3 Key Factors that Define Truly Helpful Product Documentation
“How can we help you?” It’s a common question that companies ask numerous times a day. And while this is a safe and time-honored conversation starter, on today’s digital landscape there’s a new aspect that companies must be aware of: their sales representatives and service & support personnel aren’t the only ones making this inquiry. Their product documentation is, too – and it’s happening every day, around the clock.
That’s because when customers access product documentation in any form, for any reason, from any device, and through any touchpoint, the company behind such content isn’t just offering information. They’re asking “how can we help you?” – and, in essence, making a promise that help is either at-hand or on the way.
In this sense, product documentation either positively impacts the customer experience, or it negatively impacts it. There’s no middle ground. This doesn’t necessarily mean that customers who come across ineffective — or just plain bad — product documentation will immediately end the relationship (although many of them will). But it does means that companies need to take a step back and ask: “our product documentation may be great, but is it helping customers as much as possible?”
To ensure that companies answer YES to this critical question, here are three core factors that define truly helpful product documentation:
The kind of personalization customers want doesn’t start and end with the “Dear [enter name here]” in an email. Rather, they want the experience to wrap around their requirements. For example, they want to conduct intelligent searches (regardless of whether they know or care what it’s called), so that finding answers and getting help is fast, easy and, above all, successful. They also want relevant, but non-obtrusive recommendations to help them focus their inquiry, and target the correct product documentation, regardless of where it resides in the ecosystem.
And of course, smart information design plays a key role in whether the experience is personal and impressive, or impersonal and irritating. As noted by CustomerExperienceInsights.com, today’s customers “expect a company will put the information and products they want where they expect to find them.”
Customers don’t just appreciate consistency – they expect it! And this demand certainly extends beyond aspects like service delivery and product quality, and includes product documentation.
As such, companies need to ensure that their product documentation is consistent on all levels (e.g. content, coverage, tone, etc.), and across all touchpoints (e.g. corporate website, knowledge portal, customer communities, social, etc.). Indeed, as McKinsey and Company notes, the three C’s of customer satisfaction are: consistency, consistency and consistency. Companies literally cannot afford for their product documentation to be the exception to this rule — because they will pay the price through prospect loss, customer churn and reputation damage.
Today’s customers want to engage the companies they do business with. They expect their opinions to be heeded and requests to be addressed with the same import as if they were a major company stockholder – even if all they did was buy a pair of running shoes or a laptop (or perhaps haven’t even made a purchase decision yet).
In the same light, they want to play an active role in helping companies correct and create their product documentation by making comments, up-voting and down-voting, asking SMEs for clarity, and even dialoguing with other customers with the same freedom and informality as if they bumped into each other at a brick and mortar store – except the scene is a corporate website, knowledge portal, social media page, or other digital destination.
What’s more, companies that satisfy this demand for more and better engagement through their product documentation won’t just see their content shares and traffic statistics rise. They can expect their reputation and sales to benefit as well. As noted by Entrepreuer.com: “customers’ loyalty soars when they discover they can be active participants in the service experience.”
In essence it’s all about helping companies get closer to their customers. When companies ask “can we help you” through their product documentation, we must ensure that the answer is one that delights customers.