The way to improve web support is to develop an evidence-based continuous improvement model that measures success based on completion rates of top tasks.
A report from the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), "paints a disturbing picture of self-service in 2011: successful visits to self-service are continually trending downward, customers have all but abandoned online knowledge bases, and employees are growing more dissatisfied with knowledge tools in place."
According to the report, "self-service success is in a downward spiral...self-service efforts are severely underfunded compared to other channels." The report goes on to state that "The challenge is not to convince more customers to try self-service; the real challenge is to answer their questions once they are there, instead of sending 71% of self-service customers to another channel for support."
The TSIA report states that "as products become more complex, support incidents represent more complex issues, which are harder to resolve. Self-service, which was originally thought of as an avenue for simple, repetitive problems, is often not sophisticated enough to help solve more complex issues." That is true. However, there are still a great many relatively simple support tasks that self-service can help resolve.
Many support websites fail at helping customers solve simple support tasks due to the cult of technology that pervades so many support organizations. "One of the most frequent complaints from TSIA members is that their existing knowledge platform is outdated," the report states. Knowledge bases, knowledge management and knowledge platforms have always been a giant joke. They are essentially glorified landfills for landfills are vast quantities of extremely low grade toxic data. Staff and customers have always hated these so-called knowledge management solutions because they have always been technology-driven.
It is extremely sad and dispiriting that in 2011, organizations are still chasing the technology magic bullet. Support websites do not need more technology. They need more actual, real management. They need relentless testing. They need a focus on the basics and it doesn't get more basic than creating clear menus and links.
Unfortunately, the report proposes creating multiple navigation paths to content. In our testing there is no greater contributor to task failure than webpages that offer multiple navigation paths. "Many companies only offer a single path to content, alienating customers who prefer alternate approaches." What about Google? Do airlines or hotels offer different booking processes depending on what age or experience level you are? A single, well designed search interface or a single, well designed booking process is vastly better than the multiple path navigation nightmares that many support websites throw up.
For web support to improve it needs to focus on people. The people who run web support need to be service professionals, not technologists or content professionals. They need to be measured based on whether customers can quickly complete top support tasks. The day to day activities of these service professionals should be focused on continuously improving top tasks based on a rigorous testing and observation of actual customer behavior. We don't need new technology. What we do need is a new model of management: top task management.