It wasn’t that long ago – about 30 years or so – when customers en masse found the idea of self-service support somewhere between unpleasant and offensive. For example, instead of having their friendly bank teller personally oversee their transaction, a strange video-game like contraption called an Automatic Teller Machine would “allow them” to do some of the work themselves. The cultural learning curve was steep, to say the least.

Yet today, the situation has completely turned around! Not only do customers want self-serve support, but they’re increasingly demanding it. As Forrester Research’s Kate Leggett observes: “customers have little appetite for long or difficult service interactions, including navigating arduous interactive voice response (IVR) menus to connect with an agent or waiting in queues to be connected to a phone agent; and are increasingly turning to self-service as the easiest path to service resolution”.

Bumps on the Path to Service Resolution

However, while more customers are embracing and expecting self-service support, this doesn’t mean that all of them are getting what they want. On the contrary, many are unimpressed -- or in some cases infuriated - - with the experience. And quite often, the biggest, most bruising bumps on the self-serve path to service resolution are caused by product documentation.

Specifically, while their technical writers work hard at creating excellent and intelligent content, many companies nevertheless lack the capacity to push consistent, complete and compelling product documentation across all of their touchpoints, so that customers can access them via any device, wherever they are, and whenever they want.

As a result, customers cannot easily and quickly get the answers they want. Indeed, as MIT research fellow Michael Schrage matter-of-factly noted it in an article for Harvard Business Review: “doing self-support should be as easy -- or easier -- than not doing self-support”.  Naturally, when the promise of self-serve support is unfilled, customers react accordingly – and angrily.

Helping Customers Help Themselves

The way forward is for companies to re-think the role, function and position of product documentation in their overall support ecosystem, and ultimately get to a place where they can:

  • Efficiently create and update content in alignment with why, how, when, and where customers access it.
  • Enable customers to get “up close and personal” with content, so they can easily share feedback and ask questions.
  • Empower technical writers, SMEs and other stakeholders to interact with each other and with customers – and use what they discover to update or build content accordingly.

Simply put, when all of the above become defining characteristics of how product documentation is produced, distributed and consumed, companies can be assured of consistently delivering self-service support that is memorable for all of the right reasons – because it won’t just strive to educate: rather, it will enable engagement. And that makes ALL the difference!

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