Recently I’ve been struck by the number of web customer service companies convinced of just how much customers enjoy talking to companies:
“The key to live chat is that it makes people happy on both side of the screen. Customers find it highly satisfying because it’s quick, efficient, and personal.” (Olark on
“Your customers want to be able to reach you whenever they encounter a problem.” (
“We encourage businesses to talk to their customers. It’s how you grow a business; it’s how you keep customers happy, loyal, and evangelical about your product.” (
Reading the above, you’d think customers love talking to companies! But that’s a long way from reality for most customers. Customers don’t go online to talk to companies. They go online to get things done. Talking to companies is what happens when customers can’t get done whatever brought them to a website in the first place. Customers are not happy when we make them talk to companies to resolve their problems.
Obviously every web customer service company wants to win the “conversation war” and emerge as the leading facilitator of company conversations with customers. But we must remember that as CRM companies, that is our goal, not the goal of website users. It only reluctantly becomes their goal when something goes wrong.
I put a comment to this effect beneath a recent blog post by Intercom, to which I received a reply that started: “Our goal certainly isn’t to reduce conversations.” Well, Intercom is in the conversation business, so I understand that. But I guarantee that “having conversations with a company” is not the goal of website users. For their sake, we should all want to reduce conversations. Fewer conversations mean fewer things went wrong, fewer people were confused or frustrated, and fewer people needed help.
Groove seems to get this: “When a customer wants to get help or ask you a question, they’re already having a less-than-perfect experience. Don’t make it any worse by forcing them to work to figure out how to get in touch.” (Groove blog, 3/24/2015)
At AnswerDash, we take this notion even further: Don’t just make it easy to get in touch. Don’t require that customers get in touch in the first place. Instead, empower them to help themselves quickly and easily. Don’t let them reach the point of needing to talk to you. The more customers that achieve their goals on your site, the more success—and happier customers—you will have.
Understanding Goals and Breakdowns
A little theory helps to understand the relation between customer goals and breakdowns, and it comes to us from Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), the famous German philosopher. When a customer comes to a website, or uses any tool, that customer has a goal. The goal may be specific and directed, such as to pay a bill, or exploratory, such as to check out Facebook for the first time. As long as everything goes smoothly and no confusion sets in, customers will hardly notice any aspects of the website itself; their minds will remain focused on the progressive achievement of their goals and each step will follow the last. Heidegger called this state zuhanden, or ready-to-hand. The tool is invisible and our goals remain the focus.
Unfortunately, it is incredibly hard for any meaningful online transaction to avoid some point at which user uncertainty or confusion sets in. Even simple web pages are complex tools that support a variety of tasks. The breakdown may only be momentary, but in that moment, the entire success of the customer’s objective is in jeopardy. During a breakdown the website itself now leaps into view, becoming the focus of attention as the customer tries to resolve the problem. Heidegger called this state vorhanden, or present-at-hand. The tool has become the focus.
Frighteningly, there are often further breakdowns when using the website to resolve the first breakdown is unsuccessful. With everything the customer tries, he or she is met with more uncertainty. Frustration builds and eventually, the customer may be four or five sub-goals deep in a stack of cascading failures.
All of this can happen in the blink of an eye. By the time a customer has reached out to talk to a company for help, many attempts at “figuring it out” have sadly failed.
How can we short-circuit this horrid ordeal?
Empower Customers to Avoid Conversations
There is no such thing as “perfect design;” while good design can prevent many breakdowns from occurring, breakdowns cannot be eliminated. The key is when a breakdown does occur and customers begin looking for resolution, they find a means to resolve their problem that is nearby, quick, and easy-to-use. This prevents compounding failures that lead to frustration and, ultimately, abandonment and churn.
Customer self-service technologies have been around for a long time, but they fail to empower customers to resolve their own problems because they are not nearby, not quick, and not easy-to-use. Usually such technologies are tacked onto websites as “help islands” like knowledge bases, FAQs, and forums, and customers must put in a lot of work to find the answers they need.
AnswerDash takes a different approach. It puts self-service Q&A right on the site, not sequestered away on a help island. It operates almost entirely by clicking (or tapping)—much faster and easier than typing and searching. AnswerDash shows the most popular questions within one click, and also gives context-sensitive Q&A on any page object with another click. This capability also reveals exactly where on websites customers become confused, enabling companies to make targeted design improvements.
If a customer cannot find the answer she needs, she can choose to ask a question over email, engage in live chat, or pick up the phone. But these conversations are a last resort. Self-service, when done right, should always come first.
Embrace Your Customers’ Goals to Achieve Your Own
Yes, let’s have conversations with our customers when they need help. But only as a last resort. Better is to prevent the need for conversations in the first place. Self-service tools like AnswerDash empower customers to resolve their problems and achieve their goals, teaching companies where better design is needed to prevent future problems from arising.
It is so easy to be consumed with our own goals as companies. We forget our one primary goal should always be to embrace the goals of our customers. When our customers win, we win, and that should always be our focus.