There isn't much that's more frustrating than a really bad search - you know what information you're looking for, you may even know, generally, where to go to look for it. But when your search returns incorrect or irrelevant results -- or, even worse; zero results -- well, it's enough to make you want to scream.
Most users want to help themselves, and prefer to try to locate information or instructions they need on their own before calling in backup. IT departments are often the fall-back for users when the functionality of knowledge-base search is less than stellar, only adding to the frustration, says Matt Riley, CEO and co-founder of Swiftype, a site search and mobile application search company.
"Users have really high expectation about what they should be able to do and find using a search box. Sites like Google, Facebook and Amazon have taken site search to the next level, and now users expect to be able to type a few words into the box and find exactly what they're looking for," Riley says.
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Adding high-quality search to the Web, to your internal knowledge base or to a mobile application can help users help themselves, boost customer service satisfaction and take pressure off IT departments so they can focus on more strategic initiatives instead of lower-level troubleshooting or knowledge-base search.
"All the effort we put into extensive documentation would be, to a certain extent, wasted if we couldn't rely on a really good knowledge-base search. We have over 600 different apps in our catalog, so we can't count on a single FAQ to cover even 20 percent of the documentation for those. If users can't get to what they need, they can reach out to us, but that quickly becomes unsustainable; then we're swamped because all the users are reaching out to us instead of be ing able to do it themselves," says Micah Bennett, support lead for web application integration and automation company Zapier.
Zapier implemented Swiftype to allow users easier access to the extensive documentation libraries they keep for applications and their mostly self-created knowledge base.
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"We're different in that a lot of our documentation and knowledge base is self-created based on the experiences we've had with integrating and connecting these different apps together. The other thing that's helpful is the analytics capabilities, so that I can see what users are searching for and determine whether or not the answers exist, if the keywords are applicable, how effective the information is and then I can tweak results without having to bother an engineer - I can do that myself," Bennett says.
From zero to hero
Swiftype's analytics capabilities can also help companies determine what information's lacking and give site owners the tools to customize searches so that search is more effective and efficient, Riley says. That also helps keep customers from getting overly frustrated and heading to a competitor to find information, he says.
"Companies publish a lot of content and then they publish content about their content, including 'how-to's, troubleshooting information, FAQs for typical user complaints and things like that. The problem is not just with discovery - finding information that's available - but with figuring out what's not there that users need. Analytics can tell you what content should be created based on user searches, what questions are being asked for which you need answers, and how to lower bounce rates if users can't find what they need," Riley says.
The Swiftype search can also be customized to optimize searches on mobile devices, which can be one of the most frustrating experiences as a user, Riley says.
"Making sure search is optimized for accuracy, efficiency and speed is such a critical thing for businesses. Users want to help themselves, and when they can't their experience with your company is tainted - we're trying to help ease that burden, and also let IT get back to what they do best," Riley says.
This story, "How IT can help users help themselves" was originally published by CIO.