Evolving Product Documentation in the Era of Customer Experience

Posted by
September 3, 2017

The fact that customer experience is important is hardly “breaking news”. In fact, everyone from the intern to the CEO should know that making a positive impression on customers at every touch point – before, during and after the sale – is essential strategy. However, two related shifts have taken place over the last few years that have changed the customer experience game for all businesses, whether they are large multinational enterprises or small dynamic startups.

Two Converging Shifts

 The first shift is the exponential increase in surface area that businesses must cover, in order to consistently deliver positive customer experiences. In the past, this landscape was primarily localized to the sales force (before the sale) and support team (after the sale). But now, businesses must continuously monitor their various web properties, along with social and search, to ensure that customers are informed and engaged. This is an enormous undertaking, and cannot be handled by sales and support teams alone.

The second shift is that today’s customers are conducting an unprecedented amount of pre-purchase research to determine if a potential business is competent and trustworthy. For example:

  • A study by the Acquity Group found that 94 percent of prospects do some form of online research.
  • Research by Google’s Zero Moment of Truth found that the average prospect checks 10.4 sources of information before making a purchase decision.
  • Forrester study found that prospects are more than 70 percent along the buyer’s journey before they seriously engage a rep as part of a formal sales process.

It is the confluence of these two shifts – businesses needing to cover a much larger surface area to deliver positive customer experiences, and customers conducting much more research on their own outside of the formal sales pipeline – that has created the need for businesses to re-evaluate an area that has historically not been viewed as a primary part of the customer experience puzzle, but in some scenarios is now the most important piece of all: product documentation.

 

What Has Not Changed

 Before looking at what has changed about product documentation, it is worthwhile highlighting what has not changed: the primary role of product documentation has been, is now, and always will be to educate customers.

In other words, if product documentation looks great, yet fails to achieve a specific and strategic learning objective, then it is simply not product documentation. Yes, product documentation should borrow tactics and strategies from the marketing content playbook. But no, it cannot afford to lose sight of its fundamental purpose to instruct and inform (and businesses that fail to heed warnings on this front from their TechPubs team, will have no choice but to listen to their confused and frustrated customers!).

 

What is Changing

So, if the essential purpose of product documentation remains stable, what is changing? It is how customers are perceiving and positioning product documentation in their world, and what they expect from the content they encounter along the buyer’s journey. There are five integrated components that define this new normal in the Era of Customer Experience: Findability, Relevance, Ease, Consistency and Connection.

  • Findability: As advised by CustomerExperienceInsights.com, today’s customers expect that information will be where they want and expect to find it. As such, businesses must ensure that all of their product documentation is just a few clicks, keystrokes or taps away, and customers can get the answers they need through familiar Google-like full text and faceted search capabilities. 
  • Relevance: Many businesses fail to segment their product documentation based on buyer personas – usually because they do not know they should be doing this, or they do not have the technology to do it. Either way, it usually means that the right customers have access to the wrong product documentation (i.e. content that is not relevant to them), which in turn causes frustration and churn. Fortunately, segmenting product documentation with tools like role-based authorization supported by a SSO authentication model is easy. For example, customers who have purchased a specific product can access certain pieces of content, and general prospects who have not yet made a purchase cannot. 
  • Ease: Some businesses that do a good job of creating customer-centric product documentation overlook the one thing that can make or break their effort and investment: ease-of-access. Forcing customers to wade through a bloated or confusing knowledge base interface is a recipe for disengagement, as is “trapping” content in PDFs (this is especially painful for customers using mobile devices!). What’s more, all content should be optimized contextual access, which involves using structured authoring and topic-based formats to create smaller, more accessible content modules that feature smart search capabilities. This approach also enables businesses to create documentation once, and efficiently publish it in a format that extends to multiple customer-facing touchpoints.
  • Consistency: As McKinsey and Company note, the three C’s of customer satisfaction are: consistency, consistency and consistency. As such, businesses need to ensure that their product documentation is consistent on all levels (e.g. content, coverage, tone, etc.), and across all touch points (e.g. corporate website, knowledge portal, customer communities, social, etc.). Businesses simply cannot afford have inconsistent content in their ecosystem, because they will pay the price through customer loss and brand damage.
  • Connection: As advised by J.D. Power IV: “There is nothing that is more effective for improving the quality of your product or service than listening to your customers”. To that end, businesses should ensure that their knowledge portal, website and other product documentation touch points enable customers to share, comment and rate content, as well as connect directly with SMEs who work in the back-end (e.g. software developers, product developers, quality control managers, etc.). At the same time, businesses should use analytics to track engagement and interaction, and drive feedback into the content creation and updating process.

 

The Way Forward

 As we noted earlier, the importance of making customers happy and meeting – or better yet, exceeding – their expectations is not new. In fact, some may feel that this advice belongs in the bucket of clichés, since it is such a fundamental understanding that has been around on the business landscape since, well, forever.

As we noted earlier, the importance of making customers happy and meeting – or better yet, exceeding – their expectations is not new. In fact, some may feel that this advice belongs in the bucket of clichés, since it is such a fundamental understanding that has been around on the business landscape since, well, forever.Yet paradoxically, this familiarity with customer experience – and the subsequent assumption that it must be optimized because it is such a basic requirement – can lead businesses astray, because the concept and nature of customer experience has evolved. The touch point surface area for businesses is much larger with website properties, social and search to cover, and today’s customers have both higher expectations, and plenty of ways to express their unhappiness if those expectations are unmet.

Add it all up, and it means that in order to optimize customer experience, businesses must re-visit their product documentation – both in terms of individual assets, and the system as a whole – to ensure that it reflects and drives Findability, Relevance, Ease, Consistency and Connection. When all of these boxes are ticked, businesses can be assured that their product documentation is supporting their momentum onward and upward in the Era of Customer Experience!

 

At Zoomin, our mission is to leverage your product content to ensure success throughout the customer journey. We strive to provide a robust and innovative content publishing platform which allows you to provide information consistently across all customer touchpoints. Once your content is published, we give you detailed analytics on customer interactions with your content, extracting actionable insights that grow your business and reduce your costs. From your documentation portal to your social community, from web search to connected devices, with Zoomin your content will always be there for the people who need it: your customers.

Learn more at www.zoominsoftware.com

Zoomin Software