Improve Customer Support Through Pre-emptive Design
There is a common misconception that in the year 2014 the need for exemplary customer service (and online customer service in particular) has been fully internalized and acknowledged. That most Software as a Service (SaaS) owners are fully aware of its important role in customer onboarding and retention. I regret to say we are still a very long way from this utopia. A lot of work still needs to be put into improving online customer service for many SaaS and eCommerce sites.
The internet is vast and full of general “improve your call center hours” and “love your customers as though they were your own” tips. Many of these well-meaning content pieces don’t take into account the fact that Small and Medium Businesses do not have the manpower or budget to provide around-the-clock chat support, let alone man a 24-hour call center.
Instead, SaaS providers can tweak their customer service to be more pro-active. “Pro-active” does not necessarily mean pro-actively sending your users feedback forms or requesting they grade every interaction with your website. That may help, but it also creates more work for them. Don’t turn your users into workhorses.
What we can do, is be more pro-active behind the scenes. We can anticipate bottlenecks and usability obstacles, resolving them before they become issues that require customer support attention. A predictive form of customer service, if you will. This approach calls for close work with analytics – whether with Google Analytics or other software. Let’s drill down to a few specifics:
1. Breaking down user navigation patterns into structured flows
If your SaaS offers a single service with few features, navigation should be straightforward. If you’re at the stage where you’re already providing multiple services or features, sit down with your analytics for a quality session. Figure out which are the most common navigational routes.
For instance, content management and social sharing platform, Oktopost, logs you in straight onto the Dashboard and then encourages you to create a new Campaign. Indeed, you initially logged in to create that campaign; but perhaps you would like to check which campaigns are still active first or glimpse the calendar to ensure your new campaign doesn’t cannibalize other content you may be sharing.
Image source: screenshot from Oktopost
Once you’ve deciphered your users’ navigations patterns, you can deduce all manner of marvels about user preferences: do they go to check out their statistics before lunging into a new action? If not – should they be encouraged to do so? Judging by the bounce-rates for certain pages, are they looking for information but not finding it? These tidbits of information can be cumulated into a pretty comprehensive picture of user needs, if analyzed intelligently.
2. Setting conversion goals at strategic navigation points
We’re used to thinking of conversion in terms of a user’s ultimate, finite action – checkout, sign-up, hitting the Like button. However, the path to the final, desired conversion goes through many, many little conversion goals. In order to define them: draw up a road map of the smaller conversion goals users need to succeed in order to reach the final one.
An obvious example is the process that leads up to buying something online: an initial search is involved, refinement of the search, deciding between similar products… etc. Users have to make it past many small conversion goals (“Breadcrumbs”) before they even get to the point where they have to decide whether they are willing to part with their money. And at any given point, they have to actively decide to move on to the next stage of their flow.
Image source: screenshot from The Book Depository
Image source: screenshot from The Book Depository
Setting multiple, minor conversion goals is also an effective form of monitoring user success and distress, while aggregating data on navigation patterns. Conversion goals can tell you where navigational bottlenecks are, which actions users are finding difficult, and which kinks need smoothing out. Maybe it’s a simple UI matter of enlarging a button or planting a CTA at the right junction – or perhaps an entire stage in the flow can be eliminated to create a smoother navigating experience.
3. Relieving your customers of the need to manage information
Up until till now, we’ve explored the predictive aspects of proactive customer service. Pro-activity needs to be carried out during the support process as well. Customer support is, by nature, a reactive form of service, but that STILL doesn’t mean you should leave the “default setting” on and let your customers put in unnecessary effort.
This is a simple, straightforward notion, but considering how many SaaS vendors do not practice it, it needs to be said; when a customer turns to the helpdesk, they will likely provide the amount of information they deem relevant. It may not be enough for the support agent to identify the issue, in which case you are left with two options:
A. Request the accurate information in advance, preferably when providing the info on how to reach support (e.g.: action name, action’s ID number, etc.).
B. Do the detective work yourself – you have access to the backend and the issue is probably a recent one.
You will notice that “writing back to the user and requesting further details on the issue” – is not one of these options. The reason for that is because it makes for poor customer service: it forces your users to return to their issue, effectively creating more work for them and passing the ball back to them. This puts off resolving the issue, making you reliant on the user’s response time.
This frustrating back-and-forth is relatively easy to avoid, and its Return on Investment (ROI) is remarkable.
4. Extending a hand, not the entire platoon
There are methods to reach out to your users and provide support that is not merely reactive. These methods do not require your users to leave their comfort zone, does not force redundant interaction upon them.
I’m referring to various technologies recently on the rise, which combine automated support with the human touch. Intercom is quite prominent among these options – the application offers an interactive, chat-like none-instant messaging protocol. This form of communication has hit the sweet spot right in the middle – between emails (long, detailed, not obligated to any time restrictions) and chat support (at times too short, require being pinned to the keyboard for the duration of the conversation). Small and un-intrusive, but unmistakably present and manned by an actual, real person.
Image source: screenshot from Intercom
Another ascending semi-automated support solution is the on-page guide, more commonly known as Walkthroughs. Walkthroughs’ main advantage is in making it possible for users to stay on the same page they are having the issue. Instead of wandering off to the Faraway Realms of Knowledgebases, never to be seen again. Recent, more advanced walkthrough technology also offers personalized onboarding solutions, customizing the guides to specific users or user groups. On that front, iridize presents a good option for personalized onboarding solutions, offering tailored guides down to specific individual users.
Image source : screenshot from iridize
There are plenty of creative ways to prevent your users from putting unnecessary effort into your customer service process. Pro-active customer service is more of a state of mind than a business development plan, but SaaS providers would do well to adopt it. There is absolutely no reason for online customer service today to be anything less than impeccable, and being two steps ahead of our users is an essential part of this approach.
Noa Dror is the Content Manager and Onboarding Evangelist at iridize – personalized onboarding solutions for SaaS.