By Amy Chick

Blog

What Makes a Good End User Support System?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Remember Clippy, the Microsoft Office mascot? This animated little guy seemed to always be around, keeping tabs on our tasks and offering suggestions. You might say he was a staple of the MS Office experience. (No? Too much?) Despite his most earnest efforts to be helpful, though, Clippy was shunned and mocked by the majority of Office users.

First of all, Clippy was intrusive. In his overzealous attempts to make the user experience easier to navigate, he developed a bad habit of opening templates at inappropriate times and writing full, unwanted sentences into our documents. It was maddening, and his animated eyebrow wiggling made the experience almost unbearable.

When Clippy was given the opportunity to be helpful, he relentlessly dropped the ball. His search function often failed, and sometimes he froze or shut down altogether when we needed him the most.

What Clippy Taught Us

Clippy was a very early and unsuccessful attempt at software support, but he offered a few valuable lessons about end user training:

  • Users don’t like to be interrupted. Information should be easily accessible, but shouldn’t get in the way of your tasks. Clippy never took a hint.
  • Search is essential. Clippy dangled the convenience of a search in front of our noses, then tortured us with endlessly subpar results.
  • Information must be relevant. Clippy often pummeled us with useless resources. If information is out of date or miscategorized, it negatively affects the customer experience.

This is a tall order to fill, and many software companies struggle to deliver a perfect solution. The end user support system for Accrisoft Freedom has been in near-constant evolution, each solution presenting unique challenges. Here’s what we’ve tried so far:

Help wikis

Several years back, we moved our help documentation from a program called RoboHelp into a Wiki using our own software. One of the primary advantages of a wiki is that it saves a history of every version of every article. Wikis function differently than plain text editors, though — a special markup language is required to do simple formatting. This made it just a little bit tedious to maintain and update. This may have been one of the reasons that our users weren’t contributing much information on their own. As a result, the wikis did not function as intended and quickly became antiquated.

Recorded training sessions

We used to offer live, one-hour training sessions and recorded them for online viewing. Here, we found that long segments were inconvenient for end users who are looking for an answer to a specific question. Because videos are not searchable, the information was difficult to find. Our statistics for these videos showed a zero percent viewing completion rate, which confirmed that this was an ineffective training method.

Short training videos

We produced many quick, task-specific training videos that provided simple answers to questions from end users and web developers. The ever-changing nature of software meant our videos became out of date very quickly, and the reproduction of our entire library is not a sustainable practice. Videos are important, but attempting to create one for every single task and feature in the software is an impossible task.

Knowledge base

This resource functioned a lot like an FAQ, but there was too much overlap with our wikis so it didn’t provide much extra value. Plus, our end users didn’t like reading through the heavy documentation, so our support team became overwhelmed with a high volume of phone calls.

Getting Closer?

Each of these support functions taught us about what our end users need to learn Freedom efficiently. Earlier this year at the Accrisoft Summit, we also received some eye-opening feedback from attendees. When we discussed training methods for new technology, we learned that the majority of our customers typically use search engines to find forums and articles that specifically address their question. These same people rarely use videos to learn new software.

Right now, we focus heavily on our forum posts to help our customers learn how to use Freedom. Our support team constantly updates the forum with new information and resources, and the database is easily searchable. Plus, our customers can contribute to the forums by asking questions and suggesting improvements to the software. This collaborative approach seems to work well, and we’re working on some major improvements to our forum platform that will make the experience even better for our end users.

In addition to the forums, there are help pop-ups throughout the software. You’ll notice a gray question mark button next to many of the fields — these buttons provide quick, context-sensitive help without interrupting our users or derailing them from their tasks. (Clippy wishes he was that smooth.)

We want to know what you think of our current support training system. What works well for you? What would make your learning experience even easier? Let us know in the forums.

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