Support forums are now a requirement for almost any business that has customers. Most support forums are hard to use, unorganized and look terrible. To illustrate some of these issues, I'm going to pick on the Logitech forums, which are powered by Lithium (http://forums.logitech.com).
One of the first things customers do when looking for support in your forums is to search. If your search isn't awesome or has any odd bugs, it will probably drive your customers crazy and they might give up and return the product instead of trying to fix it.
Here's the Logitech search bar:
This search is decent but it can be tricky to figure out the difference between searching the "Board", "Category" and "Community". If you happen to be deep down in a Category or in a Topic, you might search for something and get no search results. This lack of results could be due to the fact that you might only be searching in the current Topic or Category. You have to manually change the search settings to ensure that your search works as you expect. Furthermore, I'm not even sure what a "Board" is, so selecting that option feels very odd. Overall, adding lots of settings to the search can be confusing and frustrating for your customers.
On the Logitech forums, once you start typing in your search, you get a nice list of suggestions:
This drop down is pretty slick, except when you don't want only one of the suggestions and want to see the full list of results instead. This can be a bit tricky because if you hover your mouse over one of the suggestions but then hit the "Enter" key, you will actually be taken directly to the Topic your mouse was on. Likewise, if you use the arrow keys to select one of the suggestions, there is no way to "unselect" the suggestion and show all the search results except by switching from the keyboard back to the mouse and clicking the "Search" button. Overall, this feature seems nice, but is cumbersome to work with and can cause more customer confusion and frustration.
Not every forum uses the out of the box style from the software provider. Logitech might have styled their forum themselves. Regardless of who made the style, having good colors, fonts, and layouts is vital to a successful community. Here's an example of what the Logitech Forums search results look like:
There are a couple of issues here.
- The highlight color for my search term is a light grey (I searched for p710e). This makes it virtually unnoticeable.
- The information about the Topic on the right hand side uses a light grey color, which makes it quite hard to read.
- The information icons are really small and hard to see.
To contrast with the search results, here's a Category listing page:
The style here is completely different. It uses a different font color, font sizes, a different layout with columns and even a different set of icons.
Style and consistency are important. They help build credibility for the community as well as the brand. They can also help users with reading and sight impairments. Consistency can also help customers find information and solutions to their problems quicker.
These are just a few of the common problems that most support forums have. Some of these issues stem from the forum software while others are based on the styling done to the forum software. It is important when building your community to think about it from the customer's perspective and ensure everything is simple, easy and consistent.