I went fishing over the weekend. Now, let me be quick to say that as a fisherman, I'm a fairly good magazine editor. But I was with a couple of people who are skilled anglers, and after a couple of days of watching and listening to them, the main lesson I learned was that the most expensive tackle in the world isn't much good if you can't learn to think like a fish.
Which brings us to this month's cover story about online customer self-help. The article quotes Dick Lee, a consultant and frequent contributor to CRM magazine, as saying essentially the same thing: It's crucial to understand what your customers want before you start throwing mud against the wall.
"Ninety percent of the online self-help projects started in the last 18 months have crashed," Lee says. "That's strong evidence that the people developing the stuff haven't been listening to customers. You can lead customers a little, but if you get three, four steps ahead of them, you're in trouble. They won't take quantum leaps. That's human nature."
It's not enough, in other words to know the answer to the question. You've got to understand the customer thought process behind the question. A good call center rep (heck, a mediocre call center rep) can usually intuit a lot of that background. Software still can't.
The story goes on to examine the differences between online help for the B2C and B2B sectors, but it really amounts to a matter of scale. The bottom line is that whether it's assigning some of your already thin and hard-pressed staff to the job, or taking a slice out of your revenue stream (and maybe the bottom line) to pay an outsider to do it, somebody's going to have to devote substantial effort to making sure that your online help system really works for your customers.
The technology is the easy part. Getting the information together, organized and posted is hard, perplexing, labor-intensive work. Online help can work for you if you're willing to make the investment in getting the content right; otherwise you're just going to annoy the fish...um, customers.
Larry Tuck, Editor