• 06:25:48 pm on September 18, 2009 | 1
    Tags: , , , ,

    Why Support Search CAN’T Be “Just Like Google”

    Google is on my homepage.  I use it every day.  It’s an indispensable part of my access to Internet resources, and usually the first place I look to find something. But Google is NOT the tool I recommend for most support & service organizations to use for customer self-help.  Many organizations ask “why can’t support search be just like Google?”  Here’s what they WANT, and what they actually NEED:

    Why We Like Google

    • Google WORKS:  it’s fast, easy to enter whatever text you want, results always seem relevant
    • Google appears FLEXIBLE and FORGIVING:  even if you enter in text that isn’t quite what you meant usually something useful comes back
    • Google is SIMPLE:  type two words and go – what could be easier?

    These are all desirable aspects of finding good information quickly, and self-help should aspire to reflect all these capabilities.  So what’s the issue?

    THE ISSUES are the issues:  Google is geared towards worldwide access to the most popular or important resources for anything and everything.  Support & service inquiries are focused on very specific questions, applying to only a tiny subset of worldwide information.

    Most importantly, support & service self-help is a negotiation, a set of back and forth transactions by users and services resources to:

    • Define the real need (the users’ query is just a guess or vote for what that might be)
    • Explore the available resources to see what types of information is best suited
    • Bring back the specific tasks, data gathering, processes and steps required to achieve the services outcome

    All of this goes far beyond a simple two-word query.  If I enter “Sprint handset upgrade” into Google I might get all manner of interesting information, but I really haven’t defined my need yet.  Do I want a new handset?  Do I have one and want to activate it?  Do I want to know the programs I’m entitled to?  Do I have a billing question?  Furthermore, even if I could identify that in my query, do I REALLY want all the resources of the world returned as the answer to my question, or even all the resources of a large company like Sprint?

    At the end of the day an effective support & service self-service system needs to help users with these three critical phases of the support process.  Beyond just bringing back information from a query, the whole point of KM tools & technologies is to create a fast, intuitive, effective session with users to help them get quickly to the best answer for their services need at the moment.  So additional capabilities are needed beyond basic text query processing and results:

    1. Defining the Question:  helping users navigate the topics, top issues, terminology and overall way to think about the company’s products and services, so they can effectively express what they need in relationship to how support can help.  This may include additional field selection to narrow the focus, scripts that guide users to define their issue specifically, guided search interactions, filters, etc.  to help users refine and focus their need.

    2. Exploring Resources: giving clear feedback and quick navigation through the various information that is available.  All content is not the same when it comes to fulfilling a specific support request.  The answer to a question on “handset upgrade” may come from pricing tables, program offerings, technical support articles, documentation, etc.  Users need feedback from the system on what’s going to meet their need as it becomes more clear.  In many organizations the next step is not content related, it’s to generate email or even to call based on the customer and the issue.  So the support outcome is a function of the overall need, the user, and the organizational business model, not just a query and its results.

    3. Content Fit to Task:  Just finding “relevant information” is not the goal of a service inquiry.  It may be interesting to know all the Mexican restaurants in my town, but figuring out the dial-out codes to get proper roaming access internationally from my phone while in Sweden is not a casual question.  Almost WON’T count.  Support & services information itself must be written with the users in mind and with a focus on helping them navigate towards the answer without the benefit of any more details about their products than they need to get the job done.

    In the final analysis Google has performed an enormous service to the world, and to the support industry:  it’s made the Internet searchable, and provided a clear value proposition for getting good information online.  EVERYONE is interested in achieving more, better self-help.  But searching is only PART of the information definition, access and usage tasks associated with support transactions.

    Google is neither good nor bad – it just is what it is!  Beware of trying to make it more than it should be – a great search tool – and be sure to think through what service actually means and model those processes as best you can in your online tools.  We’re always searching for something better aren’t we?

    John Chmaj
    “The Knowledge Advocate”



  • Let’s Rethink SEARCH, Shall We? « 1:25 am on January 16, 2010 | # | Reply

    […] And yet, on the whole this experience has been far from satisfying in the support & service arena.  Search success rates on average hover in the 30-40% range, there’s all manner of hoops organizations jump through to figure out how to get the right content to show up, the tools are often complex or if not have very simple capabilities.  And when you DO get this all working, there seem to be interminable IT, website design, content issues that degrade or alter search and force maintenance of some kind or another to persist a meaningful search experience. All in all it can be a real pain to field and run a search application!  (I’ve blogged earlier about issues with search and support, see “Support Search – Why It Can’t ‘Be Just Like Google“.) […]

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