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  • Writer's pictureSorin Alupoaie

An Expert Guide to Auditing Your Customer Help Center

This post was originally published in the Customer Happiness Blog

Running a regular help center audit is often overlooked, but it’s a foundational way to improve your customer experience and scale your customer support team.

What’s the first line of defense in a business?

People often assume it’s your customer support team — but they’re wrong. Your first line of defense is actually your help center.

Most customers look for answers in your help center before they contact support. If your support contact options are integrated and well-designed, help articles should automatically be suggested to customers who try to contact you without checking your help center too.

That means it’s worth making the time to ensure your help center performs at its best.

The question is: How do you build a great customer help center?

And the answer is quite simple: Running a regular audit.

An audit is a systematic evaluation of your help center based on an agreed set of criteria to identify areas for improvement. That might sound tedious, but it can make a huge difference to your customer experience.

Why you should audit your help center

Customer help centers have become such a standard part of customer support that almost every company publishes one as soon as they’re able — and with good reason.

If 70% of your customers look for a help center before writing support, you’d miss out on a massive opportunity by not having one.

Of course, the first step is creating a customer help center. It’s tempting to spend forever trying to create a perfect help center, but it’s better to give it your best shot and launch quickly.

In many ways, launching a help center is similar to building a new product: you can build for years and hope everything is perfect when you launch, or you can launch a minimum viable product quickly, get customer feedback, and improve from there. History shows us that launching quickly and getting real customer feedback is almost always the best bet.

Once you’ve launched your help center, it’s time to shift towards making it better every day. And that’s where a help center audit makes a big difference.

Auditing your help center will:

  • Ensure that your content remains up to date

  • Enable you to improve help content based on customer usage

Both are essential in helping you level up your knowledge base’s performance over time.

Keeping your help center content up-to-date

Say you’re a customer with a simple question about how to use a feature in a piece of software.

You go to that company’s help center and find the pages describing that feature. Then you see that the screenshots look nothing like the product you’re using. None of the UI elements — like button descriptions — match up, so you can’t find an answer to your question. Eventually, you give up and contact support.

Products evolve all the time. It’s how things work, But even when you include help center updates in your release process, it’s easy to miss articles here and there. Your help center audit finds and corrects these accidental oversights.

Adjusting your help center based on customer usage

Writing a help center article involves research, but also has some element of guesswork. If you’re basing the content on existing support tickets, you have some idea of what customers are asking but you can’t know if the way you present the answer is as helpful as it could be.

You can only figure that out when you see how customers interact with the content you’ve created. An audit is a good way to ensure that the customer feedback you receive results in improvements to your articles.

The 3 elements of your help center you should regularly audit

The success of your help center audit depends on what you review. The more specific you are in your review process, the easier it is to see the improvement opportunities. A good audit involves:

  • Evaluating the content quality

  • Analyzing customer interactions

  • Assessing your help center’s structure

Evaluating your help center’s content quality

Evaluating the content quality is the most important part of a help center audit. This process includes:

  • Checking its relevance and accuracy. Help center content should be up-to-date, correct, and useful for customers — or else what’s the point? Each article’s title should accurately reflect what it’s about. The title makes a promise, and the article should deliver on that promise.

  • Improving the tone and readability. Every article should be written in a way that’s simple, easy to follow and understand, and free of jargon.

  • Improving the formatting and visual aids. Proper structure makes a big impact on how easy to read a piece of content is. If you’re using screenshots, images, or videos, your audit should include making improvements to these.

If you notice any recurring patterns with these, a content standard is a tool that can dramatically improve the consistency of the content you’re publishing to your knowledge base.

Content quality is the biggest piece in determining whether your help center is successful or not. Since most customers use your help center as the first step in resolving issues, having user-friendly knowledge base articles available will transform your customer support experience.

Analyzing customer interactions with your help center

Analyzing how your customers interact with the help center unlocks a treasure trove of information you can use.

You might look at customer satisfaction metrics, such as CSAT or NPS, to identify patterns and see what your customers say about the articles they interact with. You can also use help center analytics, such as user flows or the article-to-ticket conversion rate, to target specific topics.

If customers often ask questions covered in your help center, you probably need to experiment with different ways to present that existing information and to make it more searchable.

Assessing your help center's structure

The final area of your help center to check in your audit is the overall structure. This can cover:

  • The navigation. Simplifying the navigation and reducing the number of clicks required to access information makes it more likely that customers will find the information they need.

  • The layout. A visually appealing layout and design increases customer engagement.

  • How content is categorized. Intuitive and consistent categorization isn’t easy to achieve but makes content easier to find.

  • Search functionality. The more accurate and relevant the results are, the more customers will use the help center.

Keep in mind that the right structure for your help center today might not be the structure you need a year from now.

How to conduct a customer help center audit

Conducting a help center audit can feel overwhelming, especially if you have multiple products and a robust knowledge base. If you aren’t careful, audits can become one of those endless projects that drag on from quarter to quarter due to the workload.

The trick to an effective audit process is to break it down into small steps, each ruthlessly focused on a single goal at a time. The basic steps involved are always the same, irrespective of the size of your help center:

  1. Establish audit objectives.

  2. Assemble a team.

  3. Review articles.

  4. Implement changes.

  5. Report and debrief.

Establish audit objectives

Start by asking: What do you want to achieve from the audit? What specific areas of the help center do you want to evaluate?

It’s often tempting to try to review everything in the help center. That might not be necessary if you have a more specific objective based on your support center KPIs.

Some examples objectives for your help center audit might be:

  • Improve customer satisfaction. This might involve looking into helpfulness ratings or feedback from customer surveys and focusing only on improvements that impact customers.

  • Improve knowledge management. The goal would be to improve how knowledge is captured and found, for example, by focusing on search terms and clickthrough rates.

  • Increase ticket deflection. Deflection starts with tickets that ask questions that could be resolved through self-service, then backtracking to see how and why those tickets were created.

  • Ensure consistency. If you have a new set of brand guidelines or a content standard to apply, ensuring that the content matches makes your help center experience more consistent.

Assemble a team

The ideal team size for your audit depends on what you want to achieve. It’s often a good idea to include at least two people in the auditing process, since they can support and challenge each other. However, introducing too many voices can slow the process down. Find the right balance based on your audit objectives and the other priorities for your support team

It may go without saying, but team members involved in auditing your help center should have a good understanding of the current help center and should be experienced in customer support. If possible, adding in perspectives from teams like sales, marketing, or product design can provide really valuable insights.

Review help center articles

It’s tempting to review articles and apply changes simultaneously. While this might work if you’re only making minor updates, doing a comprehensive rewrite while reviewing an article involves task and context-switching — which usually slows you down.

That’s why it’s often best to focus on reviewing first.

How to structure and get started with your review process depends on your objective. Here are four direct approaches you can use:

  • Make a list of product updates since the last audit and prioritize the articles related to those.

  • Start with the top viewed articles and apply a new content standard or stylistic changes to those first.

  • If your goal is to cull content and make the help center leaner, then start with your least viewed content.

  • Focus on articles that lead to the most ticket creation, and use feedback from those to improve the content of other articles.

Checklists are your best friend when auditing your help center:

  1. Create a checklist covering all the aspects your team should check in each article.

  2. You can use a rating system for more nuance and to make reporting easier afterward (although the tradeoff is that this requires more training up front). An example would be rating the clarity of the images in each article.

  3. Track progress in a shared tool, like a Google sheet.

Implement changes

Once all articles are reviewed, you can start editing them. It can be helpful to separate these updates into different types of updates and tackle each category individually.

This might be:

  • Small updates to fix terminology and links

  • Splitting articles that cover too much content.

  • Rewriting an article completely because the feature it’s about has changed considerably.

  • Archiving or deleting articles that are no longer relevant.

Finding a tool that enables you to make bulk updates (such as Help Center Manager for Zendesk) can make this step way faster.

Report and debrief

It’s always good practice to debrief at the end of a project. This allows you to gather insights while they’re fresh, so that you can change the process and be more efficient next time you audit your help center. It’s also motivating to have an overview of the changes made and a new baseline to track how your updated articles perform over time.

Continuous evaluation is key to a successful help center

The most successful help centers are lean and agile.

Continuous and incremental improvement over a long period results in a help center that massively impacts your customer experience. It’s how you build a support experience that’s scalable and efficient — and most importantly, one that customers love.

Regular help center audits are a key tool in the maintenance and evolution of your help center. If you aren’t already doing them, there’s no time like the present to get started!


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