with their help information or how to fix it. Here are my four most common fails of help content and how you can tackle them in your business.

1: Not understanding customer care needs and friction points

Unfortunately, I have found there’s often a disconnect between frontline customer care teams and the teams creating online help. Making it challenging to generate, share, and act on customer care data insights.

In a perfect world, help content would be created in direct response to customer needs. Customer experience data would be collected from all support touchpoints and shared around the business. The business would analyse the data, assess customer needs and friction points, create improvement plans, make changes, monitor performance – then rinse and repeat.

During a help content improvement project I managed a few years ago, my team and I gathered customer care data from every support touchpoint we could, then collated and analysed it to gain insights before deciding what to fix. We found strong customer frustration themes. While there were many issues with help content, there were also friction points not related to content. These friction points included not being able to find the phone number, a major ongoing service issue and trouble registering and signing into a customer only area.

When your business doesn’t understand customer friction points you;

  • Run the risk of assuming that poor help NPS or negative customer feedback means all the problems lie in the help section of the website. As a result, we miss opportunities to improve experiences in all customer care touchpoints and critical parts of the customer journey

  • Create help website sections, dump information on a wide range of topics in them, and expect customers to go there for a variety of help needs, whether that’s what they want or not

  • Focus too much on providing written help information to solve customer’s problems. Instead you could improve product information to reduce confusion, fix broken sign-in functionality or create proactive alerts sent to customers affected by mass product or service failures

How to improve your customer focus

  • Focus on understanding customer’s help needs and where their friction points are, including help pages and beyond. When we focus on customer needs, we can create the right information for them at all stages of the customer journey

  • Collaborate with customer service teams and gather customer feedback data from as many sources as possible. Then thoroughly analyse that data to gain valuable insights to create improvement plans. Share these insights with the parts of the business that need them

  • Remember, when customers need help with the same sorts of things, repeatedly – something somewhere needs to be fixed. Rather than automatically creating more help content, consider using customer insights to improve product offerings, online experiences, and processes. Then customers won’t have to access online help in the first place

2: Lack of help content maintenance

Help content is often published, then forgotten, and allowed to grow unchecked. This set and forget approach causes many of the problems that emerge with help content over time. I encountered an example of this a few years ago with content that hadn’t been maintained for 5 years or more. As a result, the help section contained 4000+ pages, most of them unmaintained and unhelpful.

At the very least you should undertake essential maintenance – this can help sort out the bulk of the content issues even without a great understanding of your customer’s needs and friction points for example checking for duplication and ensuring your pages meet digital content best practice.

What happens when you don’t maintain customer care content

  • The quality can erode over time, causing the following problems for both customers and staff:

    • External and internal search can’t return useful results due to; large volumes of pages, duplicated content, poor content structure, and bad SEO

    • Many help pages will contain outdated, conflicting and inaccurate information

    • Poor copywriting results in content being too technical and hard to understand

    • Help pages can become dead ends with no clear next steps

  • Customers get upset, give negative customer satisfaction scores, and turn to other channels such as social platforms, the call centre or retail stores for help, which costs the business money

  • Business resources are wasted publishing and hosting large and growing sets of unhelpful content. Eventually, large audit projects are needed to clean up the poorly performing help content, only to slowly degrade again due to lack of continuous maintenance

How to continually maintain your customer care content

Content strategy principles offer many simple ways to do this:

  • Define help content best practice standards and principles including heuristics, content structure, SEO, copywriting and editorial standards

  • Establish regular maintenance plans (aka Governance) – including change management

  • Know your help content – conduct bi-annual or annual audits, depending on the number of help pages you have. Run mini weekly or fortnightly help content performance reviews, focus on crucial content flaws and pain-points – then fix, learn, and repeat. If it’s been years since your last audit consider running one along with a clean-up project

  • Be wary of page volume creeping up; less is more. Watch for duplication and merge pages when it makes sense to do so. Look for outdated information – such as terms and conditions for an old competition, and content customers no-longer need – like instructions for using an obsolete product

 3:  No clear accountability and ownership

A common problem I encounter when working with help content is not being able to find the owners or the people or team/s accountable, which makes audits, business as usual activities, and maintenance difficult.

When accountability is unclear, it can be hard for the business to establish which teams or individuals are responsible for which aspect of help content performance.

When businesses don’t have clear accountability and ownership for customer care content

  • Help content gets neglected and it’s also challenging to set measurement objectives, performance criteria, and carry out maintenance plans without the right people on board

  • Ensuring the validity of or improving help information is tricky. Incorrect information is a risk to the business, so during some audits, I’ve had to make the call to archive ownerless content

  • The hunt for SME’s, owners, or those accountable for help content can cause significant delays to audit projects, BAU, and production processes

Establishing accountability and ownership

  • Gather the people in the business together and get aligned.

    • Decide the objectives and purpose of your help content, agree on how it will be measured and set performance criteria.

    • Establish agreements on how the help content should be maintained and who should be involved.

    • I suggest getting buy-in from senior leaders for support, introductions, and the removal of roadblocks if needed

  • Have clearly defined owners and subject matter experts for help content. A list of names with a RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted and informed) is a great place to start. If your business is large, I suggest the RACI is at a team, department, or product level. Then everyone will know whom to go to for information or a current list of SMEs

  • Consider whether it’s possible to create a more reliable connection between help content performance and product or service KPI’s. Could product owners who generate help content also set the performance measurement criteria for it? Could budgets cover the cost of creating and maintaining help and information for products and services?

4: Having no content professionals in the team

When the Head of Digital of a large company asked me why I thought the help content was so bad, I answered, ‘you have no content people in your team’.  When I joined the business, digital content was created by a variety of people and teams. Some came from the primary marketing agency, some from product owners and marketing managers, and various people in the digital team. There wasn’t even a copywriter amongst the 2000+ staff.

It’s never been easier to create digital content, but it doesn’t mean we all should. It’s like getting Uncle Fred to take photos at your wedding. You’ll get pictures, but they won’t be as good as a professional photographer.  Content people know how to create and maintain content, so it is always worth having at least one or two of them in the team or in your pool of contractors.

Without content professionals;

  • There’s no expertise to create and maintain consistently high-quality information and help content

  • It’s hard to get consistent help content that meets editorial and brand guidelines if many different people/teams with varying copywriting skills, are creating it

  • Your business lacks dedicated professionals who can run audits of all sizes, establish continuous maintenance programs, build relationships with product owners and SMEs, define governance programs, analyse customer data – and so much more

 Hiring content professionals

  • If there’s a budget to hire staff, work out the content skill sets needed in the team, and have a chat with HR or recruitment company. There are some talented content folk out there

  • If budget is an issue, consider mining the business’s call centre, chat agent, or retail teams for content talent. I was lucky enough to work with three chat agents that were seconded to work on a project with me. They were amazing. One of them went on to become a senior Content Strategist in the business

  • If hiring or using seconded staff isn’t an option, consider finding a good editor or writer that you can utilise on contract. Then you only pay for their services when you need them and they can often work remotely.

Truly useful customer care information takes dedicated effort, expertise, and focus from many different parts of the business. It’s not enough to create a help section of a website, publish a few pages of content, and walk away. Your customers rely on you to look after help content as if it was our garden, one that needs to be weeded, harvested, replanted, watered – and replanted over time.

If you’re ready to tackle your help content fails, get in touch with me for a free 1-hour consultation to find out if I can help, or have a read through my other blogs for some more tips and advice.

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