Editor’s Note: The Content Wrangler is presenting a weekly series of twelve articles that provide useful insights and practical guidance for those who produce customer support websites. Columnist Robert Norris shares how to overcome operational challenges related to harvesting, publishing and maintaining online help knowledge bases. His ninth installment examines how content wranglers can improve the quality of life for our colleagues in support roles and leverage insights (including customer support metrics) to our mutual benefit.

Customer Support Metrics

Organizational leaders love their dashboard metrics, and when it comes to their support teams, those metrics come by the boatload: response & resolution, escalation, abandonment, average talk time, etc. In most organizations, customer support metrics focus the team’s attention on solving each user’s problem as quickly and efficiently as possible.

From the perspective of a content strategy that emphasizes quality control, this emphasis on getting the customer off the call ASAP is hardly strategic. For example, time-to-resolution metrics reward a support team for speedily solving the needs of multiple customers — each of whom had the same problem —while leaving the problem’s cause untreated for hundreds more. Moreover, speed-based criteria promote risky corner cutting and undesirable behavior, e.g. support representatives saving files locally for quicker access, distracted listening, jumping to conclusions and interrupting. In cost-benefit terms, we should be aware that every time we fail to use the experience of a single user to identify and correct a deficiency in self-help support, we have missed the opportunity to solve the problem for every user.

Support center personnel are typically characterized as being the tip of the spear because they represent the organization to the client via direct contact. It’s a fair characterization, but does not fully leverage their unique skills and opportunities. An astute content wrangler recognizes that support center personnel are perfectly placed to assess the content experience of a single user to the potential benefit of all users.


  • A user engaging the support team is a potential source for discovering a deficient self-help resource
  • For each user surfacing a topical problem, there are likely to be many users with neither the time nor the energy to do so
  • A support team member who is alert for content deficiencies is contributing to our organization’s continuous improvement; one who is racing the clock is doing the opposite

Image: Why?
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What If We Focus On Why?

Let’s consider what would happen if success were defined by having our support representative engage select users to determine why they were not able to locate what they sought. Circumstances have brought these two together because the user was not able to solve the problem on his or her own. In collaboration, the customer support representative and the customer have the potential to discover lurking problems, including:

  • Confusing instructions
  • Gaps in the knowledgebase
  • Non-intuitive navigation
  • A layman’s synonym for company terminology
  • Out-of-date content
  • Duplicate resources
  • Contradictory content
  • Malfunctions

With revised customer support metrics that reflect the quality-focused principles of our content strategy, management will soon recognize that there is a much higher return on investment when a customer support representative takes 10 minutes to identify and document a deficiency on the website than for celebrating the prowess of ten reps taking only one minute each to repeatedly solve the same problem.

Of course, judgement is required. When the queue is full or the user is agitated, let’s not dally — solve the problem and move on. But when the universe is smiling upon us and an articulate, patient user is asking for help and call volume permits, let’s empower customer support personnel to discover and document the deficiency to solve it for all users. Then reward the support representative and their supervisor. By next week, we’ll have the whole team filling the QA pipeline.

Image: Support center
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As content wranglers, we are in a unique position to help the organization embrace the expertise of our colleagues on the support team and dramatically improve the nature and impact of their work. We can initiate the transformation by asking highly respected customer support representatives to share their frank perspectives on the usefulness of the knowledge base(s). After gratefully receiving their critique we need only act upon what we learn to demonstrate our sincerity and capability to make their jobs easier. From a technical standpoint, it is likely that we can leverage their technology, e.g. Salesforce, to help our colleagues quickly capture the information we need and alert us to the problem. Moreover, we benefit by gaining useful insights into the day-to-day needs of our audiences, which will help us set priorities and tweak our resources to better serve them.

Recap: Every confused user dealing with a support rep represents an opportunity to evaluate the efficacy of our self-help resources, but when management’s zeal for efficiency inhibits the attention to detail needed to continuously improve our effectiveness, it’s a swing and a miss.

Last Week: Robert’s eighth of twelve articles, Best Practices for Fostering Support from Stakeholders, shares insights into how we can gain the support of stakeholders in middle and upper management.

Next Week: Robert’s tenth of twelve articles, Building a Robust Content Quality System, offers insights and practical guidance on how to invoke a quality control program that boosts productivity and streamlines operations by clarifying roles, responsibilities and workflow.

Image: Five stars. The highest rating.
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