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Analysis of an Effective Help Page

The video-sharing web site Vimeo is an extremely well designed web site. Just from looking at and exploring the web site, you can tell the designers spent a lot of time thinking about how it would work and how users would interact with it. As you’d expect from such a web site, Vimeo’s help section is also extremely well designed. It’s well thought out, personable, and effective.

So, let’s look at in detail.

Vimeo Help Page

This is screenshot number one (I’ve added the numbers in red to make it easy to reference). You can click on it to see a larger version and of course you can visit the actual help site here. The first half of Vimeo’s help page does quite a few things right:

1) An informal heading (Help is on the way!) is clearly visible and is consistent with the page’s and site’s overall tone. They aren’t a particularly formal company and the help page reflects that. With that in mind, if your company is particularly formal, your help page should reflect that as well. Your help page should be consistent with the rest of your brand and web site.

2) The “Vimeo FAQs” neatly describes and presents links to a few important help areas: the basics, compression FAQs, general FAQs, etc. I’m assuming Vimeo has an idea about the most commonly asked questions and decided to include them on the Vimeo FAQs section right at the top of the page.

3) Introducing customer support people (or people that serve a similar role – Vimeo calls them Community Directors) with their picture and contact information is a clever idea. Bigger companies could take this approach and modify it slightly or choose to go a similar route. You might want to have the profiles of various staff members appear randomly or just choose to list the head of customer service. The first listed contact, Dalas Verdugo, has his email listed as “help@vimeo.com,” which is probably more effective than having his personal email listed there. Both Dalas and Blake (his picture and bio is outside of the screenshot) have friendly bios about them as well as their contact information listed on the left hand side (email and AIM addresses).

4) Since Vimeo is a video company, they decided to use video tutorials. Consistent with the brand, the tutorials are informal, but informative. The titles explain what the videos are about, so no description is really necessary.

5) Using what I think is a Vimeo feature, users can easily scroll through different help videos and choose one they’d like to watch. If you click play, the respective tutorial plays right in the box.

Screenshot number two shows the bottom part of the page. Again, I’ve added numbers to make it easy to reference and you can click the image to see a larger version.

Vimeo2 Sm

6 and 7) Vimeo has decided to explain and highlight new features using video tutorials as well as provide additional guides outside of the getting started category. The extra videos help to make the section more comprehensive. Bigger companies or sections looking to get more in depth will probably have to have more videos or more guides, but that is easy enough to do. A search box could be added at the top of the page to make navigating larger help databases easier as well.

8. The company has a community forum where users can post suggestions, report bugs, talk about cameras, discuss projects, etc. The forum and its categories are linked to from the help page. (Linking to community forums on help pages is common, but linking to individual categories are a nice touch that will probably engage more users.)

9) And finally, the company links to some helpful resources ranging from help documentation from other companies to programs that users can use to get the most out of their Vimeo and video experience.

Vimeo’s help section isn’t complicated at all; I would say that most competent designers could come up with something similar in a fairly short amount of time. However, Vimeo thought out of the box and beyond the normal template for boring help pages and their hard work paid off. I’m sure other companies have done similar things, but I think Vimeo did a particularly good job. Their help page is clean, efficient, and effective. And if it’s helping users (which I think it is), then it’s definitely doing its job.

What other companies or web sites have great help pages or help sections?

Edit: For more, check out this interview with Dalas Verdugo, Community Director at Vimeo.

Book Review: Delivering and Measuring Customer Service

Another book I recently finished reading was Delivering and Measuring Customer Service by Richard D. Hanks. The book focuses on two key aspects of customer service: actually delivering it and then getting real-time feedback that you can use to improve upon it. The book is relatively sparse on details about the delivering aspect and focuses much more intently on the importance of and the best practices for measuring customer service.

Author Richard Hanks told me he decided to write the book because he was frustrated with a lack of hands on, practical books that addressed the topic of how to measure customer service. There were plenty of long, relatively boring “academic” type books on the subject, but he noticed a serious lack of “here’s how you do it” books. Thinking Delivering and Measuring Customer Service could help fill that gap, Richard worked on writing down and summarizing what he learned from his work at Marriott Hotels, PepsiCo, and most recently, his survey company Mindshare. His perspective is a unique one that makes for an informative book that is also an interesting read.

Delivering and Measuring Customer Service talks a lot about the importance of real time feedback and subsequently, the importance of mastering “the boring, everyday.” As Richard explained to me, if you run a hotel that’s located in an exquisite location, provides great customer service, and has wonderful food, you’d think your customers are going to be pretty happy. They should be, but if you don’t master the “boring, everyday” things like having clean bathrooms or ensuring the light bulbs in the room work after each guess, customers are going to be frustrated. If the bathroom in the room is dirty, the customer isn’t going to leave happy, no matter how good the rest of the experience is.

The actual book, which is about 200 pages of pretty easy reading, is divided into seven primary sections: General Overview, Cultural Catalysts of Service, Gathering Customer Experience Feedback, Analyzing the Results, Using Customer Feedback to Improve, Customer Service Recovery and Follow-up, and finally, Tips and Tricks. Each section contains a few sub-sections that delve into specific areas. They’re generally well presented, well organized, and informative.

Perhaps most importantly for this type of book, Delivering and Measuring Customer Service gives plenty of good tips that managers can act on right away. I read the book with a highlighter in hand and found myself highlighting something that I thought was interesting or insightful once every few pages. Like most of customer service, a lot of the advice is common sense, but a vast majority of customer service managers will be able to get something useful from this book, particularly with the book’s focus on measuring customer service. Very few customer service books spend so much time on the importance of and how to measure customer service.

According to Richard, great customer service and at the very least, mastery of the “boring” stuff stems from the repetition of consistency and dependability. To be a great customer service organization, you need to be able to provide great service all the time. Customers then start to expect great customer service and a standard is created. The ability to keep up with that standard is what sets the mediocre companies apart from the exceptional companies.

Bottomline: Delivering and Measuring Customer Service is a great book for those interested in the subject the name implies. It’s an easy and entertaining ready that is full of useful advice, guides, and information that customer service or business managers can take back to their teams and start acting on right away.

Pros: Easy to read with clever cartoons scattered throughout book, more than enough useful insight and advice to justify the price and time

Cons: The book tends to only touch (as opposed to explain in detail) many areas and also happens to jumps around. The lack of detail is both expected and acceptable given the book’s broad subject area and the jumping around isn’t noticeable or important to those reading the book for its content, as opposed to its literary merit (which is how most business books should be read).

Interested? You can buy the book on Amazon.com for about $20.

Topgrading for Customer Service

I recently finished reading Topgrading for Sales, an extremely short (50 pages of text, 50 page appendix) book that talks about how to apply the principles outlined in the book’s much bigger (592 page) brother, Topgrading, specifically to sales positions.

Topgrading is a well-respected hiring technique that has is used at companies like GE and Microsoft. Companies that use Topgrading use it to determine who is an “A player” versus who is a B or a C player. The idea is that a team of 90% A players will be infinitely more productive and successful than a team comprised of mostly B and C players. The practice, which calls for multiple extremely in-depth interviews, is a sound one that has been successful for a lot of companies.

Topgrading for Sales is a good book that’s literally filled with action items and useful advice, but as I was reading it, I was trying to think of ways I could apply the practices outlined for hiring sales representatives to the hiring of customer service representatives. As I was drinking the metaphorical Topgrading Kool-Aid, I thought about some of the ways various companies go about hiring customer service representatives.

Through my conversations with various customer service executives, I’ve heard about both extremes and everything in between when it comes to hiring. Some companies do one half hour interview and call it a day, while others have multiple days of in-depth three and four interviews. As one would hope, the latter, while thoroughly exhausting, tends to be more effective.

After a bit of research, I found an article by Mike Faith, the CEO of Headsets.com (which I’ve written about multiple times), explaining how his company uses the Topgrading approach when interviewing, hiring, and evaluating customer service representatives. The article was interesting (and complemented the book nicely), but I still found myself looking for a details about how to apply Topgrading to customer service.

I’ve since ordered the full size edition of Topgrading (wish me luck as I read through it!) and will post an in-depth review when I finish it. I’m hoping a more in-depth knowledge of Topgrading will give me more insight about how to apply it specifically to customer service hires.

In the mean time, if you have or do use it, what has your experience been like with Topgrading? What about the broader task of hiring customer service representatives? I’m sending a couple of emails to a few HR and customer service executives I know and will report back with their thoughts as well.

When explaining an outage, give details.

When a customer calls reporting or complaining about an outage, service interruption, or anything similar, my advice to customer service representatives is simple: give lots of details. From my experience, the more details the customers get, the better.

Customers like to hear what’s going on – even if it’s bad news. They would much rather hear honest updates than the stock response of “we have no additional information” or the even worse stock response of “we’re investigating.”

They really like to hear what you’re doing to fix the problem, too.If you can tell a particular customer three or four things that have been done in the last 15 or 20 minutes to help resolve the problem, they’ll appreciate it. Of course, you also need to keep employees in the loop in order for customers to be kept in the loop.

While you tell the customer about these updates, you want to tell them that an end is in sight (hopefully you know the general timeline of when a fix will happen) and that you apologize for the inconvenience. If possible, back that apology up with something like a service credit.

Studies have shown that customers who experience an outage or some sort of negative experience that is well handled by the company actually end up more loyal than before. In other words, if you mess up (which everyone inevitably does) and handle it well, it won’t hurt you. In fact, it could actually make the affected customers even more loyal.

One of my favorite quotes is “the road to success is paved with well handled mistakes” (see this post for more). How you handle your mistakes is just as (if not more) important as working towards not making them in the first place.

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Basing Employee Success on “Love Letters”

Ist2 1122296 Antique Love Letter
It is not uncommon for companies to decide what sort of bonus a customer service employee should get, whether they should get a promotion, or how well a customer service employee is doing based on the number of “love letters” received.

While I’m sure human resources uses a different term, the basic premise is the same: companies often value the number of specific positive remarks an employee gets from customers.

And they value it for good reason: when a customer goes out of his or her way to specifically acknowledge an employee in writing, it shows a lot about the customer service provided.

Using love letters to partially determine success of customer service employees is important because receiving positive letters is such a big deal. Even great customer service providers at great companies known for their customer service will not receive that many letters from customers about employees; customers don’t usually take the time to write. (Taking the time to write means a specific letter providing feedback that the company did not ask for – not a positive survey response or a comment card.) The fact that most customers don’t take the time to write is fine because it’s all relative.

If the average at your company is 1 letter for every 5 employees every month (thus 0.2 letters per employee per month) and one particular employee has received two letters in the last month (10 times the average!), that employee is obviously doing something right and deserves to be recognized.

Recognition for letters received should be both private and public:

  • The letter should be posted (and people told about it being posted). 
  • The employee should have a one-on-one meeting with his or her supervisor to go over the particular experience (this way, the manager can learn about what the employee did that made him or her so successful).
  • The employee should receive a small bonus or similar recognition (maybe a gift certificate for dinner). The item doesn’t have to have a significant value – anything is better than nothing and the employee will surely appreciate it.
  • Many companies ask their best performing employees to host mini-training seminars and/or work with the actual trainers to develop a curriculum that teaches employees the best practices they need to know for providing great customer service. This is a great idea and works across most departments, companies, and industries.

The most important factor is to make receiving love letters a big deal. While they shouldn’t be the only measure of an employee’s success, lover letters should be at least one measure and they  should most certainly matter.

Utilizing Off-call Time

A majority of call centers try to eliminate what’s often referred to as off-call time. Off-call time is the amount of time that a call center employee has to be off the phones. In most call centers, it’s just a minute or two in between calls and a few breaks for representatives to stretch, eat, catch their breath, etc. (these are often required by law).

However, there are also call centers that make better use of off-call time. They don’t view it as an expense, but rather as an opportunity. Off-call time can be used to do a variety of things:


  • Training. Perhaps the most frequent and obvious use of off-call time is training. Taking representatives off the floor for an hour or two a week to do some training is usually a great investment. They’ll learn how to provide better service that will result in more resolutions in less time.
  • One-on-one reviews. Off-call time is also used to conduct one-on-one reviews with representatives. In these reviews, supervisors and the frontline representatives usually sit down and go over calls, talk about what the particular representative does well (and not so well), and then set goals for improvement. It’s a valuable time for both parties – supervisors can help a particular representative to improve and the representative can get feedback on what he or she is doing correctly and incorrectly.
  • More creative uses. Other companies use off-call time to do more creative things. One company I talked to uses the time to let call center employees observe or participate in the work of another department. For example, a call center representative might sit in on an engineering meeting and provide the engineering team with suggestions and insights. The call center representative might help marketing with a particular task or learn how to do something from quality assurance. There are some companies that assign secondary jobs (i. e. maintaining a board outlining some customer service metrics for the week) to normal call center representatives. The representatives use their off-call time to complete these projects.

Companies that realize off-call time can be productive are the same type of companies that realize that customer service is more than just a cost center. They realize that things like training, one-on-one reviews, and similar endeavors are worth it.

Allowing customer service representatives to take a break from the phones or the helpdesk to learn and improve is a great way to improve customer service and the customer service experience.

Alternate Contacts

Good CRM and account management systems allow customers to define alternate or authorized contacts. These people are pre-authorized to manage the account, ask questions, make changes, access records, etc. The benefit is that the process/feature allows more people than just the account holder to securely access and manage the account. Some systems even let the main account holder decide what the alternate contacts can and cannot do (i. e. they can only contact support, not change billing options).

In most companies, this is extremely useful. For example, in smaller companies, the “account holder” is often the owner of the company, but chances are that the owner is not involved with that particular account or service on a day-to-day basis. In bigger companies, the actual “account holder” is probably the company itself or maybe an executive within the company. Again, there is a need to have other people manage the account.

Companies that provide the option to have alternate contacts are not only saving their “actual” customers time and effort, but are also making their jobs slightly more difficult. With this system, the company has to impress more people than just the account holder. Depending on your current level of service, this can either be a blessing or a curse. If you provide great service, it’s an opportunity to show off to more people. If you provide terrible service, there are going to be even more people who will be disappointed.

If you allow your customers to assign alternate contacts, try to do these things:

  • Get in touch with the alternate contact directly. This way, you can explain procedures, answer questions, and help the alternate contact right from the beginning. You should send a welcome email to new alternate contacts in the same way that you send a similar email to new customers.
  • Clearly outline what can and cannot be done. Policies regarding what alternate contacts can and cannot do vary greatly from company to company. It is your responsibility to clearly articulate these to any new alternate contacts. That way, they know what to expect.
  • Treat them just like your customers. Just because the alternate contact is not paying the bill his or herself does not mean that he or she is a second class customer. In many cases, the alternate contact has just as much say in whether or not they will be renewing the service next year as the actual account holder. You never know who the alternate contacts are (it could be the company’s CEO), so be sure to treat all of them just like you treat all of your other customers (which is hopefully great).

Give the customer what they want.

A lot of companies design their customer service experiences around what they think the customer wants. However, companies rarely make an effort to find out what the customer actually wants. While the two (thinks and actually) are often quite similar, there are always going to be differences and disparities.

Surveying customers is a really powerful tool. And you can extend the definition of surveys beyond a formal “check the appropriate box” type survey. Even casual conversations with customers about what they want and expect from the customer service experience is better than just assuming what they want and expect. The goal is to get feedback and ideas, as well as to understand what your customers are thinking.

For example, some companies will kill themselves and try to get response times under 10 or hold time under 1 minute. These are goals that look nice in marketing material and on the resumes of customer service executives, but they may not always mean as much to your customers. It’s very possible that, after surveying, you find out your customers would much rather wait 20 minutes for a response or 5 minutes on hold and get a better initial response or have a call that is less rushed.

Examples like that are typical examples of company goals and customer goals not aligning because the company just isn’t in tune with what the customer wants. Showing an effort to reduce response times and reduce hold times is obviously an effort, but in many cases, that effort could probably be better placed elsewhere.

The reverse can always apply and the preference can always change. If you experience a service outage and customers feel your company didn’t communicate quickly enough, they might change their preference and start to prefer shorter response times instead of better initial responses. Constant surveying and constant conversations with customers will reveal what the preferences are.

And the most important part is to survey as much as you can (without annoying your customers, of course). Ask them about as much as the customer service experience as possible. You can never get too much feedback from your customers.

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