Tech & Work

6 lessons your organization can learn from Google's help systems

Taking a look at how Google helps people learn to use its tools might prompt you to rethink your organization's help systems. Here are six key takeaways.

Image: iStockphoto/bgton

Over the years, Google built numerous help systems to make it easier for people to use Google tools. These systems help people in apps, on the web, and on mobile devices.

Here are six effective help practices Google's support systems suggest—with questions to encourage you to review regarding your own organization's help systems.

1. Provide help in context

With most Google apps, click or tap "help" to access articles or find answers to common questions. For example, tap through to the Chrome Help page in iOS and Google displays more than 15 topics along with a link to the Chrome Forum, a Google Group dedicated to Chrome support. Google offers a link for "help" or "help & feedback" in almost every app.

Q: Walk step-by-step through a process at your organization. How do you provide help along the way?

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Most Google apps offer access to help in context. Does your organization do the same?

2. Put all relevant help on a page

Look at support.google.com. You'll see links to pages for business and consumer services, forums, and the Apps Status Dashboard. One page. One easy-to-remember link. (Conveniently, help.google.com takes you there, too.)

Q: What one thing do people need to know to find your support resources?

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Find support for most Google products on a single page: support.google.com. How do people find your organization's support?

3. Show and tell

Explanations aren't just text. Google explains how things work with words, images, animations, and videos.

Sometimes, Google shows details only after the reader chooses an option. This makes it easier for a reader to understand the overall process first, then learn the details later. For example, a "Switch to Android page" shows five major steps. But each of the steps has three or four sub-steps. And, each of those steps includes an additional set of tasks that may not apply to everyone. Instead, you expand details as needed.

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Google's help pages reveal an added level of detail when needed. How do your support systems reveal only the level of detail necessary?

Google often adds images, such as icons or screenshots, at each step. This helps people understand exactly which option to tap (or click). For example, a Google Forms training page not only describes each option to click, but also shows the icon and screen illustration, too.

And, Google plans to add step-by-step explanations within Google Apps on the web, thanks to the teaching tools built by Synergyse. (Synergyse joined Google mid-2016.) Install a Chrome extension and Synergyse will show a spotlight on-screen and an explanation for each step needed to complete a task. Essentially, it adds an interactive tutorial to Google Apps in your browser.

Q: How do you use images, animations, and videos to show steps in sequence?

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Step-by-step explanations show icons and illustrations. How well do your images, animations, or videos improve clarity?

SEE: UX battle: Enterprise software vs. consumer software (TechProResearch)

4. Serve specific segments

Different people have different needs. On the Google Apps training site (learn.googleapps.com), Google segments support by industry, role, and task. People at a non-profit organization can learn how to "Organize successful fundraising events," while a manufacturer learns to "Streamline and simplify complex selling". Both explain how to use Google Calendar and Google Drive, but with sector-specific terms and language.

Google's help pages are available in more than 40 different languages. If your organization isn't quite as global, an automated translation option may still be useful. Of course there's a Google help page that explains how to "Add the Website Translator plugin to your site."

Google offers specific support for Google Apps Administrators. This information tends to be more technical, and relies a bit less on images than general consumer help pages. A Google Apps Administrator can also call a person to get help for supported Google Apps for Work products.

Q: How do your support systems serve the needs of people in different organizations, roles, or communities?

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Google explains tools in language for specific industries, roles, and tasks. Do you explain your offerings differently to different groups?

5. Support social

Google also encourages you to Tweet for help. Ask your question on Twitter—in 140 characters or fewer—and add the hashtag #gHelp. (See recent Tweets with the #gHelp tag.) You'll likely get a brief response along with a link to a help page or a post. To deliver "Help on Social" support Google worked with Conversocial, a company that helps organizations serve people who use social media. Conversocial wraps workflow around social media conversations to help an organization address people's concerns.

Q: How do you monitor and respond to conversations in social media?

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Google encourages Twitter users to add #gHelp to a Tweet to ask for help. How does your organization serve people who use social media?

6. Empower experts

Google recognizes and rewards "Top Contributors," people who provide useful assistance in Google Product Forums or Help on Social. Top Contributors answer customer questions enthusiastically, accurately, and politely over time. The company rewards these volunteers with additional access to people (i.e., Google-hosted events where contributors meet colleagues and Googlers) and products (e.g., early access to new apps). It's a way to encourage people to share what they know—and recognize people who help others.

Q: What steps does your organization take to encourage people to share what they know? How do you recognize people who help?

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Google recognizes enthusiastic experts who help others. How does your organization encourage people to share what they know?

What do you think?

Are there other companies' help or support systems that you respect? Why? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Also see

About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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