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Are Your FAQs Doing Their Job?

Posted on  4 May 10  by 


My friends and I have board game nights as a way to have fun without breaking the bank.  And while Apples to Apples and Phase 10 are our faves, there’s nothing like an old-fashioned game of charades

Whether we’re acting out Project Runway or The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, it’s always a hilarious experience.  In the FAQheat of the moment, folks try wacky things to get their team to guess the correct phrase – it’s stuff that makes sense to the actor at the time (like jumping up and down to simulate flying), but looks like gobbledygook to their team.  It’s all about perspective, right?

And that got me thinking, what does the service organization do that makes total sense internally, but confuses the heck out of customers?  From recent conversations with some of our members, it sounds like our FAQs on our websites offers up some quick win opportunities.

FAQs are often the customer’s go-to information source, but they tend to be added on an ad hoc basis – cutting and pasting from press releases or internal documents.  The end result is a large volume of FAQs that are repetitive and hard to understand.  CCC data shows that between 2-5% of call volume comes from customers who were just on the company website but were either confused or unconfident in the information they found.

Just how hard are your FAQs to understand?  Well, there’s a simple, free tool you can use to find out.  It’s a readability index that goes under the name the FOG Index (related to other indexes like SMOG and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level), and it’s based off a mathematical algorithm developed in the 1950s that evaluates the clarity and simplicity of language.  These tools calculate a score representing the number of years of schooling needed to understand the writing.

[In fact, a member recently showed us a really great readability test tool that combines many of these indexes and will score whole web pages.]

So, for example the following famous passage from the Gettysburg Address would rate a 19 (meaning you’d need 19 years of education to understand it):

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a    new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

But instead you could have said:

“When the US became a country, the people in power thought everyone should have the same rights.”    

 That would have scored a 9 on the Fog Index.

See the difference?  It’s a cool tool to use – and as an informal experiment we ran 150 random FAQs from 50 company websites (covering multiple industries) through the FOG Index.  We found the average score was 12.2 (ranging from 7.8 to 20.0).  A good rule of thumb for universal understanding is to aim for an 8th grade reading level.  So, there’s likely some room for improvement here. 

Some changes we’ve seem companies make to improve are pretty simply, and include: 

  • Simplifying language to remove multisyllabic words
  • Using tables to arrange complex or situational information
  • Using customer-friendly language, not internal jargon

So, do yourself the quick favor of putting a couple of your FAQs through the FOG Index.  And let us know your thoughts – what are some of your tips to make FAQs more consumable for your customers?

CCC members, check out Travelocity’s experience with the FOG Index and their 10 Rules for World-Class FAQs.  Plus, join the discussion on FAQs to see what your peers are up to.

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