FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions or Fully Anticipated Questions?

Years ago, while working for a software company, I got into a lengthy discussion with a developer and tech support manager about the value of adding information to the company’s tech support FAQs.

With the launch of a new, better version of one of our flagship products, the interface had changed, as had many of the menus, shortcuts, and features.

While most of the changes were enhancements or significant upgrades to existing capabilities, I feared that we would face a decrease in customer satisfaction if we executed the launch without a great introduction and self-help tools to ensure a smooth transition.

Our sales, marketing, and development teams had worked together to develop launch presentations, announcements, brochures, white papers, feature/benefit lists, training guides, and a variety of other communication pieces to support the launch.

As I edited sales training materials, I asked our developers to answer a few final questions for me and share the information with our support team to incorporate into FAQs on our website.

The lead developer responded, “But FAQs are just that; they’re Frequently Asked Questions. We may have gotten that question once or twice from the beta group, but I wouldn’t qualify it as frequently.”

I voiced my concern that the beta group included some of our most active users, many of whom had requested the enhancements now being incorporated into the product. These individuals received small-group instruction from our team during the beta, and in some cases they were accustomed to one-on-one email access to the folks building the product.

One of these experts asking a question would likely represent a large segment of our potentially less expert-level customer base.  Expecting our support team to answer such questions multiple times would take away from their ability to quickly respond to more complex issues.

I thought I had made a pretty compelling case.  And still, he resisted.

We continued debating the purpose of FAQs for a few minutes, until I finally responded, “I understand that you think FAQs should be reserved for Frequently Asked Questions. For this launch, I’m asking you to expand your definition to include Fully Anticipated Questions. I fully anticipate that some customer – or maybe a lot of customers – will ask our sales and support reps this. If we know we’ll have to explain it to at least one more person, can we please just add it to the website in advance so people can find it instead of waiting for a response?  I’ll write it. All I’m asking you to do is say ‘yes, send it to me and I’ll make sure it’s correct and get it to support to add to the site.'”

“Yes,” he responded. “Send it to me and I’ll review it and send to them.”

We gathered additional questions during sales training and added them to our FAQs, and we incorporated the additional messaging into some of our other communications for the launch. The product enhancements were a great success, and we measured a lower spike in support contacts than we had during previous releases. Of course, this wasn’t driven by just changing our FAQs, but by the great work done by our development team and the execution of a comprehensive product marketing, communication, and training plan.

It’s important to anticipate and answer your customers’ questions in a variety of ways. FAQs can be an effective tool for communicating information – just like a video, presentation, or email message.  Think creatively about how you can use all of the tools available to you, and above all, don’t wait until your customers are frustrated and asking for help before you give them the details they’re looking for. Anticipate what they want to know – and ask them when possible – and then, publish the information in a variety of formats that are easy for them to consume.

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