White Paper

Top tips for building a thriving help center

Your customers want to help themselves. They are more technically savvy than ever and have come to prefer the DIY approach to solving their issues and answering their own questions. A help center is a must for your business — but that doesn't mean you shouldn't talk to your customers. Let's discuss what a help center means, why you need it, and some best practices.

Published August 22, 2013
Last updated September 21, 2021

One of the first things you need to know when you're learning about help centers: Self-service matters. Not a little bit... Self-service matters a lot.

Why self-service is important in customer service

The evidence is overwhelming — your customers like to find answers on their own!

In our own research we've found that most people prefer self-service over speaking with a representative. Almost three-quarters of Gen Z respondents and more than half of millennials, in fact, said they start with a search or a company’s help center.

In 2019 we found that customers were almost twice as likely to use self-service as a company is to offer it: 40% of customers start with a search engine or help center when getting in touch with support, while only about 20% of teams are offering self-service. A year later, in 2020, still less than a third of support teams were offering self-service.

In the guide that follows, we'll help you understand what it takes to build an all-in-one knowledge base, community, and customer portal.

Why you need a help center

  • A help center increases customer satisfaction by providing better service and meeting the needs of customers who prefer self-service
  • A help center reduces costs and increase efficiency by eliminating repetitive costs so agents can focus on more strategic tasks
  • A help center grows your business community and build deeper connections between your company and customers

A note on ticket deflection

“Deflection sounds defensive,” says Dave Dyson, senior customer service evangelist at Zendesk. “It's not that you don't want to talk to your customers — but you do want them to have information, readily and easily, so that they can solve problems themselves.”

How to kick off your help center

Setting up a successful help center is a big undertaking, in terms of effort and importance. We hope these steps and tips make it easier and also more fun.

  1. The planning stage: Set goals
  2. Use data to drive your success
  3. Create a great experience for app and mobile
  4. Develop an FAQ page
  5. Encourage employee participation
  6. Focus on the user experience
  7. Market your help center

1. The planning stage: Set goals

Help center goals
Whether you are just starting to think about launching a Help Center or simply looking to improve what you have, the first and most vital step is to define what it is you hope to achieve. Is your purpose to reduce the number of support tickets being submitted to your staff? Or is it simply to foster relationships and engagements amongst your customers and employees? These are some ideas to think about, but the important thing is to identify the right goals for your business and work to get consensus up front amongst key stakeholders.

Learn more:

How knowledge-centered service benefits customer support teams

Information to include in your knowledge base
Six questions to ask before setting up your community

2. Use data to drive your success

Help center measure

It is important to begin measuring the performance of your help denter from day one. Keeping track of things like:

  • Community analytics stats
  • Resolution times
  • Percentage of issues resolved by staff vs. those solved via the help center

will help you understand if your help center is effective and what areas need to be improved.

It's also extremely important to track the kinds of content that are being utilized by your customers. Knowing this will help you decide what content you need more of, such as specific topics or FAQs.

Using data to make a great help center

Our research has shown that tickets with links to knowledge articles do better, with a 23% lower resolution time, 20% fewer reopens, and a 2% better CSAT rating on average.

We found that companies with high-performing self-service offerings share certain tactics.

  • Start with your top 5 articles
  • Get agents involved in content creation
  • Leverage automation

Learn more:

The data-driven path to building a great help center

3. Create a great experience for app and mobile

Help center mobile
It is important to provide a seamless experience so your customers have the same level of service whether they're visiting your help center on a laptop, tablet, or phone.

Customers can use a mobile app to trigger a support workflow automation. Take the Grubhub mobile app example: Users can make add to their orders and get refunds right on their phones. Same goes with their mobile app for delivery drivers—users can flag delivery issues without calling anyone.

screenshot of a mobile app interface

Learn more:

4 ways to create mobile customer engagement

4. Develop an FAQ page

Help center mobile
As you explore how to offer self-service options, an FAQ page can be a heavy hitter in your tool kit. Useful for customers with a wide range of needs, it’s affordable and quick to set up. While an FAQ is traditionally thought of as a basic list of questions and answers, it can work in tandem with your help center, allowing you to build and manage help articles over time and as your company scales.

Learn more:

The 8 best FAQ page examples (and how to make your own)

5. Encourage employee participation

Help center employees

Self-service doesn't mean setting up a site and not getting involved. Your employees should take an active role. It shows that you are listening to and care about customer behavior and feedback.

And by employees, we don't just mean your customer service team, we mean everyone:

  • Marketing: see how customers interact with each other and help foster those relationships. The Help Center is also a great way to find and become familiar with your customer evangelists.
  • Product and support: help answer questions and respond to comments. These departments working together can take what they learn from the community and use it to speed up the feedback cycle. They can also use this opportunity to listen to ideas from customers and collect feedback.
  • Sales: being active in the help center connects your sales, the front-line of your business, with your customers. Also, the help center gives excellent insight for an ongoing sales cycle.

Learn more:

Help Center guide for agents and end-users

6. Focus on the user experience

Help center employees
User experience is incredibly important. You might have done everything right in terms of getting people to your site, but if you don't provide a great experience, they won't stay long and won't return.

It is extremely important to provide easy navigation to the things that matter most. For example, search is an important feature that your customers will be looking for. Make sure it's easy to find and use. Ask yourself: Can I provide and promote the things that matter most to my customers? Can I organize all my content in an effective way?

It's also important to create something visually appealing — to give customers a place where they will want to spend their time. Consider adding rich media options. Many customers have come to expect things like videos, webinars, and images alongside text. Look for expertise on your web or design team for best practices, and test, test, test! Your Help Center is always a work in progress, so look at what works and doesn't work and adjust accordingly.

One of the best ways to get customer feedback is to ask for it: Did they find what they were looking for? Do they have suggestions for improvement? A short survey can take you a long way toward creating an engaging user experience.

Learn more:

Resources for designing your Help Center
Optimizing your content for search

7. Market your help center

Help center marketing
What's the use of a help center if no one is using it? Once you have selected your technology, set your goals, and built out your site, you need to drive users there. With this step, it is important to involve your marketing team, or at least to start thinking like a marketer. How are you going to invite and attract visitors? How are you going to promote the site or even particular aspects of the site? And, are there ways to leverage the community to help support other marketing programs?

Learn more:

Driving traffic to your knowledge base and forums

How is an internal help desk different?

Maybe you've seen the term internal help desk and wondered. This differs from a standard help desk that serves customers en masse, using a software product to organize conversations. Many corporate decision makers are including internal help desks into their accelerated digital plans. An internal help desk is a centralized hub for employees to access information around process, products, and services that are offered internally. An internal help desk is a key aspect of an excellent employee experience, especially as ongoing shifts in the world and the workplace force employers to compete for top talent.

What's next

With the right partner and the right advice, help center setup and maintenance is easier than it may seem. Define your goals early so that they can guide your implementation, and always keep your customer at the forefront as you make decisions. Once your help center is set up, you can begin measuring success right away—success that will only increase as you continue to stay involved.

Use your know‑how

Refer to this smart knowledge base for better self-service.