I recently had an abject lesson in how end user success is strongly correlated to a company’s success when I won a telescope from a holiday drawing. I’m not a telescope kind of person per se. I’ve never used a telescope and the extent of my constellation knowledge is Orion’s Belt and maybe the Big Dipper – or is it the Little Dipper? But after I got home from the party I was so excited to open the box and get it up and running.
Unfortunately, the telescope company didn’t particularly care whether I used the telescope or not. I say this because as soon as I opened the box, I saw a telescope in little pieces that needed assembly. Usually assembling things doesn’t freak me out, but when I took a look at what they called ‘instructions’ I was far from excited.
More doesn’t mean ‘better’
Included in the box was not one, but two instructional guides and a DVD. Let’s just say more is not always better. The documentation was like a puzzle where I had to hop from one PDF manual to another and then jump on my computer to download a CD which was full of more PDFs that were supposed to supplement the first two manuals. It was not fun, not pretty and by the time I had halfway assembled the telescope I just gave up. I put the pieces back in the box and went online to return it.
It’s called hypermedia and it’s been around 80 years now
This isn’t just about me getting frustrated when I was putting together a telescope, there is a much more important lesson here. We are now in the age of computers. And guess what–these complex machines allow me to connect to the Internet and interact with hypermedia (that’s what we now call interactive web pages), which Vannevar Bush designed way back in 1930 (see Memex) as a way to foster and accelerate learning and information transfer. Today we’ve taken the hypermedia concept even further by baking “social” into the fabric of the web. With this in mind, why would any company today feel it is appropriate to give it’s user a PDF- literally pictures of paper- and pretend it’s sufficient. Giving users PDFs is a clear demonstration that you do not care about their success and assume they don’t know the difference between a paper manual and a PDF guide online. Whereas, for hardly any more labor the company could have delivered me a hypermedia experience injected with social tools that allows me to interact with the authors and other users of their products; in short, for very little more effort this telescope company could have kept me as a customer and potentially created an advocate.
Note to Companies: the Internet was designed for learning.
I almost laughed when I viewed the telescope DVD. The “help” was the exact same information as in the manual – only the pages were on my screen! What value does that DVD provide to me that the paper manual does not? It just shows how behind the times this telescope company is and gives me zero faith in the product.
In fact, if you read above, I actually returned my telescope. Just think about your product. It may be a consumer’s dream product, but if the user cannot figure how to work it, how to install it, how to assemble it, or what features and benefits it holds, they will get frustrated and assume the product is faulty, poorly made, or just not what they were looking for. In short, if your users can’t succeed with your product they will not use your product; worse, they will tell ten others not to use your product too.
A successful user is a happy customer.
Instead of selling a customer a CRM system and telling them to ‘get to work,’ give them contextual help, so when a user gets stuck he or she can simply hover their mouse over the ? button and get the answer. Instead of making a user wade through bad search results, get search analytics on your help site that brings up the most commonly clicked answers for the search question. Instead of guessing what questions your users have, know what they are: use analytics to see what is most frequently searched and whether the user found what he or she wanted- this shows you if have cracks in your documentation. Also see if users find your Docs helpful in the moment by giving them the ability to rate content.
Don’t be afraid to join the social revolution.
Believe me, social computing is here to stay. Instead of locking up your help site only to vetted technical communicators, allow users to share tips, advice and even submit changes or suggestions to the help documentation. You can edit and modify feedback and use what’s best. Trust your customers first. Then they will trust you.
Don’t assume your customers are stupid and won’t notice your product’s weak PDF help and unorganized documentation. Give your users a social help center that makes your product easy to use, find help, and move them on their way to customer success.