A third of tech support incidents are for procedural, or “How do I?” questions

I’m preparing for next week’s webcast, Driving Self-Service Success with Rich Media, based on a recent report I published highlighting a case study from SSPA member and partner, Adobe. Something that struck me while looking at the benchmark data regarding self-service success and customer incidents is the type of issues customer call/email/chat about.

We tend to think of tech support receiving a lot of break fix, hard down type of problems. But look at this data from the SSPA Benchmark on new support incidents by type of customer issue, which I have broken down by industry segment:

New cases by type of support incident

New cases by type of support incident

The largest percentage of issues, across industry segments, is not installation problems or product bugs and defects. Rather, a third or more of support incidents are procedural questions, or questions that usually begin with “How do I?” Not only are procedural questions the easiest to solve via self-service, but as we hope to show in next week’s webcast, they are also the easiest types of questions to successfully supplement knowledgebase (KB) articles with rich media, such as a video demonstrating the procedure.

There are lots of reasons for this large chunk of procedural questions:

  • Complexity, of course, plays a big role: if processes aren’t intuitive, customers need help.
  • Fewer companies ship user manuals these days, which certainly doesn’t help (how infuriating is it to spend hundreds of dollars on a consumer electronics device and find no manual in the box!).
  • Fewer IT resources are available at customer sites–especially for smaller companies–so tech support receives more ‘end user’ questions.
  • I’d also say that some companies focus so much on technical questions in the KB that even customers who want to leverage self-service for “How do I?” questions won’t find the answer in the KB.

This really was driven home for me last week when I was struggling to figue out how to add a watermark to a MS Word document.  I won’t tell you how long I tried to figure it out, and yes, I realize now the option is right there on the ‘Page Layout’ tab (as my mother would say, If it was a snake it would have bitten me).  But I couldn’t figure it out.  I broke down and clicked on the question mark to access MS Word help, typed in ‘watermark,’ and the first search return was a link to a video showing how to add a watermark.  I didn’t have to read anything, and I didn’t even have to watch the whole video–as soon as I saw where the watermark option was, I was home free.

Even if I was not an English speaker, this video would have shown me the way.  For all of you struggling to figure out how to cost effectively translate KB content into mulitple languages, think about supplementing English KB articles with rich media as a starting point.  A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words.

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4 Comments on “A third of tech support incidents are for procedural, or “How do I?” questions”

  1. dbkayanda Says:

    I completely agree that rich media is a great complement to knowledge, most especially “how to” articles. Reuse counts (internally) and self-service activity can help organizations target where to make this investment.

    This is important stuff. SSPA’s vision of “Value Added Services” is intimately linked with increasing demand for “how to” support: as an industry, we really need to expand beyond reactive break-fix and move to helping our customers get the most value out of their products.

    So, here’s a naming challenge: what should we call this type of knowledge? Or these kinds of cases? “Procedural” and “how-to” are both too limited: we’re not just helping people use features, but helping them run their businesses more effectively or run their lives more satisfyingly. I’m interested in your and your readers’ thoughts: what do we call this stuff? Because I think it’s our path to move up the value chain as an industry.

  2. Esteban Kolsky Says:


    I think you are making a great point – but it only applies to those who have they KB “house in order” sort of speak.

    For each company that has a complete knowledgebase, with good search tools and techniques, updated information, and a gentle and easy-to-understand interface for customers to use — sorry. As I was saying, not many (if any) companies have the proper infrastructure in place to deliver the right content to the right person – even less to add video to it!

    I think that most, if not all, support organizations would be surprised to see how dramatically their calls and tickets would drop if they were to invest even 1/3 of what they invest in bringing in new people to manage an ever-growing set of problems (your complexity point above was excellent) into a better interface (not even going to go deeper than that).

    There are so many better ways to make it work than doing the stupid search box (what was the biggest innovation behind that in the last 15 years – a new icon?) and hoping people know how to use it.

    Some of the best implementations I have ever seen did away with that completely, put interesting, engaging, and easy-to-use interfaces to deal with customers, and saw their adoption rates for their self-service solution jump dramatically.

    I’d be happy to help anyone who thinks it cannot be done think beyond the stupid box and come up with a better interface and / or solution for their self-service.

    As usual, good post and good comments.

  3. Haim Toeg Says:

    The saddest part of this analysis, at least as I observed it through the years, is that many of this type incidents are generated by vendor’s employees as opposed to customers. Usually they are out in the field, either attempting to set up a POC install or implement the product as part of a services engagement, often poorly prepared and lacking the documentation, training and knowledge to do their job right. These become highly volatile, politically charged situations that reflect badly on everybody involved. So, from my perspective, I’d think that users of of these platforms will be, to a great extent, internal employees or partners which use it to supplement their education.

  4. Mark Says:

    I just visited your blog at “https://jragsdale.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/a-third-of-tech-support-incidents-are-for-procedural-or-how-do-i-questions/” and found an interesting one for content link exchange with my website. As your blog is relevant with mine so it would beneficial for both of us and in this way we can also increase our back links. If you also find it suitable then please let me know at- mark.jn09@gmail.com

    Mark Johnny

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