Teach a User to Fish: Empowering Software Users by Design

For every car I’ve owned, I’ve always made sure I knew how to change the tire on that particular vehicle. I would locate the jack, place it in the correct spot on the undercarriage, jack up the car and test the nuts to make sure I could loosen them with the wrench. If not, I’d go to a dealer and have them torqued loosely enough that I wouldn’t need to have a Skynet Terminator arm to unscrew them. I was taught to be prepared for emergencies so that I could be self-reliant. With just a little knowledge and prep, I have saved myself a lot of money and time. So, when I bought my most recent vehicle, a used pick-up truck, I was dismayed to find that I couldn’t figure out how to lower the spare tire to test it out.

Months later, I had a flat tire, and I had to call AAA to come change it. The technician was able to show me how to lower the tire, which had been rusted to the underside of the truck bed. It took him some time, but he was able to get it loose, and explained in detail how to prevent it from rusting up again. The tech helped me not just by changing the tire, but by teaching me a skill I can use later. My experience with AAA made me feel empowered and led to a good customer experience. They provided me with valuable support, and they, in turn, have my loyalty as a customer if any problems come up again. Helping customers to feel empowered with knowledge or skills should be an explicit part of customer experience design.

Empowering Customers with Software Savvy

Many people who own a vehicle also know how to change a tire. Among those who do, there will be many who don’t know how to troubleshoot less common problems like a rusted-on spare. Similarly, someone using a software application might never have a problem using it. Some of those users will know how to change settings on the software without help, or even use automated troubleshooters with no problem. But what about a more frustrating problem that has a less-obvious solution? A customer will feel more empowered if he is also given a resource to troubleshoot problems independently.

Resources for empowering software users can come in different forms or levels of complexity. They should be designed with the type of user in mind. Is your customer a typical PC user having a problem with a slow operating system or web browser? Is your customer a database developer? What level of technical knowledge would they already have? These kind of questions inform how you design resources that enhance your customer’s knowledge and confidence.

The Everyday User

Many customers might need more guidance. A company can provide a customer support technician to walk users through the process, step-by-step. Dell has phone and in-home troubleshooting support, where a customer service technician will help their users remotely or on site. Their troubleshooting phone support service helps their customers deal with things like hardware detection, viruses, and Internet connections. Importantly, Dell’s description of this service says that their technicians will help the customer learn as they go. They explicitly designed this resource with empowering the customer in mind. An everyday customer who doesn’t consider themselves too computer savvy should come away feeling happy that they know a little bit more about computers than they did before.

The Techie Explorer

Another example of giving customers tools they can use to help themselves is the use of help forums. This kind of forum is designed so that customers can help each other troubleshoot. They learn specific fixes from those with more technical knowledge. This type of resource is appropriate for users who might need a little less guidance. The other day, I had to go to the help forum for Mozilla’s Support forum for the Firefox browser. I needed find out why my browser scrolled so slowly, and fix it. Another user on the forum shared his fix, and now I know how to use about:config and change advanced preferences. As a techie explorer myself, I was happy to find out that there are hundreds of advanced settings I can access – not just for mouse scrolling. I’ll probably switch to Firefox because of the higher level of control I can have.

The Software Developer

Finally, you can provide highly technical software documentation that includes troubleshooting instructions for users who can code. Oracle’s Help Center has a Troubleshooting section for Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) applications. In this case, users need to know how to program in PL/SQL on different operating system platforms. The Troubleshooting documentation provides multiple tips for related background knowledge that can help developers with more than one kind of problem. I’m relatively new to PL/SQL and database programming, so if I’m having a related problem, that Troubleshooting documentation can teach me more in-depth database knowledge, just by having learned a few specific skills.

An Empowered Customer is a Loyal Customer

Making sure your customers feel empowered will build loyalty to your company. Teaching customers new skills related to the software they use should be part of the customer experience design – tell them what G.I. Joe would: “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!”

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