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When it Comes to Customer Support Documentation, Empathy & Perspective Come First

PHIL DUPERTUISBlog Article | 6 min read | April 4, 2022

By the time your customers find and read your support or troubleshooting documentation, they’re likely already frustrated or confused. It’s easy to accidentally compound a reader’s exasperation by writing content that doesn’t match their perspective or underestimating the importance of user experience.

One of the most important steps in helping (and ultimately retaining or evangelizing) customers is demonstrating that you understand their feelings and that you want to help.

The good news is this: if your support articles and other knowledge base content lack empathy and perspective, it’s pretty easy to identify the problem and rewrite it.

Identifying unsympathetic articles

You need to know ASAP if a piece of documentation is not working for your audience. That’s why you should prioritize gathering feedback.

Be sure that you’re collecting feedback from customers, as well as your colleagues or peers. You can track this using a feedback widget or feedback form, or provide a way for readers to get in touch with the author directly. Then, make a note of the pages that are identified as “not helpful” so that you can make updates as needed. Tools like Typeform or Hotjar make this easy. 

It’s important to remember that user feedback will not usually include specific solutions for how to improve the content — its primary purpose is to flag documentation that needs revising.

live-chatYou should also plan regular check-ins with your customer success or support team, as well as your salespeople. These are individuals who spend their entire day talking to customers, learning how they speak, and working with them to solve issues. Get a feel for what they’re hearing most often, how users want to be addressed, and areas where empathy is lacking.

Use the product. This might seem obvious, but in order to write useful product documentation, you’ll need to use the product or service yourself. You should do this consistently, in all different moods and settings, and use different site navigation paths every time to understand the full spectrum of your customers’ experiences. 

Fixing the problem

Embrace your expertise. Since you’re the product expert, it’s okay for your opinion to come through in your writing. In fact, it should!

The reader assumes that you know the most about their problem, so if your documentation lacks a clear point of view, it will send the message that you aren’t confident in your own advice. Would you follow instructions that seem uncertain? Would you trust an authority who can’t speak definitively about their domain?

Consider it this way: the customer is reading documentation so that they don’t have to do all of the thinking that you already did.

Cut out the jargon. Your readers do not want to open several tabs and frantically google your industry terms. Use an informal, active style, similar to the way you’d speak to someone in person. Explain the process as if you were on a support call or addressing the user in person.

If you would have to stop and define a bit of lingo for a friend of yours who doesn’t work in your industry, it’s best to avoid using it in your support documentation. If you find that you have to use a word that the average person would be unfamiliar with, be sure to provide a clear and concise definition. 

Customer support

Plan for the future but focus on the present. Don’t put off creating great support documentation until after your next product update or launch. Timelines don’t always go according to plan, and you don’t want to leave current users hanging.

Plus, when you write customer support content with the mindset that it will soon be replaced or outdated, the user can tell, and will likely feel neglected. Just because big changes are on the horizon doesn’t mean you should abandon the users who are looking for answers now — they deserve the same effort and attention as future users.

Wherever possible, structure your content in a way that will make it easy to edit as your offerings evolve. 

“Good writing will get replaced. Bad writing will get replaced immediately. Epic writing will get edited.”- Daniya Kamran

Use technology to your advantage. If you want to create the best possible experience for customers who reference your support documentation, just putting blocks of text on a page isn’t going to cut it. Your knowledge base strategy should go beyond the content itself and take into account the platform where it’s posted.

To keep your customer support operations running smoothly and demonstrate to customers that you care about their experience, you’ll need to leverage platforms that connect to one another (or, even better, a single platform that does it all — AI chatbots, helpdesks, customer portals, and more). Tools like HubSpot Service Hub™Intercom Articles, and more can keep your knowledge base connected with other facets of your customer support services, improving the overall experience for both your customers and your team members.

sticker-wtd-colorsLean on resources like Write the Docs. Write the Docs is a global community of support and technical article writers, editors, and contributors. They have fantastic articles about Support team documentation writing and even have an active Slack community dedicated to relevant discussions.

TL;DR? 

Your users typically look to support materials when they’re in a confusing situation, or something has gone wrong. Remember that when writing your documents. And don’t forget to…

  • Create a feedback channel for your users to weigh in on the helpfulness of your articles.
  • Use your product to find and highlight potential trouble areas proactively.
  • Form an opinion, and cut the jargon.
  • Seek immortality by writing articles that can be updated or adapted, but are still helpful for users right now.
  • Leverage technology to integrate your documentation with other facets of customer support.
  • Get help and connect with other support documentation writers like yourself.

When in doubt, remember: an emotionally appropriate response should always preclude a substantive response.


Want Salted Stone to audit your top support articles? Mention this article when you reach out to us and let us put your materials to the empathy test.

2. Check out your competition.

What better way to draw inspiration than to look at your well-established competition?

It’s worth taking a look at popular, highly reviewed blogs because their strategy and execution is what got them to grow in credibility. The purpose of doing this isn’t to copy these elements, but to gain better insight into what readers appreciate in a quality blog.

There are multiple angles you should look at when doing a competitive analysis:

  • Visuals: Look at the blog’s branding, color palette, and theme.
  • Copy: Analyze the tone and writing style of the competition to see what readers respond well to.
  • Topics: See what subject matter their readers enjoy interacting with.

3. Determine what topics you’ll cover.

Before you write anything, pick a topic you’d like to write about. The topic can be pretty general to start as you find your desired niche in blogging.

Some ways to choose topics to cover include asking yourself questions like:

  • Who do I want to write to?
  • How well do I understand this topic?
  • Is this topic relevant?

4. Identify your unique angle.

What perspective do you bring that makes you stand out from the crowd? This is key to determining the trajectory of your blog’s future and there’s many avenues to choose in the process.

  • What unique experience makes you a trusted expert or thought leader on the topic?
  • What problem will you solve for readers?
  • Will you share your opinions on trending debates?
  • Teach your readers how to do something?
  • Compare or share original research?

It’s up to you to decide the unique angle you’ll take on topics.

5. Name your blog.

This is your opportunity to get creative and make a name that gives readers an idea of what to expect from your blog. Some tips on how to choose your blog name include:

  • Keep your blog name easy to say and spell.
  • Link your blog name to your brand message.
  • Consider what your target audience is looking for.

If you still need more assistance, try using a blog name generator.

Make sure the name you come up with isn’t already taken as it could lessen your visibility and confuse readers looking for your content.

6. Create your blog domain.

domain is a part of the web address nomenclature someone would use to find your website or a page of your website online.

Your blog’s domain will look like this: www.yourblog.com. The name between the two periods is up to you, as long as this domain name doesn’t yet exist on the internet.

Want to create a subdomain for your blog? If you already own a cooking business at www.yourcompany.com, you might create a blog that looks like this: blog.yourcompany.com. In other words, your blog’s subdomain will live in its own section of yourcompany.com.

Some CMS platforms offer subdomains as a free service, where your blog lives on the CMS, rather than your business’s website. For example, it might look like this: yourblog.contentmanagementsystem.com. However, to create a subdomain that belongs to your company website, register the subdomain with a website host.

Most website hosting services charge very little to host an original domain — in fact, website costs can be as inexpensive as $3 per month when you commit to a 36-month term.

Here are five popular web hosting services to choose from:

7. Choose a CMS and set up your blog.

CMS (content management system) is a software application that allows users to build and maintain a website without having to code it from scratch. CMS platforms can manage domains (where you create your website) and subdomains (where you create a webpage that connects to an existing website).

HubSpot customers host web content via CMS Hub. Another popular option is a self-hosted WordPress website on a hosting site such as WP Engine. Whether you create a domain or a subdomain to start your blog, you’ll need to choose a web hosting service after you pick a CMS.

8. Customize the look of your blog.

Once you have your domain name set up, customize the appearance of your blog to reflect the theme of the content you plan on creating and your brand.

For example, if you’re writing about sustainability and the environment, green might be a color to keep in mind while designing your blog.

Sustainability blog example

Image Source

If you already manage a website and are writing the first post for that existing website, ensure the article is consistent with the website in appearance and subject matter. Two ways to do this are including your:

  • Logo: This can be your business’s name and logo — it will remind blog readers of who’s publishing the content. (How heavily you want to brand your blog, however, is up to you.)
  • “About” Page: You might already have an “About” blurb describing yourself or your business. Your blog’s “About” section is an extension of this higher-level statement. Think of it as your blog’s mission statement, which serves to support your company’s goals.

9. Write your first blog post.

Once you have your blog set up, the only thing missing is the content. While the design and layout are fun and functionally necessary, it’s the content that will draw your readers in and keep them coming back. So how do you actually go about writing one of these engaging and informational pieces?https://www.youtube.com/embed/oa5E1LWHG7A

Writing Your First Blog Post

You’ve got the technical and practical tidbits down — now it’s time to write your very first blog post. And nope, this isn’t the space to introduce yourself and your new blog (i.e. “Welcome to my blog! This is the topic I’ll be covering. Here are my social media handles. Will you please follow?”).

Start with “low-hanging fruit,” writing about a highly specific topic that serves a small segment of your target audience.

That seems unintuitive, right? If more people are searching for a term or a topic, that should mean more readers for you.

But that’s not true. If you choose a general and highly searched topic that’s been covered by major competitors or more established brands, it’s unlikely that your post will rank on the first page of search engine results pages (SERPs). Give your newly born blog a chance by choosing a topic that few bloggers have written about.

Let’s walk through this process.

1. Choose a topic you’re passionate and knowledgeable about.

Before you write anything, pick a topic for your blog post. The topic can be pretty general to start. For example, if you’re a company that sells a CRM for small-to-enterprise businesses, your post might be about the importance of using a single software to keep your marketing, sales, and service teams aligned.

Pro tip: You may not want to jump into a “how-to” article for your first blog post.

Why?

Your credibility hasn’t been established yet. Before teaching others how to do something, you’ll first want to show that you’re a leader in your field and an authoritative source.

For instance, if you’re a plumber writing your first post, you won’t yet write a post titled “How to Replace the Piping System in your Bathroom.” First, you’d write about modern faucet setups, or tell a particular success story you had rescuing a faucet before it flooded a customer’s house.

Here are four other types of blog posts you could start with:

  • List (“Listicle”): 5 ways to fix a leaky faucet
  • Curated Collection: 10 faucet and sink brands to consider today
  • SlideShare Presentation: 5 types of faucets to replace your old one (with pictures)
  • News Piece: New study shows X% of people don’t replace their faucet frequently enough

If you’re having trouble coming up with topic ideas, a good topic brainstorming session should help. In the post I’ve linked, my colleague walks you through a helpful process for turning one idea into many. Similar to the “leaky faucet” examples above, you would “iterate off old topics to come up with unique and compelling new topics.”

This can be done by:

  • Changing the topic scope
  • Adjusting your time frame
  • Choosing a new audience
  • Taking a positive/negative approach
  • Introducing a new format

And if you’re still stuck, let’s take a look at some first blog post idea examples.

First Blog Post Ideas

The Difference Between [Niche Topic] and [Niche Topic], Explained by a [Niche Expert]
  • The Difference Between SEM and SEO, Explained by a Marketing Expert
  • The Difference Between Sedans and Coupes, Explained by a Car Mechanic
  • The Difference Between Baking and Broiling, Explained by a Professional Baker
The 10 Best and Worst [Niche Tools] for [Niche Activity]
  • The 10 Best and Worst Writing Software for Fiction Writing
  • The 10 Best and Worst CRMs for Nurturing Prospects
  • The 10 Best and Worst Family Cars for Cross-Country Roadtrips
8 [Niche Activity] Common Mistakes (+ Ways to Fix Them)
  • 8 Non-Fiction Writing Common Mistakes (+ Ways to Fix Them)
  • 8 Salmon Broiling Common Mistakes (+ Ways to Fix Them)
  • 8 Car Maintenance Common Mistakes (+ Ways to Fix Them)
9 Proven Tips for [Niche Activity]
  • 9 Proven Tips for Checking Plumbing Problems under Your Kitchen Sink
  • 9 Proven Tips for Writing a Non-Fiction Bestseller
  • 9 Proven Tips for Doing DIY Car Maintenance
Why We/I Switched from [Niche Tool] to [Niche Tool] (Comparison)
  • Why We Switched from Pipedrive to HubSpot (Comparison)
  • Why I Switched from Microsoft Word to Scrivener (Comparison)
  • Why We Switched from iMacs to Surface Studio (Comparison)
[Niche Tool] vs [Niche Tool]: Which [Tool] is Best for You?
  • Zendesk vs Freshcaller: Which Call Software is Best for You?
  • Air Fryer vs Convection Oven: Which One is Best for You?
  • Mazda Miata vs Toyota Supra: Which Sports Car is Best for You?
The Ultimate Roundup of [Niche Activity] Tips and Tricks
  • The Ultimate Roundup of Novel Writing Tips and Tricks
  • The Ultimate Roundup of Macaroon Baking Tips and Tricks
  • The Ultimate Roundup of Solo Traveling Tips and Tricks

Want some real examples of blog posts? See what your first blog post can look like based on the topic you choose and the audience you’re targeting.

2. Target a low-volume keyword to optimize around.

Finding a keyword with low searches in Google (we recommend sticking to about 10 to 150 monthly searches). These topics offer less competition and should therefore allow your new blog post to rank more easily.

To choose a topic, you can either do a traditional brainstorming session or carry out keyword research. We suggest the latter because you can actually see how many people are looking for that topic.

Now, don’t be intimidated by the term “keyword research.” It’s not just for marketers, but for new bloggers, too. And it’s really easy to do.

To jumpstart your keyword research, first begin by identifying the general topic of your blog.

Say you’re a plumber. Your general, high-level topic might be “plumbing” (67K monthly searches).

Next, put this term into a keyword research tool such as:

When you run this term through the tool, a list of related keywords will appear. Scan the list and choose one with a lower search volume. For this example, we’ll use “under sink plumbing” (1.4K monthly searches).

Run that keyword in the keyword research tool again. Look at the related keywords. Find one with a lower search volume. Do that again.

For this example, we’ll settle on “plumbing problems under kitchen sink” (10 monthly searches). That’s the topic for our first post.

TLDR; Choose a low-volume, low-competition keyword that will ensure your first post ranks.

For more help on keyword research, here are more resources you can use:

3. Google the term to understand your audience’s search intent.

You’ve got your topic — now, you need to check that the user’s search intent would be fulfilled by a blog post.

What does that mean?

If someone is looking for “plumbing problems under a kitchen sink,” they might be looking for a tutorial, a diagram, an article, or a product that can fix the issue. If they’re looking for the first three, you’re good — that can be covered in a blog post. A product, however, is different, and your blog post won’t rank.

How do you double-check search intent?

Google the term and look at the results. If other articles and blog posts rank for that term, you’re good to go. If you only find product pages or listicles from major publications, then find a new topic to cover in your first post.

Consider the term “under sink plumbing bathroom” (30 monthly searches). It seemed like a perfect fit because it had low monthly searches.

Upon Googling the term, we found product carousels, product pages from Home Depot and Lowes, and guides written by major publications. (You’ll also want to avoid topics that have been covered by major publications, at least for now.)

TLDR; Before writing your first blog post about a low-volume topic, double-check the user intent by Googling the keyword. Also, don’t forget to take a look at who’s written about that topic so far. If you see a major brand, consider writing about another topic.

4. Find questions and terms related to that topic.

You’ve got a highly unique topic that’s been covered by just a few people so far. It’s time to flesh it out by covering related or adjacent topics.

Use the following tools:

  • Answer the Public: When you place your keyword into this tool, it will give you a list of questions related to that term.
  • Google: Google is your best friend. Search for the term and look under “People also ask” and “People also search for.” Be sure to touch upon those topics in the post.

You can also use these keyword research tools we mentioned above in step one.

5. Come up with a working title.

You might come up with a few different working titles — in other words, iterations of approaching that topic to help you focus your writing.

For example, you may decide to narrow your topic to “Tools for Fixing Leaky Faucets” or “Common Causes of Leaky Faucets.” A working title is specific and will guide your post so you can start writing.

Let’s take a real post as an example: “How to Choose a Solid Topic for Your Next Blog Post.”

Appropriate, right? The topic, in this case, was probably “blogging.” Then the working title may have been something like, “The Process for Selecting a Blog Post Topic.” And the final title ended up being “How to Choose a Solid Topic for Your Next Blog Post.”

See that evolution from topic, to working title, to final title? Even though the working title may not end up being the final title (more on that in a moment), it still provides enough information so you can focus your blog post on something more specific than a generic, overwhelming topic.

6. Create an outline.

Sometimes, blog posts can have an overwhelming amount of information — for the reader and the writer. The trick is to organize the info in a way so readers aren’t intimidated by length or amount of content. This organization can take multiple forms — sections, lists, tips — whatever’s most appropriate. But it must be organized!

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