Best Practices for Support Web Site Design
Well-designed support web sites encourage customers to invest their time to explore and discover the information they need.
Elements of Effective Web Support Design
The primary objective of a support web site is to help customers find the information and resources they need quickly and intuitively. Page layout, navigational aids and clear and aesthetically pleasing presentation of content encourages customers to invest their time to explore and discover the information they need. Well-designed support web sites offer the proper balance of form and function to engage visitors, encourage repeat use, and ensure that each self-service transaction is successful.
Site design elements include:
- Look and Feel
Look & Feel
The look and feel of the support web site are critical, as it sets the tone and first impression for customers and others that visit the site. Typical support web site users are looking for information to help them complete a task, solve a problem, or answer a question. They are usually in a hurry and are more likely to scan and skim pages, rather than read them in full. Sites that have a good look and feel are much more likely to grab and keep the attention of visitors, by providing a clear and intuitive path to the content they are looking for.
Convenience represents the ease by which common resources and frequently requested content are easy to identify, access and use. Design elements focused on convenience may include the options offered within a menu, lists of frequently requested information, or other visual aides to suggest how a customer can find what they need (e.g. search, browse lists, images, etc.).
When customers struggle to find the resources they are looking for, or visual cues to suggest an approach to find what they need, they are more likely to give up on the attempt to help themselves and request assisted support, or worse, go away dissatisfied and still in need of assistance.
While convenience provides the visual cues to help visitors determine what they may need, navigation provides the path to a successful self-service transaction. Navigation takes many forms including menus, lists for browsing, and the option to search. Once a visitor embarks on a journey to find the information they need, well-designed sites will offer intuitive navigational aids to help the customer determine the next logical course of action.
Best Practices for Support Web Site Design
ServiceXRG presents the following best practices for support web site design.
- Audience Aware – Basic web support site design requires that the site is optimized to meet the needs of the typical Advanced design features such as personalization are used to offer tailored experiences to user types that fall outside of the definition of typical.
- Clearly Defined Transactions Supported – No site can be all things to all people so the site design must set clear expectations about what types of service transactions can be performed. Transaction types that are not supported must also be identified with alternative service options suggested.
- Start Pages – Start Pages provide clearly defined entry points into the site’s resources. Start pages most often include the home page but may also include alternative entry points into the site (e.g. links from product pages). Start pages must clearly identify the transactions a customer can perform.
- Alternative Navigation Paths – Sites with a minimum of two navigation options – search and browse – provide the greatest flexibility to help visitors find the information and resources they need. Additional navigation options such as expert systems/decisions trees, automated diagnostic tools, chat bots, and personal profiles add even greater flexibility.
- Navigation Aids – The use of descriptions and tips significantly help users to determine the best path to the desired destination. Navigational aids include balloon texts to describe menu choices, display of sub-menu options, page position indication or breadcrumbs to highlight where a visor is within the site, search tips enhance site navigation.
- Destination Pages – Destination pages clearly indicate that the user has reached the end of a navigation path. A destination may include a form used to request support or repair service or execute a commerce transaction; a search results list; a specific page of information; a discussion thread, or option to escalate to assisted support, etc.
- Feedback – Optimal support web site design provides the means to collect feedback about visitor interactions. Feedback may include automatic tracking of a session click streams and/or recording of specific page views. Feedback may also include user provided input such as document or author rating, and comments specific to the document’s usefulness.
- Escalation Paths – Alternative service options are provided during the navigation and at each destination page to suggest other methods customers can use to request assistance including click-to-talk or chat, e-mail and phone access methods (don’t hide your phone number).
- Contemporary and Aesthetic – Make sure that the look and feel of the site reflects an up-to-date design and reflects the overall image of the company.
- Set the Tone – Use the site design to reflect the commitment to service and the quality of the company brand.
- Service Types – Define the specific service transactions supported by the services web site. Customers should know if they can accomplish a specific task and not have to waste time only to find they cannot. Consider the following transaction types:
- Troubleshooting – Access to tools, resources, and expertise to identify and resolve questions and issues with a product.
- Repair – Request repair services, order a part, find an authorized repair facility, or check the status of a repair request.
- Updates – Get access to the latest software updates.
- Learn How to Use Products – Discover tips, videos, training, techniques, and other helpful resources to use products more effectively.
- Get Help – Request assistance from experts including contact information and hours, entitlement requirements, and even links to provide immediate assistance through chat, click to call, etc.
Entry Points – Define the entry points/start pages for the site. Determine what if any additional pages will be used to start a service transaction, including links from other parts of the company web site. Consider the following entry points:
- Services Home Page – Primary support page.
- Intelligent Recommendation – A page or list of relevant articles presented based on customer entry of date (e.g. entering data to open an online case) or in response to a chatbot interaction.
- Product Specific – Product specific support page linked from product marketing pages.
- Promotion – Start Page tied to a specific outbound campaign that references support or service.
- Search – Provide robust search capabilities with access to all service content sources including technical bulletins, downloads, manuals, social content, etc. Consider the following search capabilities:
- Structured vs. Free Form – Search should support structured (fielded search) and free form words and phrase searches (e.g. natural language queries).
- Search – Search bar should be clearly visible and of sufficient size to encourage appropriate user input (e.g. if you want the user to enter a lot of words provide more space).
- Examples – Provide sample searches to suggest the best way to structure a search request. Provide a link to additional instructions about how to construct an effective search.
- Menus – Provide menu options that clearly describe the options available to visitors. Consider the following menu design elements:
- Terminology – Use terms that are most likely to be recognized and understood by the intended audience. Consider using terms that express a customer intent or desired outcome (e.g. ask a question, download new software, etc.).
- Sub-Menus – Present sub-menu options as top-level choices are selected.
- Menu Descriptions – Present descriptions about each menu choice.
- Breadcrumbs – Provide visual indication of where the visitor is in relation to their starting point.
- Home – Provide a one-click option to navigate back to the services home page.
- Browse – Provide site visitors with the option to browse available resources. In all cases the “browse list” presented should reflect the start page and/or navigation path the customer is on. Consider the following browse capabilities:
- Popularity – Provide a list of relevant “top 10” most requested articles that can be browsed and opened.
- Transaction Type – Present a list and/or menu of service transactions that can be performed.
- Topic – Provide a list of topics that can be browsed. Topics should be relevant to the product or start page the customer begins their web session.
- Product – Provide a list of products and/or models that can be browsed.
- Analyze Customer Behaviors – Evaluate customer navigation and use of the support web pages. Track where customers enter the site, where they exit, how many steps it takes to get to specific pages and the time spent on specific pages and or navigation paths. Take corrective action to address navigation issues (e.g. too many clicks to get to an answer).
The digital transformation of support is defined by an increased use of digital technologies to improve and extend core support processes and enable new service capabilities. Self-help tools and content provided through the web are fundamental to support’s successful digital transformation. This Playbook outlines the five elements of well-designed support web sites.
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