Hey guys, my name is Jamie and I’ve been doing support for our products for about 3 years. I’ve been actively supporting both SlideDeck and Hello Bar since their inception, and we’ve learned that there’s a whole lot of betterment to be gained from delivering quality support.

When I talk about support, what I’m referring to is dedicated support. After all, when you release a product and start selling it, you’re going to get a lot of folks asking you a lot of questions. In order to build a quality relationship with your user base, you’ll need an efficient way to both listen and talk to them. So what are ways to enable quality exchanges with your users? A focused one-on-one solution that we love to use is Zendesk. Or you could go with a community focused solution like GetSatisfaction. Sometimes even opening up a support@ email address and doing your best to maintain threaded conversations does the trick as well.

Whatever you decide, you’ll quickly notice that there are a few distinct categories of support questions that’ll come across your way. And what you’ll come to realize is that by addressing each of these categories, you’ll uncover the hidden powers you possess to vastly improving the UX and design of your product.

Five Types of Support Requests That Can Help Your UX:

1. A lot of us simply don’t read the fine print

Users are a great gauge for understanding which pieces of your content should be more pronounced, so it’s important to take note of the hints your support requests surface when pertaining to skimmed, and inevitably missed content.We’ve had issues in the past where some users were confused about feature X. After taking a deeper look into this, we realized that it was because SlideDeck was available for jQuery (initially), and then WordPress (later on). Some degree of confusion was created by this natural progression.

This was later made worse by the move to SlideDeck 2 which was an update for WordPress, but not jQuery. Both of the aforementioned issues are due to visitors not reading all the copy. It’s obvious that your users are reading something. Is it the right information? Maybe it’s time to tone down the marketing speak on a specific page, and instead turn up the discussion on system requirements or browser support. Remember, improving the visibility of the content that’s missing, or not prominent enough, can help improve your overall message. This helps for future visitors, as well as those that never took the time to send you a support request.

2. P.E.B.C.A.K. Nothing is broken, everything is fine

Unsure if broken...or PEBCAKThis too stems from a communication issue. Whether you’ve got a savvy user or not, your level of P.E.B.C.A.K (Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard) style support requests could indicate that you’re sending your users a mixed message, and ultimately a confusing user experience.Think of it this way: if nothing is broken but a user thinks something is broken, your user experience might be prompting them to do something other than what was intended. If your users are complaining about feature X not performing some lofty task, such as “it seems broken, it’s not making the thingie do that thing!” then it could be that you’re not positioning your product properly.

As an example: the autoplay feature in SlideDeck has, in the past, been confused with being a feature that handles the autoplaying of videos (something we’re still on the fence about). If a user contacts us about the autoplay feature “not working” then it’s not their fault that the naming or instructions on how to use the feature leaves room for interpretation.

3. Everything is broken, fix ALL the bugs!

For your genuinely broken, error-ing, visibly distraught installations, you may have a rare glimpse into your user’s world. Time is expensive, and often times users don’t want to fill out surveys or chat. But if you guide your support conversations to be more user-centric by asking questions about their browsers, version of jQuery, other plugins in use, their needs, what features they are having trouble with, then you can gain a lot of insight into their experience, and start to find ways of improving it. You might be surprised what you can glean by helping a user solve an issue.

4. I want MOAR! Your defaults suck and I’m sophisticated
Power users can provide great insight into your product

Your power users can tend to draw a line in the sand. “Here’s what your product does, and here’s what I’d like it to do.” Be careful with this one as you don’t want to create too many edge case features, i.e. features that serve too niche an audience. Your product should only be as complex as it needs to be. Considering that this is a bit hard to visualize, take this example quote (totally not real or anything):

“Hi, I love SlideDeck, but I wish I could make it go to slide 3, and then stop autoplaying. Five seconds after that, the lens should morph into Half-Moon and then resume autoplaying. Once it gets to the end, it should return to slide 1 and start playing the video that’s embedded on there.”

The above is a perfect storm of feature creep, and (maybe) should not be entertained. Adding these abilities could make the product too complex, and hurt the overall UX. It is however, a great spot to identify what your users would like to accomplish. Start there, and proceed to take baby steps.

5. I have an idea for a great feature, and it’s pretty specific

Listening to your user’s feedback is a great thing. It helps build loyalty, and in general, if users are requesting features then it means that they’d like to continue using your product. We’d heard many requests for a responsive solution to SlideDecks, and it was an amazing conversation when we did engage users who were willing to talk about the feature. What we found was actually quite surprising: many of the users asking for the feature had no idea how it would actually work (something we were struggling with as well).

When we released a sneak peek of the feature, the feedback was very encouraging. Another feature that multi-site users were asking about was the ability to set the License Key somewhere in the site configuration. This is something that we never considered, and was a relatively low-difficulty problem to solve. Focused and specific feature requests from users is a great thing and should be taken seriously. Its value is immeasurable! You will also find that many of your users are simply clamouring to share their ideas with you!

Pre-emptive Striking

There’s a beautiful cause and effect loop with support and UX. If you fix one, it always improves the other. Much to this point, you inherently practice good UX by trying to preemptively reduce the number of support requests you might get for your product. A good example of this is our Premium Lenses for SlideDeck 2. When a user checks out and has a Lens or Lens bundle in their cart, we modify the “thank you” page to include a Lens installation video.

Clicking the link triggers an installation screencast video

When clicking that link, users are shown a video in a modal that walks them through the lens installation process.

Our thinking here is that when seeing their lens files available for download, the initial thought a user would have is, “Wait… How do I install them?” By providing the video in that context, we’re hoping to both educate the user and provide a bit of mind-reading delight. The video can also be re-used if we get a support request later on asking about lens installation.

Additional Support Safety Nets

Predicting the user’s needs right on the page makes for a great UX, but be prepared to be caught off guard now and then: some issues pop up in parts of the product that seem relatively straightforward, and you might be unprepared for that type of complaint/request. Getting back to a user in a timely manner is also important, and as the support demand ebbs and flows, you’ll find yourself being under immense load at times.

Keeping a curated list of canned responses (we use a Google document that’s shared among the support staff) both helps the team respond to common questions quickly, and ensures that the user receives a thorough response that has (hopefully) been honed over time to include all possible relevant information and any additional material that might be helpful.

Also, maintaining an FAQ section (either on your site or your dedicated support forum) is a great way to allow the user to self serve as well. We maintain a list of FAQ articles for SlideDeck 2 and many of them have been marked as helpful, so that’s a good indication that the FAQ articles are doing their job.

Reading into your support forum is a great way of making your users happier, your design stronger, and ultimately, your product better. Your users will love you for it, and their experience around your product will naturally and effortlessly become much more pleasant.

Feel there’s something we missed? Have your own support related UX improvement story to share? Let us know in the comments!

  • http://mattlingner.com Matt

    Great post, Jamie. This seems like a really creative way to improve products. Even though the example was pretty funny, your point about feature creep is especially important for any product company or startup to consider. It’s so easy to get carried away and not realize it until both your customers and your hours have gone away.

    • Jamie Hamel-Smith

      Thanks for your reply Matt,
      You’re absolutely right about feature creep. It’s also important to ensure that the proposed feature would benefit many users instead of one user’s edge case.

  • http://withoutboxes.com/ Anne Dorko

    Love this, Jamie. Been dwelling on this a bit now that the Dictionary Plugin has quite a few users out there!

  • http://usabilitytools.com/ Anna Kitowska

    Hi Jamie, I liked that you mentioned having a proper FAQ section, it really helps to avoid future problems. Also – feature creep example cracked me up (although it is a really valid issue, so thanks for both – information and entertainment.

  • http://www.helprace.com Vit

    Hi Jamie – this is an old post and I thought I’d chime in due to some changes in the industry. Say you wish to provide support with Zendesk and offer a GetSatisfaction – style crowd support solution in one interface? There’s an relatively new software on the market called Helprace which does just that (with an interesting take on UX and CX to boot). Of course there are other options such as Uservoice and Zoho but they did not take their community to the level I was looking for. Regardless, would love to hear your thoughts!