Over the last decade and especially in the last few years, companies of all sizes have invested resources to make more product documentation available on their website — not just because it deflects support requests (and hence support costs), but because today’s customers increasingly want self-serve options. Indeed, research by Zendesk [PDF] found 50 percent of customers feel that it’s important to solve issues on their own, and the Aspect Consumer Experience Index found that 65 percent of customers feel good about a company when they can get answers via self-support.
The Growing Role of Product Documentation in Sales & Service
It isn’t just existing customers who want easy on-demand access to product documentation. Many prospective customers are checking out everything from use cases to technical spec sheets, so they can get a sense of what’s in store if they make a purchase. In fact, Gartner [PDF] predicts that by the year 2020, prospective and existing customers will manage 85 percent of the pre and post-sales relationship without interacting directly with a company.
Obviously, product documentation won’t be required to do all of the sales and service heavy lifting, nor does this suggest that sales reps and support agents are on their way to becoming obsolete. On the contrary, this trend liberates these professionals spend more of their limited time on what matters – driving a consultative sales process and resolving escalated issues – instead of getting bogged down with tedious, time consuming content administration tasks. However, it certainly does mean that product documentation will play an even more pivotal role than it already does in determining who becomes a customer, and even more importantly from a long-term profitability standpoint, who stays a customer.
The Problem with Product Documentation Libraries
As noted, many companies have created (or are on their way to creating) product documentation libraries to target and satisfy prospective and existing customers across the customer journey. These libraries come in different shapes and sizes, and some have marketing-friendly names like “Information Zone” or “Customer Success University”. Regardless of the label, these are essentially online directories that offer various pieces of content organized by product type, use case, role, and so on.
Offering this content (e.g. articles, videos, image files, etc.) to customers is a step in the right direction, and benefits both customers and companies alike. However, the experience is fundamentally unidirectional: customers must “pull” content. And while some companies do a better job than others of keeping the traffic flow moving, it is nevertheless a one-way street. Therein lies the problem – and the opportunity.
Evolving into a Dynamic Knowledge Portal
A dynamic knowledge portal is the next level up from a product documentation library, because it supports a dialogue rather than a dissertation. That is, companies interact with customers by enabling and encouraging them to:
- Create personalized documentation collections based on their interests and objectives. What’s more, this content can be downloaded to mobile devices for convenience.
- Communicate with SMEs (from multiple teams and departments, not just TechPubs) and fellow customers to ask questions and get/give advice. In addition to helping specific customers, all this feedback can be analyzed, organized and incorporated into the content development process so that it is continuously improved.
- Rate and rank individual pieces content based on variables such as relevance, ease and completeness — which is a service to other customers, and can also be leveraged for ongoing improvements.
Improving Customer Experience and Generating Sales
At the same time, a dynamic bidirectional knowledge portal allows companies to track customer actions, and “push” content recommendations in real-time. For example, customers who watch a video about how to configure a new software upgrade can be pointed to additional relevant content from both the TechPubs world (e.g. more detailed configuration specs) and the marketing world (e.g. inviting them to sign-up for a webinar about a new model that is launching soon).
In the latter context, this is an ideal way for companies to generate more sales in an agreeable, non-invasive way. Rather than perceiving that companies are trying to aggressively sell them new products and services, customers see this outreach gesture for what it truly is: an authentic attempt to be helpful.
The Bottom Line
Companies that have built a functional and customer-friendly product documentation library have taken an important step in the right direction – especially since as far as prospective and existing customers are concerned, content availability and ease is no longer a “nice-to-have”, but a basic requirement. It’s what they expect and insist upon.
However, instead of resting on their accomplishments, companies should lean forward and evolve their unidirectional product documentation library into a bidirectional knowledge portal, so they can significantly improve customer experience, reduce escalated support cases, and increase sales to both new and existing customers.
Zoomin’s dynamic knowledge portal extends the reach of product documentation libraries by giving customers easy, personalized access to the answers they need — from any device, whenever they want, and from any location. Zoomin moves your content from a static collection of documents, to a dynamic world of answers. Learn more by schedule your guided demo.