Why Do Good Companies Have Bad Product Documentation?

Posted by
July 23, 2017

To improve customer experience and boost NPS, companies invest a significant amount of resources in everything from training to technology. And while these are important pieces of the customer success puzzle, a surprising number of companies offer product documentation that frustrates rather than impresses customers.

Naturally, this begs the strange but necessary question: why do good companies have bad product documentation? Obviously, it’s not because they want to irritate customers and damage their brand. Rather, it’s because they don’t realize that their product document is so dysfunctional, and is working against them vs. for them. They aren’t in denial of the truth. They just aren’t aware of it.

And so, in the interests of accuracy and authenticity – and to rehabilitate product documentation from being a necessary expense (which it isn’t) to a profitable asset (which it should be) – here are six fundamental errors that many companies, including those that are successful and growing, get wrong:

 

Error #1: Inflicting PDFs on Customers

Some executives gaze upon their product documentation library, see a big virtual stack of PDFs, and feel good about the information they’ve made available on-demand to their customers. Well, customers who view this same scene have a somewhat different reaction, and it’s not-safe-for-work to publish their exact sentiment. Suffice it to say, it’s negative.

That’s because PDFs were never designed for product documentation. As we’ve discussed, the user experience is dreadful (especially on mobile devices), and the search feature isn’t worthy of the term. Plus, PDFs fail to drive self-support, and they aren’t SEO-friendly – which means they’re either hard to find, or they mislead customers by showing up in searches when they aren’t relevant.

 

Error #2: Not Catering to Omnichannel Customers

 Omnichannel customers connect through several touchpoints, such as web, social, community portals, social, search, and so on. As we’ve pointed out, relative to single-channel customers, omnichannel customers are generally more profitable, more loyal, and more willing to serve as a brand ambassador and refer colleagues, family and friends. That’s the good news.

The bad news, is that when companies fail to populate all of their touchpoints (not just their website!) with content that is accessible, consistent, updated, and accurately captures their brand voice, they don’t impress – and sometimes can’t even reach – these valuable and profitable omnichannel customers.

 

Error #3: Not Generating Intelligence from Product Documentation

 These days, gleaning the “voice of the customer” is essential for short-term success, and long-term survival. That means diatribes are out, and dialogues are in. However, as we’ve pointed out, this doesn’t happen when companies fail to capture actionable intelligence from their product documentation by discovering how, what, when, where and why customers engage content – and feeding this into their processes to improve and optimize what’s available.

 

Error #4: Mistaking a Repository for a Community

Almost every company has a section (usually somewhere on their corporate website) where customers can find some content. But the mere fact that section exists doesn’t make it a customer community. At most, it’s merely a repository.

The major problem here is that, as we’ve noted, customers like communities – and they dislike repositories. The former they find engaging, personalized, impressive and useful; whether they’re searching for a specific piece of content, or they want to connect with customers and SMEs. The latter they find unsophisticated and irritating, because it’s basically just a list of links that must sort through in a trial and error manner to (hopefully) find what they need.

 

Error #5: Not Involving SMEs

We pointed out a few months ago that if product documentation doesn’t incorporate necessary input from relevant SMEs, then it doesn’t matter how nice it looks, or how easy it is to find: it won’t and can’t provide customers with all of the information they need, and frankly, that they’re entitled to. After all, customers don’t (and shouldn’t be expected) to see product content as a “bonus” that comes with their transaction. It’s part of the deal, regardless of whether it shows up on an invoice or SLA.

 

Error #6: Not Keeping Support Agents Informed

 The ideal is to have customers find the information and answers they need on their own — not just because it’s cheaper for companies, but because customers increasingly want self-support options. Yet sometimes, customers want or need to contact support agents, and that’s when things can go sideways or backwards. That’s because support agents aren’t notified when new or updated content is available, aren’t getting content recommendations based on each customer’s profile, and can’t see what their colleagues are sharing with similar customers or situations. With so much uncertainty, creating a positive customer experience is the exception, rather than the norm.

 

The Bottom Line

If your company is making one, some or all of these errors, don’t feel singled out – because you’re certainly not alone. Plenty of good companies have bad product documentation. However, there is no strength in numbers here, either. As such, your top priority should be to target your vulnerabilities, and transform your product documentation into an asset that drives visibility, brand building, engagement, NPS, sales and competitive advantage.

To learn more about optimizing your product documentation ecosystem – so that you can re-read this article in the very near future and happily say “nope, we don’t do that” six times, schedule your complimentary guided demo of Zoomin today.

Zoomin Software