When it comes to product development, marketing campaigns, sales strategies and customer service, companies invest a significant amount of resources on “listening to the voice of the customer”. After all, companies know that the consequences of failing to connect with their marketplace are more than just missed profit expectations and growth targets. Over time, it can imperil an organization’s very survival.

However, when the focus shifts to product documentation, many companies that demonstrably care about listening to the voice of the customer simply stop hearing. This isn’t because they fail to see the value or importance of product documentation. Rather, it’s because they don’t see a relationship between what customers want (and just as importantly, what they don’t want), and what their product documentation consists of and looks like.

To be frank: this perception is flawed and potentially devastating. Customers may not care how product documentation is created or have any idea of what “techpubs” are (actually, they might think it’s a place where technical writers go to drink…). But what customers do know is whether they’re having a positive or negative experience. Product documentation plays a key role in that determination, which means making sure that it connects to what customers truly want isn’t just a best practice. It’s a strategic necessity and a top priority.

And so, if listening to the voice of the customer is an essential part of the product documentation process, what are customers saying? What do they want? What are they rewarding companies for offering, and what are they penalizing companies for failing to provide? Generally, customers across all industries – whether B2B or B2C – want five fundamental things from product documentation:

  1. Consistency

As McKinsey & Company hammer home, the three C’s of customer satisfaction are “consistency, consistency and consistency.” And this demand isn’t limited to one aspect of the relationship, such as the buying experience of after-sales support. It’s all-encompassing, and therefore embraces all product documentation at every phase of the customer journey. Customers want consistent information and answers, regardless of whether they’re on a website, in a knowledge portal, watching a video, accessing a document, and so on.

  1. Excellence

Consistent product documentation is critical – but it’s not the full story, because customers want content to be first-rate. Indeed, a Deloitte study found that 90% of customers expect the customer experience to be consistently excellent across all channels.

To put this demand in sharper and, admittedly scarier relief: as noted by thinkJar CEO Estoban Kolsky, 67% of customer churn is preventable when customer issues are resolved at the first engagement – and for many customers, product documentation is the first engagement; and all too often, the last as well. Or at least, it’s where disappointment sets in and disengagement starts to take root.

  1. Ease

Some companies that do a fairly good job of creating customer-centric product documentation overlook the one thing that can make or break the effort: ease. That’s because unless they have no other option, customers won’t do any heavy lifting to get answers and information. Frankly, it’s more than enough that they’re willing to visit a website, launch an app, or click open a document. Expecting them to wade through a sea of information or find what they need through a tedious trial-and-error or process-of-elimination method is a recipe for customer churn.

While “ease” can be one of those abstract terms that means different things to different companies, customer success firm Glide Consulting lays out a trio of criterion that can serve as a working definition. Ease is when:

  • Product content speaks to customers in a language they understand – i.e. non-technical audiences aren’t subjected to a slew of jargon.
  • Customers can find the information and answers they need using their own natural words.
  • Customers can access all relevant product documentation simply and quickly.
  1. Engagement

Today’s savvy customers don’t view product documentation as static, standalone documents (or videos, web pages, etc.) that exists outside of the company-customer dialogue. In other words, product documentation isn’t something that customers check out when they aren’t engaging with a company.

Rather, product documentation is now viewed a means through which engagement happens. Indeed, well-trained by social media platforms, customers want to comment on FAQ answers, like/dislike other customer comments in a knowledge portal, upvote/downvote datasheets that feature workarounds, and so on. What’s more, they want their feedback to be addressed by a company as legitimate correspondence that, if warranted, will be replied to with the same level of responsiveness and seriousness as a phone call or in-person visit.

  1. Resolution

Customers expect a lot from product content, but most of them know that it’s not a magic wand. There will be times when it’s necessary to pick up the phone or launch a web chat; especially when customers aren’t quite sure what their problem is – they just know they have one, and they want it to be resolved as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Again, product content plays a key role in meeting this demand. Except in this context, it’s not (yet) about supplying customers with information and answers. It’s about empowering support agents with the ability to rapidly access all product content across the ecosystem, so they can:

  • Provide intelligent content suggestions based on each customer’s profile (e.g. buying history, previous interactions, job title/role, location, etc.).
  • Share answers that are targeted to specific configurations and case issues.
  • Access personalized collections of frequently used content for even quicker responses.

All of these reduce time-to-resolution (TTR) and increase first-call-resolution (FCR) rates, which are aligned with what customers want, and supported by an effective product documentation system.

The Bottom Line

Listening to the voice of the customer isn’t a new concept. But it’s playing a much larger role today than ever before. Product development, marketing, sales and customer service departments are aware of this, and continuously striving to get closer to customers. Now, product documentation must join the movement – and in some cases lead the way – so that companies can ensure their content stands out and is memorable for all of the right reasons…and none of the wrong ones.

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