A few years ago in my first support role, I found myself on the phone with an irate customer. He worked in sales and used our product to call his prospects. Unfortunately, something had gone wrong and he couldn’t make a single outbound call. This issue with our product had put his entire day on hold. In his mind, I was the difference between making or missing the sales quota for the week.
Of course, I wanted to help. And yet I had no idea what had caused the problem or how to fix it. The last person a frustrated customer wants to encounter is a support representative who doesn’t seem to know what they’re doing.
I remember frantically searching through our internal wiki for info on getting our calling feature back online. There was too much information to sort through, and I began to lose steam, as well as confidence in my ability to fix the issue. At a loss to find the info myself, I put the customer on hold and reached out to a teammate in Slack.
The customer could sense that I was not an expert in this part of the platform and quickly lost trust in my expertise. Losing control over a situation is one of the worst feelings you can have as a support rep. Your own panic can serve to heighten a customer’s frustration.
Ultimately my co-worker walked me through the issue and we sorted things out with the customer. Nonetheless, I left the call feeling like a failure – I was worried that I’d given this customer a bad impression of our support team.
The Need for Support Documentation
Even at a great company with a terrific product line, technical support is tough work. This first customer support role was at one of the most well known and expansive SaaS companies in the country. The growth-minded culture of the company meant that the company and product was always expanding. Even the most successful support representatives during my time there would admit that no matter how hard you worked, you’d never have a working knowledge of more than 75% of the product at any given time.
The average number of support tickets on any given day reached well over 2k. A large portion of these tickets came from inbound phone calls, requiring fast response times and solutions. I quickly realized that not only was it essential to provide the best solutions possible, but it was equally important to access information quickly and deliver answers with confidence.
Our ever-changing product necessitated a single source of truth when it came to troubleshooting. We needed fast, easy access to well-documented info. So why were we struggling with both speed and accuracy?
The Downsides of Weak Support Documentation
As I ramped up in my role, I became increasingly frustrated with how our documentation was housed. I consistently ran into three major challenges, which seem to be common to support teams everywhere:
- Confusion over where to find the information I was looking for
- Difficulty and unreliability with search results
- Uncertainty about whether the information I found was up-to-date
Each time I bumped into one of these challenges, I grew more overwhelmed and disempowered. Despite the many positive interactions I had with customers, I felt like dead weight.
This took a toll not only on my interactions with customers, but also with my immediate coworkers. Because I couldn’t rely on our documentation, I was forced to turn to them for help more than any of us would have liked. If your employees feel disempowered because they can’t access the information they need, your customers, culture, and credibility will suffer.
The Upsides of Strong Support Documentation
Only now, looking back on this experience, do I understand the power of documentation. Strong, well-organized information can make or break your customer experience. And it has a dramatic impact on your team and culture as well.
Fast forward to today, and I’m managing Tettra’s support tickets and documentation. I’ve seen what it’s like to perform this job without the bedrock of an easily-accessible internal wiki, and it’s not pretty. Instead, I’m now in a unique position where I can create a wiki to help myself and those around me. Because our product and processes are well-documented and organized, I’m more sane, and our customers are happy.
5 Tips for Setting your Support team up for Success
Good support documentation is the bedrock of an efficient and delightful support team. Below are some key tips I’ve learned to better organize the info a support team needs. In implementing them, you’ll help your customers, as well as your team, be more successful.
1. Organize your wiki in a way that’s intuitive
You know your company’s structure better than anyone. As my friend and colleague Kristen likes to say, don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. Trust yourself!
This doesn’t mean you should set up your wiki without any forethought. Consider collaborating with department heads and individual contributors to get to know their team’s ecosystems. A wiki in its simplest and most effective form is a visible representation of how your team naturally functions.
There is no one right way to organize your wiki. One of the signs of a well-organized wiki is that your support team can identify where information is most likely located, even if it’s the first time they’ve encountered a particular issue.
2. Know your knowledge owners
All wikis should have a designated space for articulating DRIs, (or Directly Responsible Individuals). If I know Shauni is our DRI for Billing, I immediately have context for who to reach out to if I can’t find the right Billing information.
Having clarity about DRIs comes with a number of benefits. If our Billing documentation is lacking in a particular area, I can quickly suggest that Shauni update the a pre-existing page or write up a new one to keep this from happening again in the future. If this documentation does exist, notifying Shauni that I’m having a difficult time finding this info can help her point me in the right direction within a matter of minutes.
This sort of interaction not only helps me get the information I need quickly, but it also helps me know where to find the answer again in the future. It also helps Shauni organically understand if our documentation needs updating and keeps her from answering the same question again in the future. This frees up both of our time to get back to doing our jobs.
Your support team should always know who is responsible for what knowledge.
3. Make sure your documentation is always up to date
If you’re constantly writing documentation for your support team, it’s tough to keep track of which information is up to date and which is no longer relevant. Timestamps can be helpful, but they can only serve you so far when you’re housing both evergreen and ephemeral information in your wiki.
Evergreen info, for instance, might include your vacation policies or your reimbursement process. Ephemeral info, on the other hand includes topics like feature requests, project plans, or holiday scheduling. The evergreen category is rarely updated, whereas the ephemeral one might change weekly if not more often.
Try to find a service that reduces your team’s mental overhead. Make it easy to check that your documentation is up-to date. There are two ways you can do this:
Look for a wiki that allows you to comment and make suggestions on pages so information can be updated organically. As my good friend Samwise Gamgee says, ‘share the load’! You don’t have to devote as much time to keeping track of the pages you own if your support team is constantly referencing them based on customer interactions.
Additionally, use a service that automates this process of keeping things up to date. At Tettra, we make frequent use of our own Tettrabot feature. This bot notifies us if a page hasn’t been updated or referenced after 3 months and makes suggestions accordingly. It helps us archive information that’s no longer relevant and update pages that could use a little bit of TLC.
4. Create an FAQ that also serves as a directory
This is an item you can take immediate action on. Your support team knows the quirks and nooks and crannies of your product better than anyone. Why, you might be asking? Because their jobs ensure that they’re constantly saturated with customer feedback.
A simple way to help serve your support team is to create a readily-accessible page within your support docs that deals with FAQs. Don’t worry about documenting exactly how to troubleshoot specific issues within this overview. Instead, use this FAQ as a directory by internally linking each FAQ to a separate sub-page that details best courses of action.
Your FAQ should serve as a way to answer high-level questions quickly, but should also serve as a Table of Contents that functions as a bridge to your more in-depth troubleshooting docs. A well-organized FAQ page gives you multiple paths to finding the answer you need. Though I find the Tettra search function to be very reliable, our FAQ page helps mitigate any search issues I might run into.
And as always: use customer feedback when you’re creating an FAQ page! They’re your most valuable form of insight into common stumbling blocks
5. Keep your knowledge in one central location
Let your wiki be your catch-all. Even if you use multiple other tools, make sure the wiki is your hub for everything. It should be the single source of truth…not just for the right answer but also for where to go for the right answer. Unify all of your tools under your knowledge management system. One of Tettra’s customers, GrandPad, does a great job of this. Check out our interview with one of the team’s cofounders, Isaac Lien, about how GrandPad consolidated their resources into a single source of truth for the entire company.
When in doubt, write it down! It can be really helpful to have a wiki tool that integrates with your other project management or communication tools, but at the end of the day, your wiki should be the primary location for all your internal content.
If your support team feels like everything they need to know can be found (or should be found) in your wiki, it enables them to dig deep when searching for solutions and empowers them to ask for help when necessary without fear.
A Well-Documented Support Team is a Happy Support Team
Since Support representatives are often the link between your team and your customers, they need to feel equipped with the best information. Having the right info on-hand helps them come across as knowledgeable and friendly, facilitating the kind of interactions that set customer-focused companies apart from the rest. Good documentation practices are the best way to support those who are supporting others.
The impact of creating a well-organized wiki for your support team goes well beyond solving customer inquiries in a fast-paced environment. A wiki in it’s best form gives confidence to your support representatives and can make all the difference in allowing your customers to feel like they’re in good hands.