Great help content starts with great questions

Main illustration: Elizabeth Goodspeed

Creating great proactive help content – that resolves your customers’ queries – is a dialogue between your support team and your product team. It starts with asking the right kind of questions to get the best content out of them.

The Greek philosopher, Socrates, knew this well – he taught us that questions help us draw out underlying ideas and presumptions we can’t otherwise access. They allow you to challenge your internal assumptions about how your product works, discover powerful ways to support customers to do the jobs they need, and proactively answer simple questions they’ll genuinely have.

When you preemptively anticipate and resolve customer questions in your help content, the benefits will quickly compound. By empowering your customers to resolve their own FAQs and guiding them towards their version of success, you’ll increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention. And with less reactive conversations to solve, your support team will be free to focus on more critical, complex queries.

So if the questions you ask your product team directly impact the success of your customers, team, and business’ bottom line – how do you go about asking the right ones?

Plan the right questions to deliver the right answers

At Intercom, we know the questions we ask will form the meat of our FAQs, how-to articles, and best practice guides. This content helps us resolve our customers’ queries at every layer of the Conversational Support Funnel – our Holy Grail framework for resolving queries more personally and efficiently.

Not only do we publish our help content on our help center, we also automatically and proactively deliver it in context to customers, while they use our product – so they get the right answers in the right place, at the right time. For example:

  • When a customer writes into our Messenger, we’ve set up Resolution Bot to automatically resolve their questions before they even finish typing.
  • We link to relevant help content in our product tours, outbound messages, and banners to offer a deeper dive into how to use a particular feature.
  • Using the Content Showcase app, we also display our most popular FAQs in the Messenger, so customers can answer their own questions, rather than writing into our support team.

Because we view our help content as a value driver, we plan the questions we ask our product team very carefully. For example, when an important feature is launching at Intercom, we drill down into the following four questions:

A list of sample questions you should ask your product team
A list of sample questions you can use to create great help content

1. What job was the feature built to enable?

If you start with the problems the feature solves, you’re starting from a point of empathy with your customers. That’s exactly where you need to be! So first, meet with the product manager and ask questions like:

  • Why did you build this feature?
  • What problems were customers having?
  • What are the specific jobs it lets customers do?
  • What are the very best parts of this feature?

Get your hands on any early-stage research that was conducted and look at specific questions customers were asking. For example, “How secure is the new feature?” and “How can I customize the UI?”. Pay particular attention to how customers word their questions, their desires, and their fears – you should address these later using similar language when writing your content.

Takeaway: The answers you get will help you address the real problems your customers are facing and the jobs they want to do.

2. What’s the best way to use the feature?

Best practice content helps our customers excel at the jobs they hired it for. Because we’re lucky enough to use our own product every day (Intercom runs on Intercom), our Product Education team gets to interview end users of our product right here in our office. They can ask them for both product related and non-product related advice so they can equip our customers with the information to excel at the jobs they hire our product for.

For example, when we launched our product, Series, we knew our customers wanted tips on how best to orchestrate their customer messaging journey. So we asked our Lifecycle Marketing team for advice on how to create the perfect messaging sequence. It wasn’t just tips on how to use Series’ features. To unlock this kind of information ask your team questions like:

  • What jobs will the feature help customers perform, and how?
  • What advice would you give a new employee on your team for using this feature?
  • How would you impress your CEO with this feature?
  • Do you have any other tips for excelling at this job, even if this feature didn’t exist?

When we gather best practices for a specific job, we research the overall landscape so we can provide our customers with the best advice possible. For example, when we wrote our guide for creating an effective onboarding campaign, we researched the types of content that existed around onboarding and marketing automation so we could show customers the best ways to convert their trial users into paying customers.

Takeaway: The answers you get to this question will make a great best practice guide.

3. How does the feature work?

You can quickly get up to speed with how a feature works by using it or familiarizing yourself with the design spec. But if you’re not an engineer, it can sometimes be difficult to understand the more complex, technical aspects of a feature. At Intercom, we want customers to understand the job each code snippet helps their team do.

For example, when we launched our new Messenger, we wanted customers to understand why they should update their mobile SDK, as well as how. Instead of just publishing the code, a writer on our Product Education team sat down with an engineer and asked questions like, “Why would customers upgrade to the new Messenger?” and “What does each code snippet help customers do?”. With that information, we were able to create a more accessible guide that showed customers the value of upgrading.

To further encourage the engineer you’re speaking to to explain the concept in a more accessible way, simply ask, “What do you mean?” or “Could you put that a different way?” Have a go at explaining it in your own words too, so you can clarify any confusion there and then.

Takeaway: The answers you get will make a great how-to guide that both engineers and their non-technical colleagues can understand.

What are the limitations of the feature?

Ignoring aspects of your feature that confuse or frustrate customers won’t save you time or grief. Instead, your support team will still have to pick up the slack and manage high volumes of conversations reactively. A better strategy is to anticipate questions your customers are likely to have and problems they might encounter with your feature.

You’ll want to address things like latency issues, UI bugs, or any other issues customers may experience. It’s also a good idea to explain in your help content why you haven’t built a commonly requested feature. To make your content as transparent and genuinely useful as possible, ask questions like:

  • What aspects of the feature are customers most confused by?
  • What exact detail confused them most?
  • What do our customers want our product to do that it can’t?
  • Are we planning to address these issues in the product or will we need to address it in the content?
  • Did anyone leave feedback about the beta content we published?

If you ran a beta of the feature, take a look at the feedback you’ve received. At Intercom we tag this feedback so we can easily read through it later. If you find customers are consistently asking specific questions about your feature’s limitations, make sure you answer them in your content.

Takeaway: The answers you get to this question will make material for some very effective FAQs.

Fight your customers’ corner

Asking the right questions from the outset helps you extract well-thought-out, accurate advice from the right experts in your company. You’ll rest assured that you’re not just leading with your own assumptions. But most importantly, you’ll know that you’re fighting your customers’ corner from the very beginning – empowering them to answer their own questions, making your product easier for them to understand, and guiding them towards long-term success. Ultimately, that’s the key to happy, loyal customers.