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A recent social media customer service survey by TNS reveals that over half (57%) of consumers head directly online when they have a problem with a brand or product. That figure rises to 71% among 16-25 year old consumers and 65% among 25-34 year olds. The problems and questions of frustrated consumers are being gathered and published all across the web.

The question is: where are the answers coming from? 33% of consumers use on-line forums and chat rooms while 25% have turned to on-line video tutorials (i.e. YouTube), and nearly 20% say they turn to query websites such as Facebook Questions, Yahoo Answers, etc. 11% say they turn to popular related blogs.

Now here’s the problem. When people are facing a question or crisis with a product, they’re looking for quick answers from wherever they feel the best answer is likely to come from. However, more often than not, those answers are nested in forums, community sites, and other 3rd party web properties, among similar complaints and problems. It’s here that brands and products take a reputational beating, and the solutions offered are often off the mark. Technology, software, consumer electronics and telecom industries seem to be the most vulnerable to reputational losses in these web arenas as they report greater losses attributed to support failures than most other industries.

The report concluded, “By creating digital content that solves customers’ common problems and making it widely available online, businesses can significantly reduce customer frustration and be seen as a user-friendly brand while lowering the costs associated with live agent support. When asked what companies could do to improve the customer service experience, 35% of all respondents, including nearly half (48%) of 16-24 year olds, said “post video demonstrations, tutorials and instructions.”

There answer is simple and cost effective, and in fact saves money and increases revenue. By implementing socially enabled product help your giving your product and knowledgebase assets a life on the web. A key consideration when implementing social product help is SEO. You only win the battle for your users if your content is search engine optimized. By giving your documentation and knowledgebase assets a life on the web, you’ll make sure your prospects and customers are getting the best product information from the most credible source, your company.

Next, your social product help software must take your documentation and knowledgebase assets and optimize them with effective search and feedback mechanisms as well as social engagement tools designed specifically around product help. Nothing deepens brand loyalty more than enabling the customer to quickly find highly relevant information that solves their problem and which expands their understanding of your product along the way.

You’ll also need a robust set of analytics tools. These are essential for understanding how your customer uses your product and the kind of information they’re looking for.

To bring it all together, you should make sure that your social product help integrates solidly with your support ticketing system and CRM as well as having the ability to extend into social networks and expand upon existing authoring tools (if any). By doing so, you dramatically improve your customers’ experience with your brand because your company can quickly respond to and engage the customer at a crucial point. Consumer surveys show that effective support experiences are often weighted more heavily than price in the decision to recommend, renew, or buy again.

Implementing social product help is simple and creates a single source of truth about your products and your brand. Think of social product help as an umbrella, encompassing all the ways consumers expect to interact with your brand while protecting your reputation and the customer experience.

Give your customers what they want

Every day at MindTouch we see companies come through our doors who find themselves with unhappy customers, low renewals and high support costs.

We’ve deduced the source of these problems to stem from poor relationship management. A relationship is a two-way street where the parties involved are happiest when all benefit. In the end, a social product help system resolves the relationship issues these companies experience and we want to share with you the secret to a healthy customer relationship: Give, Take, Share.

1.) Give:

What should you give your customers? In a customer relationship, what you ‘give’ can either be extremely influential in pushing renewals, or completely useless. The key is to give the customer what they want- not what you think they want. 

To begin, put a support platform in place that will facilitate your ‘giving’ goals. An online social help site is an excellent way to ensure your customers get the information and attention they want. It’s crucial that your online support site include a comprehensive knowledgebase that stores every technical document and media item that could possibly relate to your product. This process is much easier and painless when you get a knowledgebase with in-context WYSIWYG editing, collaborative authoring, versioning, permissions, staging and development of draft/approval workflow.

Just because you have all your content in one place does not mean you’ve given your customers something they want. It is crucial to organize your content into rational hierarchies with every document linking to related content. There should be no dead ends or dead links. This knowledge base must be dynamic and easily navigable otherwise you give the customer an unusable mess that will only result in more frustration, anger and fallout. Once you’ve done your best to give users the tools you think they need, you must keep tabs on what they’re ‘taking’ in order to understand if you have actually given them what they want.

2.) Take:

When users come onto a support platform, their goal is to ‘take.’ They might have never thought of their support usage in this way, but essentially their goals are to go onto the site, find answers to their questions and take away the knowledge to apply to their product usage. In this sense, ‘take’ is a wonderful thing because it means the user has found information they consider valuable enough to ingest.

There are ways to measure the ‘take’ on your social help site. In-site analytics provide an immediate and accurate report of customer interaction with your content. You can also use search analytics to view which articles are most frequently clicked on from a set of search terms and update your documentation accordingly.

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Many people want to be good writers. It is a central skill because so much of our communication is done through written channels. Everything from technical documents to emails to tweets requires writing.

Unfortunately, some regard writing as an almost mystical process where inspiration flows from your soul onto the paper where it emerges whole, perfect, and sacred. Thinking about writing this way is convenient, because then your crappy writing is the muse’s fault. But it’s more effective to realize that good writing is rarely beautiful at first. Writing is more like making a sculpture out of clay: you start with a big pile of mucky dirt (the first draft) that you have to mash all around (in a text editor) to get it to look like what you want it to look like.

Like the sculptor, the writer must master the tools—-in this case, words. But mastering words is more abstract than mastering sculpting tools, leading some people to think that mastering words must be an in-born talent that can’t be otherwise learned.

Effective use of words can be learned, though, if the aspiring writer is dedicated, disciplined, and willing to make a whole lot of ugly sculptures en route to making a beautiful one. The fact that you created many unrecognizable blobs when learning the medium might not be romantic, but it doesn’t detract from the artfulness of your eventual works of art.

Skill #1: reducing word count

You know the goal of good technical communication is to make the user successful with your product, and your higher-ups probably know that too. But “making the user successful” is hard to measure, and execs like numbers, so chances are, they’re going to be impressed by your page count. Read more…

Recently I read a discussion thread at a LinkedIn Tech Comm group in which Aaron, my CEO, claimed MindTouch didn’t support single sourcing. He was promptly contradicted by a MindTouch customer, Amanda Cross of ExactTarget, and prominent Tech Comm leader who just kicked off a guest blog series here at the MindTouch blog. Later on another MindTouch customer from EMC echoed Amanda’s call that they too use MindTouch for single sourcing.

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Recent studies concluded by Greenfield Online, Datamonitor, Ovum analysts and Genesys, concluded that companies in the United States lose about $83 billion annually in product abandonment, customer churn and defections due to customer support failures. Globally, across the 16 largest economies, the total loss to support failure was $338 billion annually. The main reason these losses continue is a lack of actionable insight to the consumers’ support expectations and the real customer experience with products. Companies using twenty year old static support architecture, commonly referred to as Help 1.0 environments, are virtually blind to their customers’ sense of product and support fulfillment and are considered by support industry experts to be particularly vulnerable to support failures.

Many companies operating these Help 1.0 environments today are managing their help documentation through CMS platforms like IXIAsoft, SDL TriSoft, SDL LiveContent, DocZone, Astoria, Componize and other DITA XML based products. Though these are powerful tools, and represent a significant investment in document and knowledgebase asset management, they have fallen short of their full ability to empower support leaders with insight because they’re typically tasked to publish to static Help 1.0 dead end publishing points like PDFs, CD-ROMs, and HTML.
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Today MindTouch announced new product capabilities for enhancing CMS and CCMS vendors like Astoria, DocZone, SDL LiveContent, Trisoft and IXIAsoft.

doc1WHY
Better customer help, happier customers.
HOW
Socialize existing publishing pipelines.
WHAT
Replace PDF and static content outputs from current publishing pipelines with a social publishing endpoint.

XML and DITA based CMS’s have proven market value by decreasing the cost of authoring, maintaining and translating content. While powerful in lowering costs, CCMS platforms are publishing value laden content into obsolete pre-Web formats such as PDFs, static HTML and first generation knowledgebases.

End users’ expectations are higher than ever. Twenty year old static formats are still the primary mediums used today and these fail to meet the needs of end users. Recent studies (Greenfield Online, Datamonitor, Ovum Analysts and Genesys) estimate the failure to meet customers’ support needs is the publishing-flow3primary cause of customer churn and this creates as much as $83 billion of annual losses caused by product abandonment.
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MindTouch worked with the Gilbane Group, some of our customers, the Society for Technical Communicators and several industry experts to develop a toolkit that provides a “how-to” for repurposing Componentized Content Management Systems (CCMS’s) by adding a social publishing layer. This benefits your customers in profound and measurable ways. If you care about your users, you need this toolkit.publishing-flow2

CCMS’s like SDL Trisoft and IXIAsoft have proven their value to the market by lowering the costs associated with producing, maintaining and translating content. However, MindTouch customers, companies like Autodesk, Paypal, Intuit and hundreds of others, have been proving that this content can be used to create the foundation of a social learning community that increases top line revenues and improves the quality of end user support.

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