3 strategic ways to reduce the number of support calls

The cost of providing support to users can be huge, so what can be done to reduce the number and duration of support calls? Here are three strategies to consider.

1.Pre-empt the calls

In same way that Japanese car companies improved the quality of their products to reduce the after-sales costs, you can take steps, from the start, that can reduce the amount of post-sale difficulties.

  • Improve the usability of a product

Can you design out the bugs and problems where people get stuck?

Can you make the product intuitive to use?

Consider whether, and how, you could provide training to users – this could be videos on YouTube, animated software tutorials, even simple paper guides. You won’t be able to design away every call, particularly if users are dealing with unfamiliar concepts, but you can go far.

  • Provide effective user assistance

There is still a lack of understanding of the effect good user assistance (delivered as online Help, user guides, quick reference cards, animated tutorials or videos) can have on the amount of support calls received.

With more and more of this content going onto the Web, it’s now possible to measure the number of people using this information, and the figures can be enormous. To help you assess the impact, you can use our online support call cost reduction calculator.

  • Encourage users to play and experiment with the product

Through playing and experimenting with a product, users are often able to teach themselves how to use particular features or discover new capabilities. Users need to be confident this is low risk, and be able to set aside some time to do this. One way to encourage this is by communicating with users: providing case studies or “tips and tricks” in newsletters.

2. Provide better, faster ways to assist users

In general, people will follow the line of least resistance. If they can find the solution to their problem on the Web, then they are likely to use that route.

So look for ways in which support can be “self-service”.

  • Many people will look for answers on the Web, so you need to make user assistance available and findable on the Web. It needs to be clear and unambiguous, and organised in an logical way. Technical Authors are skilled at doing this for you.
  • Look for ways to embed the support information into the product. For software, this can embedded help – tips next to a field, for example. For hardware, this could be scannable barcodes (QR or vizi tags), sticky labels or tags.
  • Establish peer group support, where users support each other. People love to share and be heard. The downside is that the information may be incorrect, unclear, incomplete or critical, so you need to moderate these types of areas.

Of course, habits die slowly and some problems can only be fixed over the phone, however there are ways to provide better, faster user assistance. Looking at the number of visitors to The Carphone Warehouse’s YouTube channel, which provides advice on topics such as unboxing a mobile phone, it shows there’s a huge desire for such information.

3. Reduce the duration of each support call, and the need for users to call again

The duration of each support call can be achieved by making it faster for staff to solve the problem or by guiding users quickly to alternative places where their problem can be solved.

Large organisations may be using support software, such as Kana, to guide staff through problem solving decision trees. Other organisations can develop knowledge bases, to enable staff to find the answers quickly and efficiently. These can be populated by internal staff or, again, by technical authors.

Often, it’s the same support questions that appear time and again. In this situation, Twitter and email can help by guiding users to places where their problem can be solved. Again, Technical Authors can help to create this content.

In this situation, it’s important users don’t feel they are being “fobbed off”. Look for ways to give users something extra, so there’s a sense of reward.

Alternatively, don’t reduce the number of support calls

Often, a support call interaction can lead even the most irate client turning into someone who will recommend your product to others. Even if you can’t solve their problem, you listened, tried to help them and you cared.

Forrester Research talks about the Return on Interaction – that a support call can lead to an “upsell opportunity” or a word of mouth recommendation.

Summary

The important thing to do is measure and learn, and then adapt.  The relationship between usability, user assistance and support are becoming more measurable.

Remember, not all users are the same, so you need to offer more than one approach.

5 Comments

Liz

This is a great article– I see your site bearing the MindTouch “Most Influential Tech Comm Bloggers” badge and I applaud you, being a user of MindTouch and a tech comm myself! 😉

Your reflection on the “upsell opportunity” that exists for those manning the support phone line is a great point, but being that you’ve been dubbed an “Influential Tech Comm Blogger” extrordinaire I’d wager that it’s highly unlikely then that you have not yet come across the article featured on Forbes.com by MindTouch CEO Aaron Fulkerson. It is loaded with hard-hitting stats as to exactly just how powerful and revenue-generating online documentation can be, with an upsell prowess that is all its own and, twice as nice, with the capacity to slash customer support calls (and thus their costs).

The article is definitely worth a read: http://www.cherryleaf.com/blog/2010/08/3-strategic-ways-to-reduce-the-number-of-support-calls/

Cheers 🙂
Liz

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