Imagine a company that actively discouraged its customers from buying or using its products. Imagine it quick, because a company like that won’t be in business for long. Sadly, some companies spend tons of money and hundreds of hours creating all kinds of marketing and customer service strategies only to shoot themselves in the foot by subtly driving users away with poor product documentation.
Take a tour of your website, wiki, and in-house forums to see if you’re inadvertently sending customers any of these discouraging messages.
“Don’t use my product!” This is what you’re telling users when you don’t provide proper documentation around how to use your product. Unless your entire customer base can psychically divine how to interact with or troubleshoot your product, reliable documentation is critical. By “reliable” we don’t mean it must be “good enough.” We mean it must be excellent. What does excellent product documentation look like?
- Searchable: Microsoft TechNet knocks it out of the park when it comes to searchable content. The homepage is laid out cleanly and links to specific types of content are clearly displayed. A handy search box at the top of the page helps users drill down quickly without a lot of frivolous clicking.
- Proactive: Mobile device company HTC excels at providing current, proactive documentation. The site uses words like “latest” and “recent” — and means it. You won’t find a bunch of outdated info and broken links here.
- Approachable: Dell does a great job of making its content accessible to every type of customer it serves. Clear product categories and search options ensure even novice users aren’t intimidated or overwhelmed with a blizzard of options and information.
“Your time is worthless” This is what you’re saying when you require users to jump through multiple hoops to gain access to your documentation. Customers shouldn’t have to register on your site, click though 43 subpages, and offer up the blood of a unicorn just to find out how to replace a battery.
Complex products sometimes require complex documentation, but it’s your responsibility to make the process as painless as possible. If you’re product is software, the solution is dead simple: in-app support. Expose documentation directly within your product so users never have to leave the app to find the answers they need. That’s some pretty heroic product support, isn’t it?
“Your feedback doesn’t matter.” We’re all customers in some way, so we know you’ll agree it’s important to know that a company taking your money actually cares about you. When a user takes the time to offer input, share tips, or make suggestions, ignore them at your own peril. Your customers are down in the trenches, experiencing your product in ways you may have never thought about and have great feedback to share.
Customers don’t expect hand-signed birthday cards every year, but they do expect a measure of respect and appreciation that shouldn’t stop once their check clears. One of the best ways to honor customer feedback is to make it easy for people to offer it right on your site — and then listen to what they say. Customers are a great source to mine for nuggets of product knowledge and user stories that might not have occurred to you yet.
This type of customer engagement carries an inherent bonus: You can correct misinformation before it finds its way onto offsite meta-support channels like Twitter or Facebook. When feedback is a two-way street, users become their own product experts and you gain valuable insight into how customers experience your products.
We know no one plans on alienating customers but it can happen. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of running a lucrative business and overlook some potentially off-putting vibes you may be sending customers. Take a few minutes today to make sure your product documentation process sends the right message to users instead of turning them away.