Why Simplicity Matters (a lot) for Support Websites

During the November ASP Support Website Award conference, a recurring theme was that the best support websites had a strong element of simplicity. What does that mean?

The websites were visually sleek, with plenty of white space but more importantly a clear hierarchy of components, so that users are confronted with just a handful of items at a time (and, typically, the very items that will be useful to them at that moment).

The navigation used simple terminology as did other directional objects. Terminology was always user-friendly.

Search facets were streamlined. Only a few, most-relevant facets are shown, at least by default.  (Do your users really care about the author of KB articles? Their publication dates?)

Just like with interior design, simplicity is expensive! Achieving minimal clutter and perfect organization requires lots of resources: Red Hat stated that their dedicated CX team counts over 200 members, and that does not include KCS authors! Simplicity also requires careful and time-consuming detailed analysis of user personas and use cases, and focused efforts to define a strong taxonomy across repositories to enable smart search results

With that, it’s not surprising that large companies tend to win more support site awards. They are more likely to have the resources to create more sophisticated sites, as well as the resources to apply for awards. However, I presented the ASP award for Smarsh, which is not a large company. You can see their support portal here, which illustrates that there are plenty of reasons why smaller companies can create and maintain great support websites–basically because they can find it easier to achieve simplicity:

  • They have small product lines, so no need to design complex product search functionality. One of the large award winners, Siemens, supports more than 350 products! Smarsh has a handful.
  • They have fewer personas, so fewer use cases to model.
  • They support much less functionality, which means that the navigation is streamlined, and the number of design elements limited.
  • They have fewer backend tools (sometimes only one!) so the website can easily have a more cohesive look. Some of the larger companies that won awards had noticeable
  • They have more porous internal silos, so they can streamline the experience for the end user. For instance, Smarsh has a completely integrated offer between support and training, because the CX team was able to bring together both teams. Their product pages include both training and support information, as do individual KB articles.

Does your support website lack simplicity? We can help. Contact me for more info.