What makes good user support?

Hello, Wikians and other readers!

If you've been around for a bit, you have probably helped someone with a problem. A lot of users have problems with editing or coding and come to Community Central for support, but sometimes they return with empty hands.

Question ball

Users often have questions, but how do you help them successfully?

I have been a Wikia Helper for the Dutch community for almost two years now and I often get to help other Wikians. Despite not always doing it perfectly, I have got some experience now that I'd like to share with you all.

In my opinion, giving good user support consists of three elements:

  • to be knowledgable
  • to explain well
  • to be kind and patient

Knowledge about the matter


Knowing what you're talking about is important to help effectively.

It speaks for itself: almost always, you need to know what you are talking about to solve someone's problem. Sometimes, your better googling skills will already help someone out, another time you'll need advanced JavaScript knowledge in order to help.

You want to know more? No problem! Becoming better in for instance CSS can be done with experimenting on your own wiki, asking other users for their help or expertise, or following tutorials or guides online (there's plenty!). Another thing you can do is check out other forum threads that are slightly out of your reach for skill level, and try if you can solve them on your own. You can also follow forum threads or chat discussions about issues that you want to know the answer of to learn, regardless of whether you're going to use the solution yourself.

You really can't help with an issue? It's okay if you can't help every user! If you don't know the answer, you can just check out other threads you do have the answer for, or wait for the next user in need to hop in chat. Additionally, if you know someone who can help the user, you can forward the issue so the user gets their solution faster — that's helping them too :)

Good explanations

This way

Be clear in your explanations, so that the user knows which way to go.

I think most people have at some point had that teacher who knows so much, but his/her explanations are too difficult or too confusing. Just like how it's sometimes frustrating when a user doesn't explain a problem clearly, it's frustrating for this user when the person helping them has —in spite of their good intentions— a confusing explanation.

Some tips in regards to this:

  • Make sure you have understood the user's question - you can ask questions too if you're not sure what exactly the user means or if you need extra information.
  • Is the user okay with technical terminology? Look at their question and explanations to know; using technical terminology and acronyms is fine with people who have a lot of coding/editing experience.
  • Provide screenshots, direct code snippets and/or a link to where what they ask is functioning. That way, they have visual materials and examples to compare with.
  • Have a test wiki? You can recreate your solution there or allow the user to use your test wiki to try and solve the problem at their own pace if you don't have their own.
  • Providing a long list of steps to reach a goal/solution is fine, but avoid big chunks of new information. Be to the point!

After your explanation, it's much advised to also check if the user understood everything. This can be done by sticking around until the user has solved their problem. You can also and summarize your method to them after finishing, either or asking the user if they would like to shortly summarize it so you can see the message got across. Finally, you could also just ask if they understood everything or have questions left; in case they don't, your job is done.

Kindness and patience

As a last item, but definitely not the least, I believe kindness and patience to be crucial in proper user support. When users feel not only that you can help them, but that you're also willing to help them, they really feel "helped". Believe me, I'm often enough on that side of user support too (^- ^);;


Be nice and polite to the users you're trying to help. Try to look at the issue from their point of view. Users who need support are often bothered with it and only came to ask for support after looking for a solution on their own. Keep in mind that you're not the only one doing effort.

You also might have more knowledge than them in the Wikia field, but that doesn't mean you're smarter and you definitely don't want to make the user feel like you think they're dumber. Advise, don't patronize!

Problem solution maze

It might take a long way to reach the solution, so try to be patient.


It might take time before the right solution is found, but that's okay. Miscommunications can happen both from your side as from the user's side, so try not to get frustrated about it. If your point isn't clear, feel free to elaborate or provide pictures.

Also, even though efficiency is definitely still a plus and you do want to get things done, taking the time to figure out the user's problem is necessary too. It allows for mutual understanding between yourself and the user, and makes sure that the user doesn't feel like an item on your busy schedule.

Not rushing to a solution also makes sure you have the time to consider alternatives and think through the solution you're suggestion, making for a better end result. Great support tops fast support after all.

Treating others who help


Teamwork: work TOGETHER with others to give support, not against each other.

On a forum thread or in a busy chat, you might end up not being the only person who is trying to help a user in need. The key is to work with each other towards a solution, not against each other.

Are there several possible solutions being offered? It would be nice —even while helping people— to be open for the suggestions of people other than yourself. Does their alternative work too? What are the advantages and disadvantages of both (or all!) of the solutions offered? Let the supported user know your thoughts about this.

Is the person being helped already (mostly chat)? Feel free to sit back and let others work towards a solution, if they seem to be doing good. Feedback can always be given, but the more people are simultaneously trying to give advice to a user, the more it will confuse them and the less likely it is to actually work.

Try to avoid statements like "your method is wrong", "that's an inefficient way of doing ___". Statements starting with "I think that", "I believe that", "is it possible that", "what about" are less aggressive and more inviting for a dialogue. After all, you're not there to argue about which method works — that'll become clear anyway if you work together towards the solution the user needs. :)

Happy cat

Successful support is an accomplishment that feels nice for both you and the user!

That's it

If you follow the above tips, I am sure that you will be able to help more users, or help user more efficiently and/or pleasantly. And even if you can't help someone, I believe that the experience will have been more comfortable for both parties :)

These are my thoughts. Do you have experience helping users too? What do you do to help them? Am I missing anything important in helping users? Or are you a user who's gotten support before that left a bad aftertaste? Share it in the comments below!

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