In the competitive rat race that is “content,” has solving for the customer become a mere footnote?
Discussions whirl around how the company can squeeze more out of every keystroke. More clicks, more traffic, more lift. Amidst the campaigns, targeting, and email blasts, we see that a war is being waged, and the customer is losing ground.
Look closely and you can see the problem: a focus on virality, not utility. Content Is King™ pontification rarely steps outside the comfort zone of parroting the need for great content.
As if this were the easiest part of the process. As if this were a given.
“Great content” is now a trope, but it remains the biggest hurdle. The cost of entry is helping customers find success.
Success = Life in High-Definition
The core of every content marketing strategy is built on one unwavering objective: figure out what success looks like for your customers, and then help them get there.
In her book Badass: Making Users Awesome, Kathy Sierra describes this as helping users with the compelling context—not just being a better user of the product, but being better equipped to achieve results.
Because who wants to be a tripod expert? What people want is to take beautiful photographs. Nobody signs up for Help Scout to become a help desk black belt; they want to provide better customer support and maintain order in the queue.
Customers won’t see the need for investment in a product if they don’t have the experience. Education helps them achieve this expertise:
Post-sign up is where people can get stuck. Your product may have given them instant improvement, but where do they go from there?
Solving for the Customer Like Crazy
Address the reason why. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have a truly exceptional teacher in your lifetime, you know that only part of their magic was teaching the material. The other part was getting you to care. Don’t just show customers what to do, remind them why they should bother.
Customer stories and case studies are effective, but you shouldn’t let those alone do the heavy lifting when it comes to providing motivation. In the world of content, you’re always just a boring paragraph away from losing people. If you want users to write better help docs, remind them what’s at stake. Could a knowledge base save them time, money, headaches, or help them leave a better impression with customers?
"Gain" is the operative word: what do I gain by doing this?
We all have very human reasons to do what we do. Writing a better support email really comes down to the reader’s desire to make a customer’s day or to avoid a hairy situation.
Listen closely to find friction. What you hear isn’t always what you get. One week I was randomly sent a flood of requests for “more images in our blog posts.” What did that mean? I followed up with a few readers, who offered responses of “email critiques” and “seeing the emails.” It took a back-and-forth with a longtime reader to reach this lightbulb moment:
Well, you folks always give good advice on building a better response. But I want to see what the final product looks like.
Building a reply. I hadn’t thought of it that way. When addressing how to split up a long, meandering email, people wanted to see a visual example of the result. Images such as the one below were born for posts like our Email Support Style Guide:
The feedback was fantastic, and serves as a reminder that there is just no substitute for talking one-on-one with a reader.
Teach for success at every level. You won’t have perfect control over your teaching curriculum, meaning you’ll publish what’s useful only when it comes to you. That’s fine, because there is context to be had at every stage. Here’s a final image from Making Users Awesome to illustrate the point:
“Writing better emails” directly correlates to better support for Help Scout customers—that’s a context that applies to all and can be addressed consistently.
From there, you can better determine the paths from new user to an expert user. What can you teach that will help them understand and see the value in your higher-grade features?
Don’t always rely on what the tool is “supposed to do.” Help Scout Reports is a great way to avoid flying blind in support. But when I talked to customers, it wasn't obvious what I could help them with—they each had their own system for drilling down into the data, and they had a great handle on what to look for. Need to hire another person? They could already identify that.
After a few conversations with support managers, we came to an oblique topic: sending out a support update on a regular basis. “Are you using Reports to illustrate what’s been going on?” I asked, with curiosity. “I hadn’t thought of that” was a common answer, even though many agreed it would be helpful. It became clear that sharing the numbers with the team:
Or giving a quick overview with a visual:
Would be a way to make Reports useful in a different context. Now you can clearly present your findings and collectively make better decisions. I wrote a post to help achieve that exact result.
To Know Success, Talk to Customers
Don’t let the above become your only method of content research. Publishing for popularity isn’t a plan for the long-term.
Talk to your customers, figure out what results they want, and educate to help them get there. It's as tough as it sounds. But you’ll develop a true strategy by understanding those you serve, not by mirroring the flavor of the week.
Great educators work hard to understand the goals and struggles of their students. You should, too.