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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for help center customization

By Elena Tsesnietse, Marketing manager at Lotus Themes

Published December 16, 2019
Last updated September 15, 2020

Customization is one of the biggest challenges with help centers, whether it’s for a startup or a global enterprise. While they may have a help center and are already reaping business benefits from it, important details can fall through the cracks when customizing it, specifically when it comes to user experience (UX).

Building meaningful help center experiences requires more than just creating a knowledge base and adding splashes of color or fancy typography—it involves processes and principles behind the display of information that truly empower customers to self-serve and enable them to find information with minimum effort. In fact, 91 percent of customers only consider self-service an option if it’s easy to use and tailored to their needs.

To help businesses ensure they’re adopting these best practices, we created a hierarchy of needs for help center customization:

  • Deploy maintenance-friendly source code
  • Develop relevant and meaningful content
  • Use design thinking to create an exceptional UX

Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the more basic needs must be met before reaching the most sophisticated, ultimate need, which, in the help center customization realm, that’s exceptional UX.

Deploy maintenance-friendly source code

The source code behind the scenes of an organization’s knowledge base is the most basic need in the customization hierarchy as it ensures the help center is usable. Building a fully functional, scalable help center that evolves with the business is next to impossible without maintenance-friendly code. It’s a massive lost opportunity when organizations have strong content and a clear design vision, but the technology stands in the way. The source code is the backbone of the help center—when there’s a problem, you go to the source.

Quick-and-dirty code​

Sloppy code makes it difficult to maintain the help center because, more often than not, only the developer who wrote it can understand it. Although quick-and-dirty code may get the knowledge base up and running faster, it requires more time to maintain, since developers may have to rewrite large pieces of code.

To build a strong backbone for their help center, organizations will need to develop their attention to detail. Even small details can hinder the customer experience and create problems for users—from a slight inconvenience like squashed or stretched images to more major ones, like the inability to use some sections or functions. As always, check for errors, such as typos, broken links, or images that don’t load.

Develop relevant and meaningful content

If the source code of a help center is its backbone, the content is its heart. Strong content enables customers to successfully solve problems on their own, and enables agents to quickly lead customers to solutions, product details, policies, and more. Knowledge is power, and help-center content empowers agents and customers with information.

Ensure that articles are logically categorized and scannable

Customers want to know where to look when they have an issue so they can find solutions with ease. Choose the right categories, sequence articles logically, and ensure all categories and titles are self-explanatory and understandable.

Another pro tip for helping customers find what they are looking for seamlessly is to ensure articles are scannable. Unscannable content requires users to scroll the page up and down to find relevant parts of the content or force them to read the entire article, no matter how long it is; and they’ll likely bounce as a result. Formatting components like text styles, lists, Font Awesome icons, callout blocks, tabs, and accordions help organize content in a way that is easier to digest.

Continuously update content

Content should take the most work when you’re first writing it. But, when organizations let it go out-of-date, they risk having to write it all over again.​ Brands should take an agile approach to support content to ensure it evolves with changing customer needs and expectations. As such, agents should continuously flag articles for an update and tag tickets with frequently asked questions.

It’s also important to remember to make content changes with product launches or seasons. For instance, highlighting the most popular articles during peak times helps customers find relevant content when they need it most. Likewise, keep tabs on when these articles are no longer timely and archive or update them as this content isn’t evergreen.

Use design thinking to create an exceptional UX

Designing a strong UX is the tip of the help center customization pyramid: the most sophisticated need. It segues from effective content and leads to easier navigation, builds credibility, and fosters overall more desirable help center interactions. Design thinking requires brands to take an empathic approach to help center customization and see it from a user’s perspective. Without a well designed UX, customers will likely struggle and reach out to agent-assisted channels, eroding the benefit of even having self-service. Or, worse, they’ll turn to unofficial channels where they may hear slanted advice or even fall into the arms of competitors.

Build a help center that customers can trust

Customers expect consistent experiences across channels, and to that end, an organization’s help center should be on-brand. Customers need to trust a business’ help center as the one source of truth for their products or services. A help center that looks like a brand’s main site is more likely to foster trust because it feels familiar.

Implement responsive design​

61 percent of consumers won’t return to a mobile website if they had problems with it, and 40 percent will go to a competitor instead. Insignificant flaws are more evident on smaller screens, and search engines give priority to websites with a responsive design.

help center customization responsive design  

Responsive design versus non-responsive design on mobile

Follow universal design standards

A well-designed help center is intuitive, simple, and aligns with users’ expectations. If customers can’t find the search bar or a button to send a request, they’ll give up and leave with a bad impression. Here are some pro tips for designing a user-friendly help center that puts the customer experience first:

  • Choose clear fonts, consistent colors, and appropriate spacing:
  • Make sure there’s a contrast between the text and background. Too many fonts, colors, and icon types create chaos and take the focus away from the content. Similarly, too tight or loose spacing between characters, words, lines, and paragraphs is hard on the eyes, making content difficult to read and click on.

  • Use whitespace:
  • Leaving room for whitespace can draw attention to the most crucial information. Furthermore, it makes content easier to read.

  • Include side navigation:
  • Side navigation lets users get to the desired information faster without leaving the current page.

  • Use high-quality images:
  • ‘nuff said.

  • Limit unnecessary clicking:
  • Some help centers stick to the default organization—categories, sections, articles—even if they don’t have unique content for each section. To reduce unnecessary clicks, brands should organize their help center around their own content needs instead of sticking to default structure.

If you have Zendesk Guide, check out Lotus Themes in the Marketplace and explore their services for customizing help centers.

Elena Tsesnietse is the Marketing Manager at Lotus Themes, an authorized Zendesk solution provider of Guide themes and help center customization.