The power of a good FAQ

Learn four best practices for building a better FAQ.

Posted November 15, 2017

Self-service is now the cornerstone of any comprehensive customer service strategy, with the all-mighty FAQ leading the charge.

A 2018 Forrester study found that 60 percent of customers have used an FAQ in the last year, and a 2017 Microsoft report noted that 90 percent expect them to be offered as a self-service option.

FAQs can help customers resolve their issue without ever having to contact customer service. The resulting empowerment can have a positive impact on brand association, with customers feeling as though your company is looking out for their best interests. Importantly, a well-executed FAQ can also lead to a reduced call volume driving cost reductions in the contact center.

Here are four best practices for creating a customer-friendly FAQ that will wow and delight.

1. Find the ideal length

FAQ creators often find themselves in a catch-22. An FAQ with too much text will lead to customers becoming overwhelmed or impatient, while an FAQ with too little text risks not providing enough information for customers to resolve their issue without escalation.

“In general, it’s best to avoid the dreaded ‘wall of text,'” says Niina Pollari, a support documentation manager for the video-sharing website, Vimeo. “Separate your information into easily readable chunks by using screenshots, headers and other devices designed to help the customer skim for what they need and draw their eye down the page.”

All that being said, don’t be too afraid of length, adds Pollari. Sometimes longer descriptions are needed depending on who your customer is, the complexity of an issue and how invested a person might be in your product. For instance, a gamer might be more willing to read an extensive troubleshooting guide than the owner of a new kitchen appliance.

“You can get away with providing a lot more information and context if you’re providing thorough troubleshooting steps or speaking to a topic that requires a certain level of knowledge from the user,” says Pollari.

2. Update, update, update

Products and services change, and new issues can arise at any time. A good FAQ reflects those changes through constant updating.

“If you have outdated screenshots or troubleshooting steps in your FAQ, it inspires a sense of distrust in your materials,” says Pollari. That can ripple down and not only make the rest of your FAQ guilty by association, but your website, product and even company.

Don’t make an FAQ an afterthought, Pollari continues. “If FAQ updates are a secondary task for multiple people whose primary jobs are elsewhere in the company (such as in product or support), they can fall by the wayside and the backlog can grow.”

Be proactive, ideally be dedicating an employee to the task. Updating materials as changes happen (rather than doing them periodically in a big batch) also reduces the workload on whoever is responsible for FAQ upkeep. It’s also critical to do regular read-throughs of the FAQ or help center, and keep on top of edits as the company prepares to do product updates or launches.

3. Carefully consider UX and web design

A good FAQ isn’t just about the quality and relevance of its information, but also simplicity in navigation.

NRG’s 2017 State of Customer Service Experience report notes that 58 percent of customers surveyed find online self-service channels difficult to use. And if self-service channels are difficult to use, then your customers will be more likely to revert to contacting customer service, making the FAQ an irrelevant tool.

To that end, Pollari says user experience (UX) and design should always be central to developing a help center. A good FAQ UX should include using queries that are easy to find and understand, an intuitive and accurate search function and a logical hierarchy for how the FAQs are organized. Remember to offer, and update, FAQs in the dominant languages of your customer base, and make sure your FAQ mirrors the design and tone of the rest of your website and company.

Most importantly, don’t just implement those guidelines — make sure they actually work as intended. Beta test your FAQ to ensure its design and UX make sense to people who aren’t you.

4. Build a bridge between customers and customer support

FAQs are valuable customer support resources, but they can’t do everything. Customers will encounter issues that can’t be addressed by an FAQ.

A great FAQ should be transparent about what it can and can’t help with, and needs to direct customers to other service channels by including vital links and information like the customer support phone number, email address or live video chat link.

Doing so embodies the overall mission of any good FAQ: connecting customers to the answers they need. The more time, thought and resources you invest in making that connection stronger, the more effective your FAQ will be for customers.

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