Poorly designed FAQ tells the customer “screw you”: a lesson from Sub-Zero

A well-designed searchable set of answers is a great resource for customer service. But if your “FAQ” is actually a huge, rotting pile of crap, you do a disservice to customers by sending them there.

A little context. My home has a Sub-Zero refrigerator/freezer. It came with the house. And as I learned from the similar unit in my previous house, Sub-Zero appliances are expensive and state-of-the-art . . . for the early 2000s. They’re also often costly to repair.

When consumers are in crisis, don’t carelessly frustrate them with a useless search function

This week, my Sub-Zero developed issues. The refrigerator started frosting up in spots. The freezer rose above freezing, spoiling a bunch of food. And the ice-maker had stopped working months ago.

The obvious fix — vacuuming the coils — failed to solve the problem. I checked the manual, which suggested nothing useful. I was going to have to grit my teeth and call for service. But when I visited the website of Clarke, the parent company of Sub-Zero, I was hit with an enticement to get answers right on the site. Could I avoid an expensive service call?

The big red “DIY Help >” button took me to an FAQ page. Great, let’s try some obvious searches. What do they have to say about “frost,” surely a common problem with refrigerators and freezers?

How about the problem with the ice-maker? There are four results. Which one of these do you think would help solve the problem?

How about “freezer not working?” There’s one answer, and it’s about light bulbs.

Customer service malpractice

Sub-Zero, a premium brand, has an opportunity to impress its customers at a moment of truth, when the brand needs service. What did it do wrong?

Dumping a bunch of random documents into a “repository” and putting a generic search function on the top of it is unlikely to give people what they’re looking for. Where are the Troubleshooting pages? They should be the only thing in the search function.

FAQs should include, duh, frequently-asked questions. “What do I do if there is frost in my refrigerator?” is a frequently-asked question. “Can a UC-15I(P) Ice Maker Panel be made larger than called out in the specs?” is, I’m guessing, not a question asked very frequently.

More advanced companies are creating chatbots that can pull answers from a document collection. This search looks putrid by comparison (and given all the rotting food I’m now dealing with, I’m feeling pretty familiar with putrescence).

It’s bad enough to have this useless search function on the site. But it’s far worse to put a big black panel on the front page and attempt to direct users to the useless part of the site.

You may as well have put up a flashing sign that says “Hey, expensive premium customer, please click on this big red button to see how little we care about you.”

That’s no way for a premium brand to behave in a moment of truth.

The brand “Sub-Zero” shouldn’t be an accurate description of the less-than-zero level of service this FAQ delivers. Premium brands should deliver premium service — and a better FAQ is one way they can invest in that.

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  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head. FAQ’s should be banned. For some complicated situations, they may have, once, served a useful function. Once being back in the days of the “good old” Internet, the pre-commercial Internet, where everyone involved was trying to get the other enthusiasts up to speed. Once the business schools got involved, FAQs became a way to boost profits by cutting heads. And then there are chat robots, which are nothing but FAQs in a different format. Ask yourself “why are MY questions never on the FAQ, “INfrequently asked”? Customer service is a joke. And so many businesses don’t even answer the phone. Artificial Intelligence? Don’t make me laugh.

  2. Hence, why I don’t buy premium brand appliances. More doodads, more upfront cost, more expense to repair and I’m not convinced of their reliability/lifespan makes all that extra expense worth it. I always remember my dad telling me how he regretted getting an icemaker on his door. Great convenience, when it works. Often it did not. I’ll take being old school and dealing with ice trays. Somehow, they never break down.