Asking the Right Questions

4 Dec

Asking the right questions is a key component of being a successful support guru at PBwiki. The PBwiki Support Team answers questions from users with all sorts of experiences with wikis – from first time users to top-ten editors on Wikipedia. It’s imperative that no matter what the skill-level of a user, the support guru can quickly assess their situation and find resolution for them. But how does a support team know how to dig into a user’s question? Let’s take a look at how librarians, masters of question-answering, train to answer their patrons.

When I was in grad school working on my library science degree, my classmates and I spent one snowy night role-playing online reference. I learned about PBwiki from my grad school professor, and on this night we were hosting class online, using the Yaplet plugin on our classroom wiki to hold a pratice online reference session. The main component of hosting reference questions in a library setting (both physical and virtual) is the reference interview. A reference interview is a technique librarians use with library patrons to discover their needs and find resolutions to those needs.

The typical reference interview consists of 5 parts:

  1. Welcoming
  2. Gathering information with open questions
  3. Confirming the exact question
  4. Giving the answer
  5. Following up

“Thanks for contacting Happy Valley Public Library Reference! How can I help you?” I typed. My colleague Jessi responded, “What is the state muffin?” I quickly opened another window, and Googled (yes, librarians do use Google) “State Muffin Minnesota”. I typed back, “The state muffin of Minnesota is blueberry.” After a short pause with no response from the user, my professor prompted me to ask the follow up question – “Does this completely answer your question?” And surprisingly, it didn’t. I had made a basic assumption that the question she was asking related to Minnesota – where we were currently living. By not confirming the exact question, I delayed the delivery of the answer. I was able to go back and forth with her a bit more to get to the true root of her question and get her answer.

The same concept applies to customer support. At PBwiki, we welcome all users to email support and gather their information through an open email form. For example, we often hear from a user that they want to delete their wiki. If we take the time to engage with the customer and confirm why they want to delete, it is usually something we can do to help them and keep them on as PBwiki users. By addressing the frustration, deletion is no longer an option and they are ready to get back to their wiki. A key part of the support interaction at PBwiki is the follow up. If we don’t hear back from you that our solution is what you were looking for, we’ll check in on you in a few days. We also make it very easy for you to reconnect with the same Support Guru, the person who is familiar with your case, so that you can develop relationships with individual members of our team.

The most recent addition to the support team is Alison. Alison is a librarian in New York and I felt strongly pulled to hire Alison after reading her application questionnaire. In this questionnaire, I saw that Alison applied her skills from the library field – being very clear about restating the question, give a concise answer, and then making sure to leave room for follow up. While Alison most likely won’t be answering questions about the state muffin of Minnesota, she can apply her reference interview skills towards understanding and answering questions about how to reset a wiki password or how to insert a calendar on a wiki. Making sure the user is welcomed, their question is understood, and they have room to ask more questions are the skills I value in my support team members, and I’m sure are skills valued by the users contacting support.

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