Susan Farrell on Decreasing Mozilla Support Costs

A redesign of Mozilla’s online help system used input from user behavior (e.g. search terms) and forum questions. The effort paid off by greatly reducing the number of support requests in a short time, and by allowing staff to respond to almost all support requests within 24 hours. A post by Susan Farrell, of usability consulting firm Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g), includes nice graphs of both payoffs.

If you’re not familiar with NN/g, that’s “Nielsen” as in the author of Designing Web Usability and Mobile Usability, and “Norman” as in The Design of Everyday Things and Turn Signals are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles. In the spirit of under-promising, the partner roster also includes Bruce Tognazzini (ex-Apple, author of Tog on Interface and Tog on Software Design).

At the end of summer 2011, Mozilla staff received over 11,000 user questions per month. Why so many? Clearly because many users are asking these questions! But beyond that, why do users need to ask the questions they do? Farrell identifies several issues:

  • 400 pages of online documentation were difficult to search.
  • Time spent fielding user questions took staff time from writing new help files, or improving old ones…
  • …But on the other hand, the accumulation of the new articles staff could write “caused more findability problems.”

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