Special Guest Blog by Megan Gilhooly, Ping Identity: 7 Best Practices to Unify Tech Comm & Tech Support
The Society for Technical Communication refers to Tech Comm professionals as those who “create information about technical processes or products”, and Technopedia refers to Tech Support professionals as those who “provide users with help in solving problems”.
Tech Support organizations world wide have joined a movement putting a comprehensive base of knowledge at the center of quality technical support. While technical communicators have always known the power of knowledge, the overlap has become increasingly more tenuous.
Now that Tech Comm and Tech Support often manage their own independent knowledge bases, the overlap illuminates questions of ownership. Who owns knowledge? Who owns the knowledge platform(s)? Who owns search methodologies? Who owns the information experience?
At the 2016 STC Summit, an ad hoc group of technical communicators and support folks gathered together to discuss this ever-growing issue. We discussed the obstacles for a short time, then got right into finding common ground. Ultimately, we came up with seven best practices to help Tech Comm and Tech Support work together towards the same unifying objective: make all customers successful.
Obstacles to Overcome
Before looking at tips for improving the relationship between Tech Comm and Tech Support, organizations first have to identify the core obstacles in their way. These may include:
- Differing Perspectives
Tech Comm and Tech Support communicate from different perspectives, which can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts. Tech Comm views content in terms of an entire system, whereas Tech Support sees content in the context of specific user needs. Think of it as Tech Comm managing a bus system with clearly defined and strategically selected routes, stops and schedules, while Tech Support runs a taxi service that offers passengers door-to-door customized on-demand routes.
- Tension from Above
In many organizations, there is an underlying current of tension between Tech Comm and Tech Support at the management, director and/or executive levels. Positive communication among individual contributors is impossible, because everything is filtered through higher-ups who don’t trust and respect each other. The well is poisoned.
- Content Confusion
With so much content already in the ecosystem and more created all the time, it’s often a major struggle for either side to know — let alone agree — on what type of content should go where. And to make matters worse, nobody knows where to find the Tech Comm or Tech Support content they need.
- Messy Relationships
In some organizations, the relationship between Tech Support and developers or engineers is tenuous at best, and Tech Comm ends up in the middle. In these organizations, Tech Comm is often encouraged to fill the relationship void by documenting workarounds to avoid conversations that would lead to fixing the problems.
- Misplaced Frustrations
Tech Support often deals with angry and unreasonable customers. Even with the best training and support, this takes an emotional toll. Unfortunately, Tech Support occasionally projects their frustrations onto other teams and views them as the enemy. The frustration and cynicism appear in communication with Tech Comm, whether in logging documentation issues, or talking with technical writers face-to-face.
- Lack of Visibility
Tech Comm typically lacks visibility about the processes and workflows that Tech Support uses on a daily basis, and Tech Support doesn’t have visibility into the publishing process, priorities, or workflows of Tech Comm. Without understanding how the other team works, it’s difficult to determine how best to work together.
Best Practices for Mutual Support and Success
The obstacles that prevent Tech Comm and Tech Support from offering mutual support – and enjoying mutual success – are significant, and there is no magic wand that will eliminate them. They are part of the landscape, and in some organizations, have been around for decades.
However, overcoming these obstacles is certainly not impossible. Consider the following 7 best practices and determine which of them can change the way Tech Comm and Tech Support work together in your organization:
- If feasible, deploy a single knowledge platform to simplify processes, streamline expectations and reduce frustration. Understand that varying types of content and audience needs might mean a single platform is not feasible.
- Clearly define deliverables, types of content, and purpose of content. In other words, clearly define the bus system (Tech Comm) and the taxi service (Tech Support) to ensure the most efficient options for all types of commuters.
- Try having support reps and technical writers work together on knowledge base articles and documentation. Teamwork will ensure both types of content have a consistent message. Use this method only until collaboration becomes more organic and natural to avoid long-term duplication of effort.
- Ensure one-on-one conversations between technical writers and support reps to go over specific procedures. These conversations can take place in person or, if not feasible, through video chat. Working face-to-face will help both sides to see each other as real people — not as abstract opponents.
- Tech Comm can create and update FAQs to help make Tech Support’s job easier. It’s important to socialize the FAQs so support reps know where to access them.
- Add a feedback loop for Tech Support to send information directly to Tech Comm and, most importantly, ensure a speedy and helpful response. In addition, Tech Support can create a file of typical solutions, update it daily, and share it with Tech Comm. An alternative here is for Tech Support to open up Salesforce (or similar), so that Tech Comm can view the information on their own – and then ensure Tech Comm actually looks at it.
- Set up a time for tech writers to shadow support reps to see what they experience on calls. During this time, writers should ask questions to identify knowledge gaps or other issues. And even if some problems aren’t immediately solvable, both sides will know that they are making their best effort to fill the gaps. This understanding can profoundly improve the quality of the relationship.
The Bottom Line
Nothing above suggests that Tech Comm and Tech Support should be combined as the same function. They clearly have different roles. And creating positive collaboration will not be easy.
But, while they take different approaches and use different tools, both Tech Comm and Tech Support share the same goal—to make customers successful. They must work together to achieve their goal, because the organization only succeeds if both of these teams succeed.
For more information on how to successfully align Tech Comm and Tech Support, read more here about how visionary companies are using the customer product content to enhance the customer experience.