Nailing User Experience for Your Customer Support Channel Strategy

When it comes to helping customers at scale, channel strategy is a tricky thing. It’s a dance between meeting customers’ needs and expectations while ensuring your support team is consistently able to handle thousands of contacts well. Not to mention a channel strategy for a tiny startup handling 500 emails a month will be pretty different from an established company fielding millions of contacts a year across every imaginable channel. Fortunately, a core set of questions can help you determine what’s best for you, regardless of size.

But before I get into those magical tell-all questions, imagine the following the scenario (based on actual events):

I want to confirm I have a camping reservation tomorrow. I hate talking to people over the phone, so I’d prefer not to call. But the email I sent two days ago went completely unacknowledged so I’m wondering if the company’s webform even works.

The live chat queue has just been telling me all reps are busy for 10 minutes now, so I’ve completely forgotten I even opened that. Calling seems like it might be the most sure-fire way to get through to someone, but I’ve been on hold listening to terrible jazz music for 20 minutes now and I have to go to a meeting.

I hang up and open Twitter while I power-walk to my next meeting, and when I see the company offers support, I’m relieved I can send a direct message instead of shouting my annoyances publicly. By the time I’m done with my meeting, I have a message back confirming my reservation. Problem (finally) solved.

Here’s the thing: the simplest and fastest way of handling this issue would’ve been a confirmation and/or reminder email sent from the reservation system. This is an issue that could’ve easily been fixed, at scale, with better product planning and automation.

I first and foremost believe in solving support issues at the source.

But when solving root-cause problems isn’t immediately possible, how can a support team set the customer experience right?

What Customers Consider

There are a variety of factors customers (often unconsciously) consider when determining what they’ll deem their “best” support channel for any given issue:

  • Reliability: Is this channel actively and efficiently monitored? (e.g., does anyone look at this Twitter account?)
  • Speed: What channel will get my issue resolved in the timeframe I need it to be addressed? (e.g., can I afford to wait for a response?)
  • Clarity: What channel is the best for handling my problem in a way I can understand? (e.g., will the representative be able to understand the issue I’m seeing and will I be able to see what they’re trying to explain to me?)
  • Personal preference: What channel am I willing to use to help with this issue? (e.g., can I stand to pick up the phone and talk with someone?)

Failing to consider all the facets shaping your customer’s support experience will end up costing you more in the long-term, whether that’s through duplicate contacts (often in costlier channels), escalations that didn’t need to happen, damaged brand equity, or plain old customer churn.

What Support Teams Should Ask

Taking into account all of those customer considerations will help guide a thoughtful channel strategy—one that ensures you’re investing in the right places so that your support costs are truly effective.

Take the time to make sure you know the answers to questions like:

  • What contact options does our core customer expect? If you’re building a SaaS tool for a technically savvy user, they’ll likely expect strong documentation or user forums to get help on their own, whenever they need it. Working on software to help people file their taxes last minute? They’ll probably want the option to hop on the phone with an expert to make sure they’re handling their money correctly and make the deadline.

  • What’s the context in which our core customers contact us? If your customers are using your mobile app on-site at a loud concert, a phone call for support might be less than ideal (but contextual chat might be just the trick). If they’re in the middle of making an online purchase, don’t make customers navigate to a new page to get questions answered; provide a self-help tab or chat to keep them engaged with the most important task.

  • What’s the emotional state of this customer contact? Some channels do a much better job of striking the right tone for a conversation; a smart chat team can be great at building an informal, friendly bond, and video chat can help dissipate the urge to write those angry, all-caps emails.

  • What’s our core customer’s ideal turnaround time? What explicit or implicit promises have you made to your customer about when you’ll respond? Some issues might require near-instant responses to be relevant to a customer (like getting their tickets for an event when they’re already on their way there) while others will feel urgent even without a clear deadline (resolving refund issues quickly). You’ll also want to consider what channels can fully resolve an issue in a single session (like chat) versus the back-and-forth of asynchronous channels like email or forums, which can be frustrating or fine depending on urgency.

The answers to questions like these should help shape what channels you invest in most when it comes to picking support tools and staffing your team. A company that champions fast phone support from a human requires a vastly different channel strategy mix compared to a company that’s all about thorough, accurate documentation. Getting clear on the ideal experience for your core customer will make figuring out your channel strategy trade-offs a lot simpler.

But What About Right Now?

So back to that original scenario. If fixing the product wasn’t an immediate option and implementing an ideal channel strategy is a long-term effort, what could a support team have done to prevent all that customer frustration? Time for some quick wins.

  • Provide honest turnaround times and let people know their message was received. For example, let people know your current chat wait time or that your email response time is 2 business days. Reinforce that expectation in the automated email they should receive when they reach out and consider providing a secondary way for them to reach out for urgent issues, like responding to that email to bump the message to the top of your queue without creating multiple cases. Tools like Facebook Messenger and Intercom make this easy to do.

  • Ask for the minimum amount of information you need to help a customer well. Ideally you should take advantage of what you already know about a customer and use that to make the customer service experience easier. For example, if you can look up customer orders by their email address you know because they’re logged in, don’t require them to find an order number to contact you.

  • Allow voicemails/call-backs for callers (or better yet, scheduled calls) if you provide a phone number. Many of your customers are likely willing to wait for solid human help, but sitting on hold for 30 minutes versus getting a return call in 30 minutes are very different experiences.

  • Enable Twitter support. Many customers know that public complaining through Twitter can be massively effective—but there’s also the fact that Twitter direct messaging is just plain easy and familiar. Giving customers the option to message you for support through Twitter shows you care and can keep conversations under control.

At the end of the day, creating a customer-centric channel strategy is about understanding what your customers want most from your team and building a strategy centered around those things. Knowing what moves the needle for them when it comes to valuing your company means it’s easier to make the right tradeoffs and focus on providing the best support to your customers.

Running Remote Workshops Successfully: A 3-Step Primer

Nothing quite feels the same as real face-to-face time with people—but when you have a dispersed workforce, figuring out how to collaborate effectively despite the distance becomes an imperative.

When it comes to facilitating brainstorming workshops, this can be especially important to get right. Just because everyone’s body isn’t in the same room doesn’t mean their brains can’t be!

My experience managing a team with people in California, Tennessee, Argentina, and the U.K. has taught me a few things about taking everything we love about collaborative, creative workshopping and doing it with people around the world—and it’s not as hard as you might think.


Step 1: Be Thoughtful About Your Setup

A huge amount of the success of a workshop that includes remote participants hinges on getting the tech setup right so that everyone can focus on each other instead of frustrating logistics. If running meetings with tools like Google Hangouts is new to you or your participants, this is especially true.

Some basic considerations to help things go smoothly include:

  • Be conscious of time zone differences. When everyone is in the same room, an all-day workshop might make sense. But with when your 5pm is their midnight, things aren’t going to go well. Splitting a focused session up is not only considerate, but can be beneficial in giving people time to sleep on ideas and come back refreshed.
  • Make sure the meeting link is included in the event invitation. This is very easy to do with Google Calendar. Including your agenda and support docs in the event is also very helpful for folks to find what they need fast before, during, and after the workshop.
  • Ensure remote participants have access to digital versions of anything you’ll be passing out during the meeting. This means setting up the access permissions and sharing links before they join. You can even ask them to print materials if you’re including activities that involve hand-writing responses.
  • Reserve a room for people joining from other office locations (so they don't have to join from their desk or a noisy shared working space). This ensures they’ll be able to hear and be heard and helps to create that “getting out of our usual environment” feel you want to fuel creative thinking.
  • Test out your audio and visual connections in the room you’ll be using. Ideally, the video should allow the remote team member to feel like they are sitting at the table, so pay attention to how the camera is positioned and how in-person participants are seated. You don’t want backs to the camera or far-away and muffled voices.

Step 2: Create a Level Playing Field

Right up top, it’s important for everyone to be on board with the idea that team members joining remotely are just as valuable to this workshop as those in the room.

  • Start with connection. Besides basic role-sharing introductions among a cross-functional team, you can tap into the power of human connection by sharing something a bit more vulnerable, like what you're grateful for that day.
  • Disconnect from distractions. At the beginning of any workshop, I like to ask everyone to close their laptops* and put away their mobile phones. Since remote participants are using their computer to connect, it helps to ask them to close any email/chat tabs so they can be just as fully present.
  • Non-verbal cues are key. Remote participants should ideally have their videos on throughout the workshop so that their non-verbal queues can be read (give them a head's up about this expectation ahead of time so they don't feel pressured into an unwanted pajama party). Similarly, unless you have a large number of remote participants, I like to encourage folks to keep their mics unmuted—this allows for informal feedback (“hmmm” and “uhuh” type responses) to create a more natural connection with the group.
  • Explicitly invite input from remote members. As a remote participant, speaking up can be difficult since in-person participants might not see your non-verbal queues of having something to say. As a facilitator, if someone joining remotely hasn’t spoken up in a while, invite them to weigh in on the discussion. This can help that person feel included in the conversation and remind any in-person participants to check in with their online colleagues.
  • Pay attention to the clock. Time-boxing activities using an alarm everyone on the call can hear helps focus activities. Equally as important is making sure to take regular breaks—and be clear about when to return (e.g., "Let's take a 10 minute break and restart at 11:13."). 

* Having laptops in the room, however, can be really useful for breaking up into smaller groups by connecting on separate Hangout connections. 


Step 3: Get Creative with Traditionally Analogue Activities

There’s nothing I love more than a well-structured activity to get people engaged and talking with one another. When everyone is physically together, this often involves a lot of sticky notes and whiteboarding (sound familiar?). Initially, this can feel difficult to duplicate with remote participants, but some simple adjustments can help.

One lesson learned: video of whiteboarding is almost entirely useless. It’s hard to write big enough for notes to be clear and video comes through fuzzy when people are moving around in front of the board to write. I wouldn’t recommend it—but don't worry, there are equally effective alternatives!

Sticky note-based activities are great because they can help people generate lots of focused ideas without worrying much about structure or if the concept is completely thought out. While there are online tools available for more directly replicating this super helpful and beloved analogue activity, these tools can often be more work than they’re worth (you spend all your time trying to use it instead of focusing on the brainstorm itself).

Instead, use a low-tech tool that mirrors the idea of casual sharing—like a Google Doc, Sheets, or Drawing. I actually love to blend the analogue with the digital by having all participants generate ideas on sticky notes, then verbally share their thoughts while one designated note taker writes everything out on a shared doc, which the group can also vote on. There’s the added benefit of having instantly sharable documentation of your discussion.

One element that I still find tough to replicate with remote teams is the “hallway conversation”—the discussion that happens as people filter out of a meeting room after the workshop or run into one another at lunch the next day. But spending this dedicated time together in a workshop setting builds connection beyond that workshop time, which can be paired with great tools like Slack to facilitate an ongoing conversation.

Ultimately, with some creative planning and consideration, remote workshops can be a total success for your team to grow together.

6 Tips for Scaling Support Content Globally

One of the most uncomfortable moments in a breakout session any time I attend a U.S. content-focused conference is when some brave soul asks the question, "So how do you scale this outside the U.S.?"

The answer is very often, "We don't."

But when it comes to support content in particular, your localized help center is very often one of the lowest cost options for entering a new/emerging market with your product or service. And if done well, it can be extremely effective for establishing your brand, understanding your users, and creating a great self-service support foundation.

This blog post assumes you'll be using third-party translation vendors, as most larger companies do. I'll be writing a follow-up post about how to determine if this is the right path for your company and content.


1. Leverage local teams.

Marketing teams are often the first boots on the ground—they're there to drum up excitement, build relationships with customers, and learn what will work in this specific locale. That makes them a phenomenal resource for figuring out what your self-service customers will need first.

Connect with those teams early to set yourself up for translation success:

  • Ask for a review of your localized voice and tone guide as well as your translated glossary of terms. These are the kinds of resources your translation vendors will use when they start working with your content.
  • Request a review of translated content. Using a structured rubric is key here—you'll want to ask about distinct areas like grammar/punctuation, product accuracy, localized brand voice and tone, and terminology. You might have a translator nailing it with voice and tone but being inconsistent with terminology—you want to make sure to get structured feedback to correct the specific shortfalls.
  • Find out what content local customers need most. Your customers outside the U.S. are likely to have many of the same support needs as your domestic customers, especially in sister markets like Canada. But there will also be features that are uniquely important (or don't apply at all) that deserve special attention—think anything related to payments, taxes, and privacy to start with. Your local teams can give you more insight on specific functionality their markets want so you can focus on that support content first.


2. Copy and paste common phrases.

Consistency is key when it comes to keeping translations high-quality, low-cost, and with quick turnaround.

On top of that, having a glossary of frequently used instructional phrases makes creating new source content easier internally because you won't have to recreate the wheel each time you write an article. (Check out TextExpander to create a shared database of phases you can call into content with keyboard shortcuts.)

For example, on the Eventbrite help center, this is one of our most commonly used first steps:

After logging in and creating an event, click or tap on your event from the Manage Events page, then select "Manage."

Prior to standardizing how we wrote this instruction, there were lots of variations of it, like:

Click on your event on the manage page.

Go to your event in the manage tab. 

Click Manage Events and find your event.

All of these phrases convey the same intent, but do so in completely different ways. If we used all four phrases across four different articles, we'd pay for each string's translation and end up with four distinct ways of saying the very same thing.

Keep it simple: spend time figuring out the best possible phrase, then stick with it.

Consistency pays off for customers beyond just localization—when you're creating support content, patterns help your users skip the irrelevant steps more confidently and focus on just what they need. Your goal isn't to have them read each precious word you've written—it's getting them their answer quickly and painlessly.


3. Borrow from similar languages.

Not all English languages are created equal—but the content might be 98% equal, and it's hard to justify keeping up half a dozen different versions of English help centers for the difference in "flavor" versus "flavour." The same issue comes up for any country that colonized around the world—European Spanish and Central/South America, European Portuguese and Brasil, etc.

Rather than giving yourself a content maintenance nightmare, use some simple find-and-replace logic. How you implement this will depend on what content management system you're using (and how much control you have over it), but essentially these are the steps:

  1. Determine your master language. For English, ours was U.S. English. Since Eventbrite has offices in Argentina, we're also using Argentinian Spanish as the master Spanish.
    • Canadian French is an exception to this practice—it's significantly different from European French, so we treat it as its own locale.
  2. Set up your other countries' help centers to pull the master language unless something has been published for that locale. For example:
    • The article "How much does it cost for organizers to use Eventbrite?" has a version published in U.S. English and U.K. English. That's because the detailed answer to this question varies a lot between the two locales (our fees are different and currency varies as well).
    • The article "How to set up discount codes" has a version published in U.S. English. The feature works the same everywhere, so the U.K. help center simply pulls the U.S. article since we didn't create a unique version for the U.K.
  3. Important! Build out exceptions to the rules and do so mindfully. This allows the source content to appear localized by top-level domain (TLD) without all the extra work of creating individual articles. For example:
    • Set up your find-and-replace logic to find words like "organizer" and change it to "organiser" for the U.K. locale. 
    • Be careful with words like "cheque"—as a noun, the find-and-replace logic works fine for the U.K. locale. But as a verb, you don't want users to see "cheque your inbox."


4. Use segmentation in Google Analytics.

If you're working on content in a locale you already serve, the segmentation feature in Google Analytics is your friend (you do have Google Analytics installed, right? If not, go do that immediately—more on why that's super duper important at the end of this article).

Google Analytics is like an angel sent from prioritization-based-on-data heaven. You'll quickly be able to understand how much of your user base is domestic and how much isn't—and proportion your resources accordingly:

All you need to do to generate this report is pick a timeframe and go to Behavior>Site Content>All Pages. Then add a segment (detailed instructions here, straight from the fine folks at Google's support team). That's it: you'll see countries compared against one another to understand relative priority (more on that below).

Important Note: These segments are based on where a user is located when they access your content—not which TLD or language they chose to access. We definitely see users in Germany access English help center articles. But in general, this is great directional data.

Bonus: This report is especially nice to run when a language spans multiple countries. For example, when we want to understand German language content needs, we pull in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Belgium.


5. Give your global users a feedback channel.

I've written about the importance of collecting article feedback before, and the same principles apply across a multi-language system. Since your non-U.S. audiences are likely to be smaller (for U.S.-based companies), paying attention to what's getting the most user feedback is especially important.

You can use Google Translate to get a rough idea of any article feedback provided in languages you don't speak (for example, maybe a customer is just reporting that an image or link is broken—you can probably fix this without speaking a word of Dutch).

I'd also strongly suggest using a "request this translation" feature if you aren't translating 100% of your English source content. You can allow users to access the URL for their TLD with a message letting them know you're providing the English content because their requested locale isn't available—but they can ask for the translation.

At Eventbrite, this is a simple email request system—an email template clarifying the content title and requested language is sent to an alias for our content team to handle. Receiving messages like this helps us understand what content is in demand in a particular locale. 

Since we translate most content, we don't get these emails too often and therefore we haven't built out a more robust request system—but if you want to take a conservative approach on what you'll translate, a system like this can really help you know what to focus on.


6. Prioritize what gets worked on.

If you care about customer experience outside your primary U.S. market (and I'm assuming you do since you're reading this), one of the hard truths to swallow is that your secondary markets simply won't get the same amount of resourcing as your primary market.

The ideal might be to get these locales to "U.S. quality," but if the market represents 2% of your help center user base, it's hard to justify spending the same amount of time or money on that content.

All of these tips are meant to help you stretch your resources further for your customers around the world—but at the end of the day, the best way to make sure you're doing the best possible job is to make sure you have a solid way of prioritizing what gets attention. At Eventbrite, we consider:

  • Issue sensitivity. Any content that covers topics like money or legal issues floats to the top of our hit list. You do not want to mess that up.
  • Pageviews. We look at global performance of our articles to determine the top articles our customers need. At one point I looked at the top articles across all of our locales and there was so much overlap in what trended as important that just 20 total articles covered every country's top 5 articles.
  • Customer feedback. If you're getting a lot of article votes and/or feedback, bump that content higher on your priority list.
  • Content age. The older an article gets, the more likely it's in need of an update. You'll have to judge "how old is too old" based on how much your product or service has changed.

Prioritization is even more important if you're thinking about localizing screenshots, which can be a massive amount of work if you don't have an automated system for it. One way my team mitigates this is by ensuring that our screenshots are always as focused as possible—we don't show the entire user interface if we're only referring to a third of what's on that page. We show enough context to be clear while restricting what's shown as much as possible since the product changes constantly. And we reuse screenshots as much as instructional phrases to ensure upkeep is manageable across the board.


Localization is a balancing game, and the most important thing is having an equally strong sense of global customer experience standards combined with a strong sense of what's logistically viable. Without the former, your customers end up feeling deliberately second-rate and without the latter, you'll never stop throwing money at a problem. Fight for both and you can win the world over.