Do you remember the last time you had a wonderful experience? What about the last time you had a horrible one?


To prepare for a recent trip to London, I needed to put travel notifications on two of my credit cards (we’ll call them Card A and Card B). After searching through Card A’s website, I resorted to calling a customer support number where I waited on hold for forty minutes before finally speaking with a representative.

After finally authorizing Card A for overseas usage, I braced myself for calling Card B. As I waited on hold with Card B’s customer support, a thought gleaned on me: “Maybe I can place the travel notification online with this online bank.” With a quick search, I found the self-service option and began answering the two prompts in order to place the notification. Just 30 seconds before being connected to a customer service representative, I had already resolved the problem myself. I confirmed this with Meghan (the representative) and felt both relieved at and appreciative of how seamless the transaction was.

The average cost per minute for a business every time a customer calls a call center is $1. That means 100 calls, each lasting ten minutes, cost approximately $1000. Therefore, not only did Card B’s self-service option relieve the stress for the user (me), but it also saved their business money in customer support costs.

These seamless moments are also memorable for customers. Circling back to my first two questions, what were you more likely to think of, a good or bad customer support experience?

In today’s competitive marketplace, great customer service can be the key to a successful business. According to the American Express 2017 Customer Service Barometer, 7 out of 10 U.S. customers were willing to spend more money with a company that had good customer service. In the case of online businesses, this means more than just providing answers. It means knowing your users, being proactive and transparent in keeping them informed, and empowering them to solve problems on their own.

The polarizing difference between good and bad experiences in customer support has led me to tackle this question, “what makes a great online support experience?” After an in-depth look at analogous support experiences across many industries, I have found some commonalities and nuances that unify these examples. Here are some tips to make your online customer support experience go above and beyond.

Understand drivers for Help and Support

In order to understand your user’s needs for support, you have to dive into analytics, perform user research, and look at metrics for call drivers. (This is not voodoo magic.) Using empirical data will not only help you uncover the pain points users face with your product or services but also reveal fallacies in your current support experience. Start by asking questions like: What kinds of content do our users expect from support? How are users reaching our support content? Why do users call customer support instead of looking for solutions online? What roadblocks do users face in the current experience?

Qualitative and quantitative research can provide clear insight on the what’s, how’s, and why’s of the support journey. What the customer wants can be answered by analytics such as call drivers, most viewed articles, and top search terms. Referral type is a great indicator of how users navigate to your support content. For example, most users access Help and Support by directly typing their questions into search engines like Google.

It is also important to engage with users in order to understand why they need support. One customer described this experience with support:

“The internet troubleshooter doesn’t work. It cannot diagnose my service, and when it fails, it says ‘would you like to chat with someone?’ and if I say ‘yes,’ no one is available. I keep trying back, and it has said this for weeks.”

I’m sure we can all relate to the frustration this customer must be experiencing. Not only did the self-service troubleshooter fail, but when they looked to contact customer support via chat, they were unable to reach a representative.

Help Topics that align with user mental models

Historically the approach to content organization is driven by how organizations structure their lines of business. Unfortunately, this often leads to an illogical navigation experience for users. It is important to set up a taxonomy that aligns with how your users understand your products or services in order to provide an intuitive wayfinding system.

Through qualitative research studies like card sorting and tree testing, designers can get a better sense of how information should be organized. Card sorting is an exercise that evaluates how users categorize topics, which leads to a more informed information architecture. On the other hand, tree testing, also known as reverse card sorting, is a method used to evaluate the findability of topics. This exercise is more effective for validating a proposed information architecture rather than creating one from scratch.

Elevate your knowledge base

According to Forrester, knowledge bases are the most frequently used self-service channel. It’s crucial that the articles in your knowledge base are up-to-date, digestible, and easy to find find via search engines. Nothing is worse than getting stuck in a never ending cycle of irrelevant articles with indication of a solution.

Consolidate articles and optimize for SEO

Since the majority of users tend to access support articles through search engines, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is an important factor in making sure your relevant content is appearing as top results.

For example, when multiple products or services have the same issue and resolution, it’s wise to bundle those articles together. As seen below, Fitbit organizes articles to focus on one issue (i.e. How do I restart my Fitbit device?) and allows the user to toggle between products. Consolidating support articles from across different products around a similar topic allows customers easy access to specific solutions without the need of complex navigation.

Provide additional contextual information

Support articles can be clunky, forcing users to comb through paragraphs upon paragraphs to find relevant content. This burden can be mitigated by providing customers with additional context before and while reading articles. Effective examples include indicating how long the article will take to read or adding a table of contents that allows users to skip to the pertinent section for their issue. and

Create alternative paths when users cannot find the solution in an article

When users are unable to find relevant content, they need alternative paths to solutions in order to avoid the frustrating process of starting over. Xfinity does this by providing (1) links to related articles, (2) the ability to contact customer support, and (3) community forums to post questions.

Create a robust search feature

While search engines drive a large portion of support traffic, it is also important to have an internal search that delivers reliable content. Search should be a prominent driver of the support experience once a customer has landed on your site. Advanced features like type ahead, popular search terms, user search history, search by image, and the ability to filter and sort search results allow users to find solutions faster.

Humanize content with conversational language

If users cannot understand the directions to solve their problems, the content is effectively useless. Distill content into language that resonates with the customer base. Friendly, conversational language is not only welcoming but also makes the content more digestible. Twitter, for example, uses messaging like “Everything you need to know to use Twitter like a pro” to both appear inviting and give users a sense of confidence.

Link customers directly to the solution

While knowledge bases are helpful, they can also be cumbersome for specific support experiences. To avoid the tedious task for reading and then solving, drive customers to the solution page directly. For example, instead of providing an article on how to pay a bill online, provide a link labeled ‘Pay Your Bill.’ By bypassing the intermediate step of reading an article, user’s will be able to complete the intended action quicker and without the need for additional human customer support.

Funnel customers to the correct customer service representative

According to Forrester, 66% of adults feel ‘valuing their time’ is the most important thing a company can do in providing good customer service. Customers who have to use workarounds to contact support representatives or get caught in the endless transfer loop between agents are much less likely to continue their business with a company. Ensuring a seamless transition between online and offline interactions is crucial to avoid losing customer ‘between the cracks’ within support. A series of questions can guarantee customers are speaking with the correct representative. For example, Apple’s online questionnaire directs customers to the most effective method for contact (call, chat, etc.) while also providing the current wait time to speak with a representative. This transparency eases the frustration we have all experienced waiting on hold with no end in sight.

Taking this one step further, companies can leverage this data to create an omnichannel experience between the online support and offline representatives. By sharing authentication and inquiry data with representatives before a line is transfered, business show users that they ‘value their time.’ These seamless transitions will not be forgotten when a customer is in the need of support.

Highlight service status

Transparency and real-time updates can eliminate the need for customers to call about service issues. Sharing customers’ service statuses or known issues in their area brings them comfort that their problems are known and being resolved. You can even take this to the next level by notifying customers when their issues have been resolved via text or email.

Provide personalized customer support

Customers expect that technology knows their needs before they do, so when users are authenticated, they expect support information that is relevant to their needs. When customers log in, it’s important to utilize their data to provide a personalized help experience. In the context of support, this means recommending solutions based on products and services they have, their location, or their permissions.

Create a chatbot for on demand help

Artificial intelligence is the future. Provide customers a chatbot to find solutions faster. USAA, for example, presents users their virtual assistant immediately to help uncover a solution, bypassing the need to navigate through their knowledge base.

Similarly, Amtrak has made huge strides with their chatbot, Julie. According to a case study on Next It, Amtrak was able to save $1,000,000 in customer services expenses in a single year because of Julie, who answers approximately 5,000,000 questions a year.

Why invest in customer support?

As Derek Sivers, Founder of CD Baby, said, “Customer service is the new marketing.”

The fact is that customer experience is as memorable, if not more memorable, than goods or services. For many consumers, great support is a huge factor when choosing and retaining a brand. NewVoiceMedia has estimated that U.S. businesses lose a combined $62 billion each year following bad customer experiences. Moving forward, companies that do not prioritize customer experience will struggle to grow if not go out of business. When shaping your support experience, listen to your customers and allow analytics and research to shape content that is relevant to them.

What is your brand doing to elevate their customer support experience?

What more of this kind of content? Leave a comment below about topics you would like for future articles.

Christa Herchek, Senior UX Designer at Comcast Business

Christa is a User Experience Designer in Philadelphia, PA. She earned a BFA in Communication Design from Parsons School for Design. She strives to ensure business and employee products receive the same attention to user experience as consumer products do. Her work is backed by research and analytics to ensure design is implemented strategically.

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