I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about help.
Help, within the context of a digital product experience, is the act of building in methods for users to access additional information that isn’t included or apparent within the main interface of that product. It happens when users hit a roadblock when using a product and require further assistance.
Help tools do a lot of the heavy lifting for product education, which is the methodology for making sure the user knows their way around a digital product. The more complex the software or subject matter, the more help the user is likely going to need.
However, when overutilized, underutilized, or misused, these tools have the potential to destroy the entire user experience. As UX writers, content designers, or even technical writers, we need to put on our information architecture hats in order to craft an experience that works effectively.
Without any data to back this, I would guess that one of the main reasons users abandon a digital product or experience is because they are straight-up confused. If a user or customer is engaging with your product to accomplish a goal and they are unable to navigate through your product without asking for help, that’s a huge red flag.
As UX writers and content designers, it’s up to us to make sure users find answers to their questions as they arise. Or, even better, to design experiences that not only anticipate those questions but eliminate any reason they’d need to ask them to begin with.
Levels of product education
Wouldn’t it be great if users could just read our minds and stay on the happy path forever? Let’s all take a moment to laugh, then cry, because you and I both know that that’s just not reality! The further a user needs to go down the rabbit hole of help, the worse you’re doing as a UX professional. Working as a content designer at H&R Block, I deal with tax software, so this is a tricky one because people are ALWAYS going to have questions. But the general rule of thumb remains—if they have to Google it, you’ve failed them.
Here’s a text-adventure version of a journey map: A user wants to accomplish a goal but is unsure what to do next. They first look at the screen they’re on for evidence of an easy solution. They may look at some contextual help on the screen if they are still confused. If they don’t find the answers within the contextual help, they may navigate to a help center or FAQ section on the website or app containing long-form copy info. If they’re still unsatisfied, they may either Google their question or utilize customer support via internal chat, phone call, or contact form–sometimes both, in either order.
Level 1: The screen itself