Can you reduce support calls with a better user experience?

Are customers calling your company for help more often than necessary? Those calls are expensive and you can avoid some of them with an improved user experience.

Here are two stories about how design relates to customer support calls.

#1: A usability study
In a study of a technical Web application, a couple of participants said that sometimes it was easier to call support than to figure out the problem. They each cited a case with a poorly designed error message.

The message appeared in a dialog box with a big red X, a ten-digit error number (a ten-digit negative number) and the message “No matching data found”. The reason for the message was simple, but users were left to figure out why there was no matching data (they might just have forgotten to turn something on earlier).

One test participant pointed out that this message leads customers to think that “something has gone critically wrong” and makes them think “I’ve got to call tech support now.”

Another participant said that he was one of those who called support rather than figure out the problem. When he was a new user it was just easier that way.

The client found this part of the study fascinating and put this error message on the list of things to change. They expected a good return on their investment in a clearer error message.

#2: A redesign project
Recently, another client asked me to redesign an important product feature, hoping to reduce customer support calls and increase user satisfaction. It’s too early to tell if that worked out, but indications are good that it will achieve those goals.

MORE In The New Yorker of September 2010, James Surowiecki wrote about customer service and how many companies are making cuts: “Economically, this makes little sense; it’s more expensive to acquire a new customer than to hold on to an old one, and, these days, annoyed customers are quick to take their business elsewhere.”

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