Improve Customer Self-Service Design With These Best Practices & Tips

9 min read

Self-service is the modern movement toward streamlining your users’ online experience with simplicity and convenience. It is a solution designed to put your customers’ needs first, providing them with all of the tools they need, right at their fingertips, to become empowered to help themselves. Your customers need a successful self-service design in order to easily navigate your user interfaces, and ultimately, have a successful experience through the buying journey with your company.

Modern consumers are looking for simple, modern, fast, and easy-to-use experience. Social media has created a sense of urgency, displaying new information immediately as it’s created. Because of this, people have developed a need for speed. When they have a question or an issue, they don’t want to call and wait anymore. They simply want to be able to go to the site and find exactly what they’re looking for with ease. And the way companies design their self-help site—from its visual components, to its organization, to the language choice, to the content —influences the ease in which customers can resolve their questions and issues on their own.

And, if you can provide easy and convenient self-service experiences, your customers will be happier—buying more and returning more. The key to designing an experience like this is making it so the user doesn’t notice the design, just the successful result. To do this, let’s look into some best practices for designing clean and convenient self-service for your user experiences:

Understand Your User

The first step in beginning to bring your self-service design to life is understanding your user. This means discovering their biggest challenges, and therefore, their biggest needs. To do this, we recommend:

  • Create and understand buyer personas. Clearly defining who your exact audience is will be the best way to shape a well-rounded image of what they need from your service.
  • Review contact drivers.
  • Study through email and call transcripts.
  • Speak with some front-line customer service agents. Find out the most relevant and pressing information from the people dealing with it most.
  • Review complaint data, product adoption trends, patterns, and feedback.
  • Talk to product managers and subject matter experts to fully understand how and why specific products are being created the way they are.
Understand your user self-service

This may not seem completely related to the design of your site, but it is a crucial first step. Understanding exactly what your customer needs is how you learn to serve them best. And, looking at your existing customers and customer interactions is how you do so.

Make It Easy To Navigate & Search

Both navigation and search are important to the success of your self-service design. Sometimes sites only offer search, while others only offer navigation, and in either case, this reduces the effectiveness of the experience. For users to be the most successful, you need both. And, regardless of the user's preference, they should both work well and provide toward a resolution.

Navigation Experience

When designing your navigational experience, the first thing to consider is your informational hierarchy. What is most important and needs to be displayed and accessed first? If your company has a lot of products, make sure that they are well organized into product hierarchies. Bringing all of your content into one place, organizing by audience, topic, and product is a great way to provide clarity and help you users understand where to navigate.

One of the most important factors to focus on when designing navigational experiences is making sure that your content is easy to find. Because, if they can’t find it, they will not be able to use it. And who wants to put all of this work into creating beautiful self-service that no one uses?

To make your content and resources easy to find, focus on accessibility first. Remember the information you discovered in the step above, and keep it in mind when deciding what is most relevant and valuable, and therefore, present it with priority. So how do you actually make your content and navigational experiences the most accessible?

  • Start with your most common topics and display them in easy-access places, like on the home page, with one-click access.
  • Use product images to help users identify their products and use iconography for processes.
  • Make sure that none of your journeys lead to a dead end. Instead they should provide ample resources for resolution and contact options.
  • Include a bread crumb trail that leads users back to a general starting point in case they get lost or are just looking to explore more.
  • Combine information from multiple sources into one convenient access point, saving customers the effort of having to check multiple places.
  • Consider your information hierarchy. What’s most important and relevant for your customers to find fast? For example, if there is a product malfunction, display the contextually relevant alerts in a place that is easy to find.
  • Use clear calls-to-action like read more, contact-us, download software, etc.  
  • Don’t forget the power of an integrated search bar (which we’ll get into more in just a moment). If your search tool can bring together a large database of information for your users, then you should make sure they are aware of this awesome tool! Make it easy to find and available on every help page.
  • Centralize all of your contact options in one place. Don’t make your users search all over for an email vs. phone number vs. chatbox. Put them all together and provide information on which is available and when.
  • Don’t be shy. Your help-center is crucial to your business. Don’t hide it in small print in the footer of your website. Advertise it in the main header of your homepage. Boost that awareness and let your audience know that educational resources and help are just a click away.

Search Experience

Search experience is crucial. To help users be successful with search, consider including some, or all, of these features:

  • Auto-suggesting results
  • Auto suggesting topics, products, or processes based on user keywords
  • Allow search by model number or product name
  • Results organized by category or content type
  • Pre-filter search option
  • Predictive measures like frequent searches

Once you’ve led your users to the search results, make it easy to see the most relevant content.

Flow search experience self-service

Present Most Relevant Content

Whether people search or navigate, always present relevant, accurate, and refined results. When someone lands on hundreds of possible solutions that they have to page through, just because they matched the keyword, they will not be helped in finding what they need. This only induces anxiety and prompts people to either choose contacting your support team or giving up altogether. To avoid this, present the most relevant content at the top of the result page and give users different ways to further refine the result set.

While less is more, it is still helpful to suggest any related content your users may find valuable. The most relevant information should be displayed first, but don’t shy away from presenting additional content. Keep in mind that many people go to help-centers not just to search for an issue or answer, but to learn and discover new educational material.

Flow present content

Use Clear & Simple Language

We’re starting to notice a trend here—clarity is key. This goes with not just your user interfaces, but the language you choose as well.

Use warm, inviting copy and clear calls-to-action from headers, to product names, to informative descriptions, to educational guides, to content categories—your language should be easy for anyone to comprehend. Remember that your customers do not always have the same knowledge as those who are creating these resources, and therefore, you should not make any assumptions in terminology. Try to avoid complicated business language and jargon, ensuring that your information is accessible to everyone.

Guide Users Where They Need To Be Next

The wonderful thing about self-service is how you can use its intuitive design to guide your users exactly where you want them to be. Ideally, customers come to the help center and they find the information they need easily and conveniently. But it is also important to make it very easy to reach out to get additional help.

Which means that another place you should be guiding users is to your “contact us” area. And rather than presenting all possible contact options, provide a custom-tailored recommendation for the best mode of contact for a customer's specific problem and collect all the needed information to resolve the questions at first contact.

Make It Visually Appealing

Remember that User Interface (UI) does not equal User Experience (EX). A lot of sites are too focused on making things look good, rather than function excellently for the user. While UI is an important factor in your user experience, you must keep in mind that it is not the only factor.

Speaking of UI, let’s talk about visual design for a moment. While it may not be the only important factor in your site design, it is still a crucial one.

Using visual design to your advantage and making it one of your top priorities can set you apart from competitors and aid your customer’s journey. There is a lot at play when considering visual design, so let’s go over some key points to keep in mind:

  • Use white space to your advantage. Creating contrast in any form on your site is an easy way to lead your user’s eyes where they need to be.
  • Design for legibility first. Bold colors or cool fonts can be fun, but not always useful or easy on the user. Always stick to designs that are the simplest to read and maneuver, easing any possible difficulties or confusion.
  • Utilize clean and crisp content categories. When your users come to narrow down their specific question or issue, they want to quickly find the category they need. Display topics in easy-to-read categories, leveraging images when appropriate to provide more clarity.
  • Speaking of images, utilize rich media as much as possible. These can be photographs, illustrations, videos, screenshots, etc. Showing rather than telling your information can make things much easier for the user. You can do this by showing images of a certain device or providing screenshots of different processes in your guides in order to provide information as clearly as possible.
  • Use interactive content: infographics, videos, polls and surveys, assessments, e-books and white papers, order calculators, etc. Tools like these allow you to lead your users where you want them to be while providing engaging and educating content. Not to mention, they also can produce more in-depth measures on engagement rates, allowing you to better locate more areas to improve on.

A great example of a company with a visually appealing help-center is Facebook. What makes it so appealing is that it seamlessly matches the visual design of actually using Facebook:

Facebook help center self-service

Personalize The Experience & Extend Reachability

Experiences should be personalized based on your user’s objectives. These personalizations can be utilized in many different ways and can correspond to nearly anything: help-center organization, product pages, pre-sale information, FAQs, contact us, post-sale resources, troubleshooting, categorized articles by product, and more. These can all be designed based on the context of different user needs, providing your customers with specific journeys depending on what they are searching for. You can also personalize further based on who your user is, where they are located, and what products they own.

Reachability can mean a lot of things, and it can become tricky to achieve. You must consider the unique and different needs of all of your users (remember the “Understand Your User Experience” step) and accurately cater to each of them. Some things to keep in mind while doing so:

  • Consider localization upfront, including geographical and cultural differences, along with multilingual needs.
  • Consider the different access levels of those using your service (i.e. internal users, partners, etc.)
  • Speak to people of all different experience levels. Don’t just create content for beginning customers, but still consider relevant resources for advanced users.

Make Sure It’s Scannable

This seems like a fairly simple point to make but is actually quite an important one. As we’ve discovered, users are looking for quick and easy-to-consume experiences. In a lot of cases, this means people are looking to quickly scan your site or content for an instant answer. To make your site scannable, stick to the visual practices we mentioned above and follow standard familiar-looking interface practices that users can recognize fast. This can include:

  • Dropdown menu for easy navigation
  • Objects, like a cart or search icon, in the top right or top left-hand corner (not some obscure and hard-to-find place)
  • Standard URLs (blue underlined) that can be recognized quickly
  • Any data and statistics placed in numeral form
  • Maintained consistency in any chosen elements

Don’t Forget Mobile Experience

Today, the majority of people want the ability to access any site right from their mobile device. Especially if they are seeking help to a pressing issue, they want to be able to quickly resolve it on-the-go. It is vital that your site is accessible and convenient to use on mobile devices. Make sure that any design aspects smoothly transfer over and that your navigational experiences do not malfunction.

Keep Your Brand

It is important not to forget about your brand. When designing your self-service experiences, remember what your company values and how you want to be seen. Keep your brand upfront and speak to it throughout all of your design choices. Set the tone for it on your home page or help-center, allowing users to identify with your company as they are reaching for support. Fitbit does an excellent job maintaining their health and wellness message by starting their help center off with “Get the skinny on your Fitbit device.”

Fitbit brand help center self-service

Humanize The Service Team

This is another important step that is often overlooked. Many times when contacting support, people get the feeling that they are speaking with an automated bot and not receiving the personal attention they seek. An easy way to avoid this is by adding portrait photographs of your service team and their names with your contact us information. This helps remind users that they are in fact contacting real people and that these service representatives are taking time to treat them with individual care. For reference, check out Classy’s “Meet The Support Team” page below:

Classy service team photos self-service

What’s Next?

Your overall self-service design plays a critical role in the success it will bring to your company and customers. There’s a lot that goes into designing a successful self-service experience, but the outcome brings substantial results. For some design inspiration, learn about how the top companies have designed their powerful self-service programs and how color psychology plays a role in your branding and site design.

Gianna Spitaliere
I love exploring, writing about, and building knowledge on different ways to make businesses and customers more successful all around. I have been with ServiceTarget for less than a year, but have been thrilled to expand my writing into customer self-service.

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