In the past year, Hootsuite has grown significantly, which has necessitated strategic changes throughout the company. These changes include how customers learn about the product, and how they’re supported while engaging with it. A key component of our customer’s digital experience is the Hootsuite Help Center. With over 18 million customers on the platform, there […]
In the past year, Hootsuite has grown significantly, which has necessitated strategic changes throughout the company. These changes include how customers learn about the product, and how they’re supported while engaging with it. A key component of our customer’s digital experience is the Hootsuite Help Center. With over 18 million customers on the platform, there is a good chance that they have come across content that either lives in the Help Center or is packaged and served up via an API to other endpoints, such as within the product. Our content management infrastructure has evolved dramatically over the past year. It consists of a multi-vendor strategy with a scalable authoring tool, flexible publishing pipeline, and a modern user experience that is tightly integrated with our support workflows. It’s a work in progress and we have a roadmap to make it even better.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the impetus for the change, some of the research we did along the way, a UX refresh that we performed while we determined and evaluated the tool we would use, and a deeper look into the technical architecture of the content management infrastructure we currently use.
So let’s rewind the tape a bit…
Let’s start with a quick recap of an article that was published last March on our Career Blog titled Meet Susan, Senior Director of User Education at Hootsuite. Last year, Hootsuite leadership realized we needed to invest further in the content experiences and user education space, and Hootsuite started with hiring Susan, who led the efforts to build out the organization and define the overall mission. As part of that process, she laid out a few key goals for this aspect of the organizational work:
At the time, we were using Zendesk Guide as the solution for our Help Center. This was a good choice early on for Hootsuite, given the fact that our Support infrastructure is also built on Zendesk. Sharing the platform allowed the few support advocates that were generating content, to quickly publish and produce content as needed based on customer issues. However, as the team scaled and the needs of the business changed, it was clear that we needed a more mature system to build in scalability for the future.
We put a plan in place to do the following in phases:
We gathered data from internal and external customers. Early on, we partnered with support to understand their use cases and pain points as a way to inform both short term and longer-term plans. As a result of this effort, we developed multiple work items to make some early improvements. This included updates to the content model, content coverage, and content quality. In addition to that, this was the quarter we started getting customer feedback through the UserTesting platform on the usability of the existing Help Center.
One of the key findings during this effort is that knowledge is spread throughout the organization and is often hard to discover at the time that might be the most important. For example, you may not have the right information when you are troubleshooting an issue with a customer. Many companies suffer from this issue!
An internal survey showed that our support advocates use the Help Center content 95% of the time when accessing content to resolve cases. We knew we had to make improvements to both the content and the experience.
The research we did internally and externally paved the way for our UX refresh while we built our plans for upgrading the underlying infrastructure. Data showed us that we had room to improve in the following areas:
At the time of the UX refresh work, we were still only running on Zendesk. We wanted to make sure that the investments we were making in the refresh work, accrued value towards our future state. A cross-comparison of the early requirements phase demonstrated we were addressing 20% of the priority 0 requirements and ~15% of all requirements that had been gathered for our new site infrastructure and experience. We kept track of that in the same spreadsheet since we had two workstreams running (short term and long term). We implemented Hotjar during this phase to gather customer feedback on articles.
Here is a journey in pictures from the old user experience to the current user experience, highlighting some of the progression.
Given the small team size, we knew going into this it would be a buy versus build situation for most of the technical stack. When it came to determining which CMS we should migrate to as part of our overall infrastructure, there were many aspects we needed to consider. There are a lot of options out there, each with different benefits for specific use cases, and the solution we would go with should map back to the type of site we’re building and the overall needs of our business. As part of this process we developed, and debated, a thorough list of requirements.
We created extensive documentation outlining the current state of the industry as it related to the distinct types of content management systems (e.g., headless). We narrowed the vendor choice down to five companies and did a mix of paper analysis, demos, and proof of concepts to land on our decision. At the end of this, we felt that MadCap Flare checked the majority of the boxes and included a new connector they had recently developed that would enable publishing to Zendesk.
An interesting point of discussion that came up during this, was learning that the documentation team at Zendesk creates and maintains the content offline in DITA source files using Oxygen XML instead of using Zendesk Guide. Like us, they rely on a host of other features, including file search, file diff, change tracking, image management, and HTML transformations. These were some of the major reasons we were shifting our own approach.
This really wasn’t a phase, but it’s important to note that the UX refresh we shipped in September 2020 meant that we had continuous improvements to make to that new experience while we also planned for the content and infrastructure migration that was lining up for us for Q1 of 2021. During this time, we did the following:
Now that we had our vendor selected, decided on the pattern for our overall infrastructure (MadCap + GitHub + Zendesk), and improved the user experience, the final quarter of 2020 was spent designing and pre-planning for our content migration and infrastructure update. This included a learning phase for MadCap Flare, extensive testing on the environment, documenting and discussing our project risks, and building out our roadmap for release.
At a very high level, it looked like this:
Today the Help Center infrastructure consists of a MadCap Flare authoring environment connected to GitHub as our version control for both content and the Help Center codebase. This allows us to leverage content in ways we couldn’t before, sets us up for longer term activities around automation, and makes the content more portable for any future migration activities. Our build and publishing infrastructure utilizes Amazon EC2, MadCap Connect for Zendesk, and various scripts for automated builds. Our customers experience the content on the web via Zendesk as well as in the product, pulled from the Zendesk search API.
Our 3rd party integration stack looks like this:
That’s the backend. For the end-user, this is how the experience comes together:
We’re continuing to invest in all of our digital experiences across Hootsuite — that includes continual iteration and evolution of the Help Center. We’ve learned a lot over the past year and are laying the groundwork for long range planning. Some of those items include build server infrastructure improvements, site search and discoverability enhancements, tighter integration into the product, and consistent UX frameworks across our web ecosystem. We’re currently working on a large migration on Hootsuite.com that we’ll be discussing in future articles on the Engineering blog.
Interested in helping shape the ecosystem of web properties on Hootsuite.com? Check out all the jobs at the Hootsuite Career site!