Building Rapport – Helping the Helpless

Last time, I talked about using the Power of “Because” when directing users to a support page.

Unfortunately, the Power of “Because” isn’t always enough. For some users, it’s not that they think we’re blowing them off. It’s that they just can’t handle support pages. Maybe they feel overwhelmed by the perceived wall of information. Or maybe they’re just the type of person who needs to be walked through a complex process.

In the teaching profession, we called kids like this “helpless handraisers,” and we get these types of users every now and then. This is the person who refuses to read the instructions for whatever reason, and instead wants us to regurgitate each step to them, or just make all the changes for them.

Of course, in a perfect world with unlimited time and resources, we’re happy to do everything for them in the name of engineering happiness. But the reality is, helpless handraisers are a huge time suck, and the attention they demand isn’t fair to the other users we may end up neglecting in the process.

So how do we deal with these neediest of the needy users?

First off, the goal to keep in mind when helping these helpless users is this:

Help them without doing everything for them.

And the way we do that is like so:

Use the support page as a reference as we’re helping them.

For instance, we might start a chat with something like this:

“Have you had a chance to read through the support page on custom menus? Can you tell me which step you’re getting stuck on?”

And if they continue to waffle on it:

“I’m happy to walk you through the steps, but it will help me to know what you’ve already done up to this point.”

In asking this, we’re also nudging the user to explain what they’ve already done, which will help us figure out where exactly they’re getting stuck. And once we figure that out, we continue to use the support page as a reference as we help them through the steps:

“Great! I see you’ve created and named your menu. Now, let’s move on to step 2. Do you see where it’s telling you to click?”

“Awesome, go through that, and let me know how it goes!”

In these examples, notice that I never tell the user what to do. I’m just guiding them through the steps. The user is still getting the instructions from the support page, and I’m basically just acting as a cheerleader here.

Admittedly, this technique can sometimes feel less efficient than just telling them what to do, since now we have to follow along on the support page as well. But ultimately, this is the only way to wean the helpless user and encourage them to use the support pages, while still being supportive ourselves.

If whatever they’re trying to set up is particularly complicated, using the support page as a reference also allows us to better juggle simultaneous chats, as we can just pop back every minute or so to check up on their progress and move them to the next step.

And finally, we have to remember the Ikea Effect, the scientifically supported concept that the more effort you have to expend to build something, the more you end up appreciating it. As such, if we encourage our users to take ownership of their sites, and instead of making the changes they request for them, we show them how to make these changes themselves, they will love their site more in the long run.

Speaking from my own personal experience, I’ve also found that users are always grateful for my patience when I help them learn to do something for themselves, and I would argue that I ultimately engineer more happiness when I teach the user the process, rather than just do it for them.

To tl;dr all this then:

  • Before sending a needy user to the support page, give a quick explanation as to why the support page is better.
  • Continue to use the support page as a reference as we help them.
  • If we do this consistently as a team, the user will eventually realize that they should go to the support page first, and then hit us up if they get stuck.
  • This is how we can help the helpless users without doing everything for them, but still engineer happiness in the end.

This post was adapted from my Productive Live Chatting Learnup.

#building-rapport, #needy-user, #tips-language