LexPower

Two Key Features of Great Documentation

Posted on: October 14, 2010

 

Does Your Documentation Satisfy or Perplex Your Customers?

Does Your Documentation Satisfy or Perplex Your Customers? (Click the image to see credits and source.)

 

Does your company’s documentation provide excellent customer service, cut down on the costs of customer support (those call-center calls are not cheap) and help bring in qualified leads?

Is your documentation just a cost center or a smart investment that helps drive revenues?

Does your documentation help you win repeat business and attract new customers?

Really great product and services documentation can (and should) be an important part of your company’s business strategy. If you’ve always thought of documentation as just something you had to do, because every other company does, well, you’re missing out on a powerful tool that can help you lower costs and increase revenue.

What Makes Quality Documentation?

While quality documentation has many characteristics, the net-net result is that it provides a superior experience when your prospects and customers interact with your products and services. That, in turn, happens when the documentation makes it easy (and maybe even interesting and perhaps—gasp!—fun) for a prospect or a customer to find information they want, to learn what they need to know, or to solve a problem.

Put another way, it’s all about developing productive and valuable relationships with your audiences. And documentation is at the heart of it all.

Here are two key characteristics that are often overlooked, and that I think are essential if you want to build great documentation that will help you outmaneuver your competitors.

List of User Tasks and Links to Solutions

A key characteristic of excellent product and services documentation is the list of user tasks and links to the solutions. Even if you have parts and pieces of this elsewhere in your documentation, you need to have one section or module that lists every task and its links. Your listing should present tasks from a customer’s perspective, for example:

I want to do X

How do I …?

When you create a task list, it is critically important that you use terms and phrases geared to your target audiences, which means you have to know who your audiences are and how they think. So be prepared to don your research hat.

How many times have you tried to find something (in print or online) and failed, only to discover that the documentation did in fact contain the topic you were looking for, but the index entry or other references to that topic required you to use one specific search term or phrase? And which one? Oh, it’s guess-a-lot time? Isn’t that frustrating? Help make your corner of the world a little happier by using a variety of terms and phrases in indexes, and build your search engines so they display “close but not quite” matches. Help your users find those tasks.

Your goal is to create a superior experience that helps build a positive relationship between your company and its customers.

A Customer-centric Perspective

The second key characteristic of outstanding documentation is that menus, options and features are presented and explained from a customer-centric perspective.

After all, your customers will look at your product and its parts and ask: Why would I use this? To do what?

When you explain menus, options and features, be sure to:

  • Focus on real-world applications.
  • Provide links to detailed how-tos.

To create documentation that is all about the customer requires thought, research and effort. This is much more difficult than merely churning out material that is product-centric or developer-centric, and is probably one reason why too many companies still produce perfunctory and ineffective documentation that is, quite frankly, not all that useful to the end user.

Great Documentation Is an Asset

Whether your company is a high-tech geek enterprise or entirely non-technical, your business needs great documentation to win in the marketplace.

It’s part of paying attention to your customer, as well as leveraging what can be an important sales and revenue-generating tool.

So, how is your documentation doing? Is it working for you?

Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

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