Improving the Xero support experience
How Xero futureproofed their customer support experience
“Quality support is key to a good customer experience. As a rapidly scaling accounting software company, Xero needed to make the self-service support process more effective, freeing up support agents to tackle the harder queries.”
Richard ‘Dice’ Allardice is the information architect at Xero, and worked in the team behind the Xero Central support site. In addition to overseeing the development of the website right from its inception, he also led the content strategy and information architecture efforts.
Xero creates accounting software that anyone can use, whether that’s the owner of a small bakery or a team of accountants in a practice. Given the varied capabilities of the product as well as the relatively complex subject matter, support has always been a big focus at Xero – it’s key to the overall experience of using the product. But Xero was expanding rapidly, and the team could see how many agents they’d need to maintain their current levels of support – so they started to design for it. If Xero could answer most of their most common customer questions with content, that would free up support agents to tackle the harder and gnarlier queries. They just had to get their content in order.
Beyond the forecasted growth, user research showed that by addressing issues with the existing support website, Xero could make it easier for customers to find the answers they were looking for. As Xero had grown, so too had the number of support articles. In the 15 or so years since the company was first founded, the company had continued to add to a growing repository of support content. Xero also found that the search engine serving the support website could be working harder and more effectively.
In scoping the task of improving Xero Central, the team wanted to focus on areas with the most room for improvement, without disrupting anything that was already working well.
To ensure that any changes could be measured effectively, the team opted to release adjustments incrementally. This would allow them to easily pinpoint the impact of any changes and avoid anything that could tilt the needle in the other direction.
“We don’t want to stop people from asking us questions, but it would be great if we get more of the questions which people can’t resolve on their own.”
Redesigning the Xero support site was a substantial undertaking, involving comprehensive audits as well as in-depth research and testing with Xero’s customers.
Over the course of the project, the team:
- Consulted with Xero staff, including writers of support content, customer support agents, managers and product specialists.
- Researched the wealth of data already on hand within Xero, such as case volumes and topics, as well as analytics.
- Carried out a content audit of the existing help center and education materials.
- Performed a product audit, where the team mapped every screen in every product.
- Tested and refined the taxonomy.
- Revised the content strategy, including assessing the content needed for different audiences and scenarios.
- Introduced a new search engine to surface relevant content for Xero customers.
- Addressed the information architecture. The team carried out organization and labelling work (extending the taxonomy) of all support content and tested to find the right balance between usability and findability.
Figuring out what people are looking for
The people using Xero Central – Xero’s customers – largely fall into one of two groups:
- Accountants and bookkeepers: People with strong accounting backgrounds and more likely to have a foundational knowledge of Xero products.
- Business users: Business owners or people working with or for those business owners. People in this group are less likely to have backgrounds in accounting.
Research into cases, searches and user behavior indicated that most support cases were task-based – how to do something within Xero or troubleshoot a common issue. This was a mixture of people unsure how to start something and those who got stuck partway through a task. The existing Xero support site already addressed these types of questions well, but the content needed some reorganization. The team based their updated information architecture around the tasks people need to be able to perform using Xero products.
Learning from prior research
The task-based approach to support already had some precedent within Xero. Prior to the project to redevelop the support website, Xero’s design and research team had run card sorts and tree tests to determine how their audience grouped tasks within Xero products and to define the “top tasks” themselves. This earlier work was useful to determine how to improved Xero’s in-product navigation.
Establishing a baseline with Treejack
Following up on these earlier studies by the design and research team, Dice wanted to establish a baseline for the current Xero support website. Using Treejack, he set up a number of studies to test the navigability of the existing topic structure as well as the findability of supporting information for the top Xero tasks. Establishing this baseline would later prove essential as a way for the team to measure the impact of their changes.
When going over the results, Dice found that success finding answers on the support website often differed according to the audience: whether they were accountants and bookkeepers or business users (less experienced in matters of accounting).
“How can we find the middle ground that doesn’t feel too dumbed down for the pros, but is also understandable to the people who aren’t in the know?”.
Using OptimalSort to test topic labeling
Alongside the Treejack testing, Dice conducted a hybrid card sort using OptimalSort. The purpose of these studies was to test topic grouping and comprehension. He wanted to ensure that regardless of whether users have experience with Xero or even accounting in general, the subtopic groupings and the terminology on the topic/subtopic labels make sense to people.
Dice ran these OptimalSort card sorts within Usertesting.com’s usability testing platform. This ended up being really valuable, as Dice could see both the card sort data and listen to recordings of users as they worked their way through the tests. Importantly, he was able to see some of the rationale behind why people grouped cards in a particular way – and where they were running into problems.
Testing the final website
Xero developed the first draft of the new Xero Central website with a heavy focus on tasks, informed by their research using Treejack and OptimalSort and what they already knew from previous Xero research and customer support data. The primary organization of the Xero Central website was based on topics, which users could navigate to find what they needed. With the topic structure for the new help center mapped out, Dice returned to Treejack to test the navigability of the new structure, as well as the findability of supporting information for those top Xero tasks.
The finished product
The new website has been built on a solid foundation of user research, with a topic list based on extensive user testing. Drill down deeper, and the task-based content structure means it’s easy for Xero’s audience of experienced accountants and inexperienced users to find what they’re looking for. This is also true at the article level – everything is structured so people can either grab exactly what they need and go; or work through the lot, step by step. It’s a reflection of how people use Xero products and nests content where people expect it to be found.
The new taxonomy supports this improved findability, helping both users and Xero customer support staff alike to surface the right piece of support content for their particular task.
With the new support website now live, Xero is able to answer more queries with content. Xero’s customer support agents, meanwhile, have more time to tackle the harder queries.
“Optimal Workshop’s tools helped us understand how we could improve our website navigation and make sure we were making changes that actually made sense to our users”.
Xero used our UX tools to figure out the best way to develop an intuitive, user-focused support website. What will you find out about your users?