7 Customer-Inspired Questions that Companies Should be Asking About their Product Documentation

Posted by
April 24, 2017

Kids are told by their teachers that it’s bad form to answer a question with a question. However, communication manners on the business landscape is a different story. Asking smart questions – regardless of what triggers them – can unlock valuable business intelligence that would impress even the sternest of educators (provided, of course, that diction and posture were acceptable).

Obviously, sales reps – and especially those working in a pre-sales capacity – are well-versed in the art of responding to customers’ questions with their own queries, in order to reveal pain points, uncover needs, identify goals, and drive a solution based, consultative sales process.

Yet less obviously – but just as valuable – is the practice of using customer questions to, in turn, make inquiries about product documentation to ensure that it’s functioning as a profitable asset, and not as an unavoidable expense.

With this in mind, here are 7 customer-inspired questions that companies should be asking about their product documentation:

1. Is our product documentation findable?
If an excessive number of customer questions are asking for information that already exists somewhere in your ecosystem – such as a knowledge portal, ebook, FAQ, and so on – then you need to examine whether you have a findability problem.

Essentially, it doesn’t matter how much content you have. If customers can’t use full-text search and faceted search to quickly and easily find what they need while using any device, then they won’t find it – and it might as well not exist.

2. Is our product documentation informative?
Let’s say that most customers are finding the product documentation they’re searching for. That’s good news, right? Well, maybe not.

It’s bad news if many of these customers cannot comprehend or penetrate the information they’re coming across. Perhaps it’s too technical; or not technical enough; or maybe you’re trying to engage different buyer personas with the same content, and realizing that the “one-size-fits-all” approach often doesn’t fit anyone.

Also, keep in mind that making content informative is not just about making it substantial. It must also be accessible, relevant, readable (or watchable), comprehensible, and memorable. Otherwise, customers can’t and won’t use it. After all, making communication happen is not the responsibility of customers. It’s the obligation of companies. That means you can’t afford to wait for customers to figure things out and start using your product documentation the way you want them to. You have to adjust to their requirements and calibrate to their preferences. That is, it has to be informative on their terms; not just yours.

3. Is our product documentation consistent?
In prehistoric technology times – so we’re talking maybe the early 1990s here – there were one or two product documentation touchpoints to manage: typically distributing print-based content through postal mail or in-person, and occasionally sending stuff through this thing called email (“Hey, did someone pick up the phone? Hang it up, can’t you see I’m trying to send an email here!”)

However, today there are dozens of touch points to govern; including search, websites, social, mobile, knowledge portals, customer communities, IoT, and the list goes on. This is good news for customers who have unprecedented options to find answers to their questions. But it can be bad news for companies if they’re getting too many questions about the same thing from customers at different touch points.

If this is happening in your environment, then it could mean that your product documentation isn’t consistent. For example, customers who access your website may be getting the latest, best information. But what about customers who look for answers through Google? Or perhaps those who connect via dozens of landing pages that you (or your enthusiastic SEO consultant) created to push ebooks, white papers and other assets?

All of this information needs to be consistent, because customers get confused and concerned when they get different messages from the same company. As McKinsey & Company note: “The 3 C’s of customer satisfaction are: consistency, consistency and consistency”. No, they weren’t specifically talking about product documentation. But they might as well have been, because consistency really is this important.

4. Are we collaborating effectively on product documentation?
Companies are wise to heed JIRA software maker Atlassian’s advice that “when teams have a document that is a single source of truth for all elements of a product, all it takes to clarify a doubt or answer a question is a simple reference back to that doc.”

But achieving this “single source of truth” is easier said than done; and if customers are regularly asking questions that point to a disconnect between what they’re learning from one of your division’s product documentation vs. another, then you have some work to do on the collaboration front.

With this in mind, it’s unwise to try and get all divisions (e.g. techpubs, technical support, sales, marketing, finance, etc.) working on the same platform. Yes, it’s a nice ideal. But no, it probably won’t work. The only way forward is to be pragmatic instead of political, and that means two things:

* Classifying all product documentation consistently across each division via unified taxonomy with simple tools.

* Using embedded authoring tools to ensure that different departments keep consistent language and terminology.

5. Is our product documentation segmented?
A surprising number of companies fail to designate their product documentation based on prospect and customer segments; usually because they don’t know they should be doing this, or they don’t have the technology to do it. Either way, this gap triggers questions from customers that aren’t relevant for their buyer persona, or for their stage of the customer journey.

For example, failing to segment product documentation (via tools like role-based authorization supported by a SSO authentication model), could mean that customers who just starting the relationship may be able to access a library of troubleshooting content that is designed specifically for active (read: paid and onboarded) customers who have particular application.

This is great for active customers who, ideally, will be able to answer many of their questions via self-support. But it’s bad for prospective customers if it compels them to ask questions that divulge a fixation on what your solutions can’t do vs. what they can. Or at the very least, they may start asking hypothetical what-if questions for various use cases; not because they’re actually interested in using your solutions that way, but because they recently came across some troubleshooting content and are nervous about moving ahead.

Obviously, the problem here isn’t the existence of this useful troubleshooting information: it’s the context in which it’s presented. For active customers, it’s an asset that adds value to the relationship. But for prospective customers, it can be a red flag that has them eyeing the exits. Segmenting product documentation makes everyone happy – especially sales reps who don’t start the engagement off behind the proverbial 8-ball.

6. Are we using product documentation to listen to our customers?
Product documentation touchpoints such as knowledge portals and customer communities shouldn’t just be used to provide information: they should also be used to listen to customers and understand what they’re saying (and what they aren’t), and why (and why not). As noted by J.D. Power IV in Fast Company: “There is nothing that is more effective for improving the quality of your product or service than listening to your customers”.

However, if your product documentation engine isn’t firing on all cylinders, then you’ll get plenty of questions that may look different on the surface, but are connected by a theme: there’s a disconnect between what you’re selling or what you’re doing (or both), and what your customers truly want. These comments are not mere complaints or comments. They are valuable sources of market research that can be leveraged in many ways, such as product development, marketing, advertising, pricing, promotions, branding, and the list goes on.

To this end, ensure that your knowledge portal, website and other product documentation touchpoints and channels make it easy for customers to share, comment and rate content. At the same time, use analytics to track engagement and interaction, in order to generate business intelligence based on content feedback and usage.

7. Are we using the right product documentation technology?
If your employees are regularly fielding questions related to any of the above gaps – or just as notably, if customers are routinely making less-than-flattering (or outright disparaging) comments on your website, social media, or anywhere else – then you can safely draw this conclusion: you aren’t using the right technology to create, deliver and manage product documentation.

However, rather than this being unwelcome news, see this as an auspicious warning signal that urges you to elevate so that your product documentation is: findable, informative, consistent, developed collaboratively, properly segmented, and helps you listen to your customers.

Learn More-
To learn more about ensuring that your product documentation system is a profitable asset vs. an unavoidable expense, request your personalized demo of Zoomin today.

Zoomin Software