From Help Center to Integrated Self-Help—Why You Should Move Beyond Stand-Alone Help Centers & Offer Self-Service Throughout Your Site

5 min read

When talking about self-service, most think of a help center or a knowledge base designed to address some of the customer’s questions and issues that otherwise would be handled by customer service and support teams. However, this is not nearly the full scope of all that self-service can be. And while companies focus a lot of time and resources into creating a successful help-center to streamline their reactive measures, they lose sight of all the proactive measures they can also be taking. Self-service is not just focused on solving customer’s post-purchase issues. The successful self-service program enables customers at every step of their journey with the company—from product selection and purchasing to getting started and post-purchase education and support.

The Help Center

A well-designed help center is a foundation for great self-service. A help center usually contains ample content about your products and services, detailed information on how to set up, install, operate, and use products, and walks customers through some of the troubleshooting techniques. When there is a lot of great help content, customers who are familiar with it will naturally gravitate to check with the help center before contacting your support team. After all, it is a more convenient and faster way to get their answers. 

So you might have poured hundreds of hours into great self-help content hoping to realize its benefits, but somehow your service teams are still getting thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of cold support calls every month. Out of the blue customers are seeking help with questions and issues that they could resolve on their own if only they checked with help the center. See, the problem is that the “if you build it they will come” type of mindset does not always work.

A few challenges to only offering self-help via the help center:

  • Visitors who land on your website may be interested in purchasing your product or service. So, they might be going through a sign-up process, checkout, or any other interaction with your application. If they had questions and needed to navigate away from their current page to the help center, they will likely lose the context of what they were doing and may abandon that interaction altogether.  
  • Help centers will likely contain a lot of information about all of your products and services and will require customers to search and navigate to find what is relevant to them. Sometimes, it might feel like a jarring task and they will choose to contact you instead.
  • Customers who are new to your website may not realize you have a help center or, based on their previous experience, they may feel like it is not worth their time.
  • Customers looking for pre-purchase, compatibility, and selection information may not think the help center will be relevant.
  • Some customers may go directly to your contact us page skipping the help center altogether.

Another reason providing a help center as the only option for self-help might hold your company back is the fact that customers are expecting more now. Leading companies are moving away from this technique, utilizing more integrated self-help (which we will get to next) and it’s raising your users’ expectations. 

Companies who have self-help throughout their sites and applications have set a high standard, and if your company can’t match it, customers may choose the competition for an easier and more convenient experience. 

So we truly believe that building out a customer help center is an excellent starting point and a worthwhile investment, but you don’t have to stop there. 

Integrated Self-Help

So what’s the other option? How can you move beyond the stand-alone help center toward a better self-help experience for your customer overall? The answer is integrating self-help throughout all of your site pages and applications. Think outside the standard help center, knowledge base, guides, or articles and embed valuable experiences anywhere on the site, allowing self-help to be available during all aspects of the customer journey, before the product is even purchased. Meet your customer where they already are. 

This can be done in a multitude of ways:

  • Use product pages to educate your customers. Provide proactive educational materials to help customers understand what product is best for them. This could include device compatibility information, tailored and guided device selection options based on user input, dynamic Q&As, FAQs, etc. 
  • Utilize guided selling techniques to help customers buy with confidence by guiding them to choose the right product. You can guide them based on who they are, what their product goals are, or how their product will be used. You can recommend products for them that are frequently bought together and guide them through an interactive compatibility checker. 
  • Offer an integrated and unified search function. Make it available on every page of your site and allow it to access all of your knowledge base resources, product documentation, manuals, or any other relevant sources of information. It does the work for your users, providing the most accurate and relevant information with the least amount of effort expended.
  • Build customer journeys that will guide them through extensive processes like warranty, troubleshooting, registration, product feedback, etc. 
  • Within your customer journeys, offer contextual help. Contextualization can refer to almost anything: region and language, various brands your company may control, unique product or service pages, and more. 
  • Offer product or service setup materials. This could be how-to videos, articles about different functional uses, customer communities, FAQs, live unboxing and setups, getting started guides, searchable product manuals, etc.
  • Consider offering a conversational experience. You can allow them to tell you exactly what they need and provide them with interactive and effective responses leveraging the self-help content you already have. 
  • Incorporate educational resources. If you already have a learning center, academy, or training portal, you can bring that content alongside the knowledge base and self-help experience. This is perfect for the users looking to expand their knowledge about your products and services. 
  • Leverage the community. Oftentimes customers want to learn more about the products they already own or are looking to own and generating that much content for hundreds (or even thousands, yikes!) of products can be impossible. Creating an educational community resource where members can help each other and learn from all different internal and external assets can be a big help! It can include community discussions, open forums, Q&As, etc. 
  • Make it visually engaging and interactive. Provide visual product hierarchies that make navigation easy on the user, offer calls to action that can guide users to the educational material they need, and organize content in digestible, easy-to-find, and centralized places.
  • Last, but certainly not least, make it mobile. Many of your users want quick answers to their questions, and therefore, want to easily be able to find them on their mobile device or within your mobile applications. Making all of your self-help mobile friendly is key to integrating your service everywhere that your users visit most often. 

Apple Example:

Apple is a prime example of integrating help throughout the website and all of their applications. All of their devices have ample pre-purchase resources, including use cases for specific features, additional resources surrounding common topics (like saving money or device upgrades), community and educational resources, compatibility functions, and searchable FAQs. And throughout their site, they consistently provide easy access to tailored self-help options.

apple faq self-service
apple support self-service

Now, let’s say you are searching for something specific and don’t want to scroll through the endless content Apple is providing. They also offer an integrated search tool that uses smart features like suggested searches and quick links that pull information from all different resources across their site.

apple integrated search sef-service

And, if you’re looking for some quick answers or just want to discover new features and educational material on your device, they offer the mobile app just for your self-help needs! It is also tailored to your exact device and includes ample articles, integrated search, and common topics.

apple support app self-service
apple support in app self-service

Final Thoughts

While help centers are extremely valuable and relevant, it is time to start integrating that helpful content instead of isolating it. This is an important shift for the future scalability of your company. Self-service can only succeed if it is available where your customers want it. To learn more ways to help your self-service succeed, read about designing integrated search tools, building website navigation, and some best design practices. If you enjoyed the Apple example, find more inspiration in these 15 examples of powerful self-service.

Once your help center is together, it's time to learn about the key elements of a great kb article and how to write one.

I love to write with one goal in mind - to help you build amazing customer experiences. Our content is tailored to help you understand your customers, design great products and deliver world-class customer self-service. I share my knowledge and experience through my articles, videos, podcasts, templates, and more - so you can take your customer experience to the next level.‍

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