Learn how to write a self-service article that helps your customers solve an issue themselves.
The best way to support customers is to help them help themselves.
Once you've wrapped your mind around that sentence, consider this: Many of your customers want to solve their own problems, and have often tried to do so before reaching out to your support team. In fact, one study showed that 67% of customers prefer self-service instead of interacting with a customer support rep. What's the most proactive approach to providing self-guided customer support? Effective self-service articles.
In theory, a self-service article is a perfect strategy for helping customers to help themselves, preventing a heavy influx of support tickets, and reducing the administrative burden on your team. That being said, writing a great self-service article isn't always so easy or straightforward.
The study described above also showed that 58% of customers are unable to resolve their own problems by using self-service. And there's good reason. Providing self-service is challenging. How can you explain an issue that might seem intuitive to yourself (a seasoned expert at your product or service)? How can you clearly explain solutions to customers without getting bogged down in the details? Finally, how do you choose what kinds of topics and questions to cover, when it seems there are an innumerable variety of support requests?
In this article, we'll take a look at a breakdown of how you can write a self-service article that actually works-creating a great CX that helps your customers fix their own problems before contacting your team.
Use helpdesk software to build a self-service database
The first step to writing a self-service article that works is to create an organizational system for providing access to your articles. Chances are, you're going to need more than one or two articles to address the myriad of support requests you receive. Instead, you'll need to build a clear, carefully organized support database of articles on a wide range of topics.
Using helpdesk software, you can build a self-service database from the ground up (Not only that, but using this system will give you the added benefits of organizing and tracking your support requests, developing reports, and managing multiple inboxes).
Depending on your product or service, your database of self-service articles might include:
- Basic Q&A: Provide questions and answers concerning the basics of your product or service. While your customers may not commonly ask some of these questions, writing them in a clear list format will give new customers a point of reference as they explore and research your brand.
- Commonly asked questions: What are your customers' most commonly asked questions? Using a helpdesk software will help you remain organized enough to track common themes among support tickets – and address those themes in a series of self-service articles.
- How to create an account: If you run an account-based service such as a SaaS product, you'll most likely want to provide all the information a customer needs to get started on using your product.
- Managing various features of your product/service: If you provide a service that has multiple features or capabilities – such as a website-building platform – you'll want to give a breakdown of how to manage various features (customizing your site, purchasing a domain name, transferring data, etc.)
- Shipping, returns and exchanges: Running an e-commerce business? Then you're likely dealing with returns, exchanges, and shipping requests. Help your customers walk on their own through these processes. They'll appreciate it (and so will you).
These might be great starting points for building out your self-service database. But in order to pinpoint what your customers really need from you and write content that a total newbie can understand, you'll need to start with a blank slate of experience and knowledge – which brings us to our next point…
Pretend you're a newbie
Writing a clear, efficient self-service article might be easier said than done. When you're very well-acquainted with your product or service, most "issues" that arise might seem intuitive or obvious to solve. But remember that your customers are not standing in your shoes. Instead, you must stand in theirs.
Make your best attempt to walk through your entire customer experience as a total newbie. As you respond to calls to action, make purchases, and go through the process of setting up an account, consider any and all questions that may arise. You may even want to contact your support team anonymously and see how they respond (unless you are the support team).
Consider all types of customers as you do this. Depending on your business, your customers may have different needs and purposes for using your product or service. Do you have customers that will be ordering a product in bulk? Do you have customers that will be using your application to manage their employees? Do you have customers that live internationally, or who speak multiple languages? Make sure to address all types of customers and a range of needs.
Now that you're in the proverbial shoes of your customer, you're ready to write.
Write clearly and efficiently
A great self-service article tells customers exactly how to fix their problem and nothing more. It should be easy to understand and easy to follow but it should also remain on-brand, written in your voice and geared towards your specific audience.
Here are a few simple strategies for creating clear, effective content for your self-service articles:
Cut out the fluff
When you're writing a self-service article, get to the point quickly. You're not writing an essay. You don't need an introduction, conclusion and supporting details. You need to give your customers what they want: A clear, easy-to-follow solution. Write short sentences and paragraphs and use bulleted or numbered lists when appropriate.
That being said, be thorough in explaining processes. Don't skip details or assume your customers intuitively know certain things.
Never underestimate the power of a visual. Depending on the subject you're addressing, a well-placed screenshot or GIF can make all the difference in a self-service article. If you're describing a complex process, visuals aren't just a good idea; they're critical. Seeing how something works is nearly always more informative than reading about how something works. Go through the process yourself and take screenshots.
Write detailed and specific titles
Titling a self-service article may not seem like that big of a deal, but it can make or break the effectiveness of your customer's self-service experience. Imagine that your customer clicks on a link and reads the entire article only to discover that it doesn't address what they were looking for. They're going to be extra annoyed – and will most likely immediately send in a help ticket to get support from an agent.
Lastly, when writing an article title, be detailed and specific. Don't write "How to Sync X Product." Write "How to Sync X Product With Your iPad or iPhone."
Be strategic about how you organize articles
Choosing clear and effective categories and subcategories will be clutch to creating effective self-service. Think through how you might organize various processes and types of information to make it intuitive to navigate. When your customers visit your article database, they should be able to immediately figure out how to find what they're looking for.
As you write your self-service articles, don't forget to consider the voice of your brand. Reading a self-service article is still a point of interaction between your customer and your business, and a relationship-building touchpoint. If your tone is warm and friendly, remain warm and friendly in providing help. If it's more formal, then stick to formal. In any case, make an effort to remain aligned with your tone and voice. Your customers will take notice.
The inestimable benefits of self-service
Great self-service saves you considerable time and resources spent on responding to support tickets and interacting with customers. It might even help you to streamline your support team and cut down on the number of agents you need. But just as importantly, great self-service shows your customers that you are thorough, detailed, and invested in making sure they have a great experience. An effective article goes a long way – creating a more efficient, sustainable system for providing support and helping customers to be self-sufficient.