Better content results in fewer calls because users find the information before picking up the phone. You can evaluate the cost of producing and distributing technical content against the cost of providing technical support. For large organizations, which may receive thousands or tens of thousands of technical support calls per day, reducing calls by just one or two percentage points results in huge cost savings.
If you are considering a strategy based on call deflection, consider how a typical user attempts to solve a technical problem. Typically, they will:
- Ask a friend
- Use Google
- Call technical support
You have two opportunities to interrupt this process; the first one is when the user asks a friend. If the friend has the relevant knowledge, the user gets the needed information. Mark Baker writes in “Why documentation analytics may mislead”:1
Much of the information that originates from your manual, then, may reach the user not through their direct reading of that manual, but via a network of mavens.
Baker goes on to explain that raw web site hits are less important than reaching the right people. In a group of 50 people, there might be one or two mavens. Mavens will disseminate information to the other 48 people. Thus, ensuring that the product mavens have the information that they need will potentially provide “ask a friend” support to the group that relies on those mavens.
There are a variety of ways to cultivate and support mavens. The company might provide:
- Early product access (beta testers)
- Premium technical support (mavens might be permitted to skip past level 1 support and go directly to more experienced agents)
- Discussion forums
- Recognition as a product expert (examples of this include the Microsoft MVP and Adobe Community Expert programs)
- Product updates with links to useful resources
The better the information that the mavens have, the more information they can provide to their network.
The second pillar of support is Internet search, especially Google search. Unless there is a compelling reason not to do so, technical content should be available on the Internet. Otherwise, when users search the Internet (and they will), your content will not show up. Examples of “compelling reasons” include the following:
- The information is classified (secret government information).
- The information is export-controlled or sensitive (information about encryption protocols or maintenance instructions for a nuclear power plant).
The argument that technical content contains proprietary competitive information must be balanced against the following issues:
- Competitors will find a way to get the information, perhaps by simply buying the product.
- Requiring user authentication to see the information greatly cuts down on the number of customers who will look at the information.
- What is the cost of not making the information available via search? How many people will not log in to the corporate site to find the information, and will instead contact technical support?
If you cannot bring yourself to publish the content where Google and other search engines will find it, you should still publish on a private web site and provide access credentials as appropriate to your customers. At that point, the responsibility for providing an excellent search experience shifts to your web site manager.