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Posts Tagged ‘Customer Support

Documentation Is Part of a Smart Marketing Strategy

Do you see documentation as an important marketing asset? Are you putting your documentation to work as a sales tool? If not, you may be leaving money on the table. (Click image for source and credits.)

In these difficult economic times, companies need all the strategic marketing assets and sales tools they can muster. Did you know that documentation can help you achieve several important marketing goals? Are you getting the most out of your documentation?

One of the strongest arguments for investing the proper amount of time and money to produce effective documentation—the kind that shows you understand your market and your customers—is that you will create several powerful marketing tools in one package.

Want to become a member of the “smart marketing” winners circle? Here are some of the top reasons why great product documentation can set your products and company apart from the crowd …

One, repeat business. Successful documentation helps your company get repeat business in a very economical way. As you know, converting prospects to customers requires a lot of work and money. Once you’ve made the sale – what then? If your customers are satisfied with the product and how it meets their needs, they are likely to buy from you again. Documentation that helps customers use your products and get the most out of them promotes repeat business.

This is low-hanging fruit, so don’t overlook the marketing value of great documentation. As a bonus, if you publish your documentation online, you can build out those pages to encourage even more customer interaction with your company.

Two, analytics. How do you know your documentation meets your customers’ needs? Are you really communicating everything your customers need to know about the product?

Build out your online documentation package to encourage customer feedback, so you can find out what customers really think about your product documentation, and how they use it. Enable comments so users can tell you what they think is missing, what they like, and more. Automated analytics tools can tally and rank page and topic views, for example, and also list referrers, search terms used to find topics, which links were clicked, and so on.

Documentation analytics just might turn out to be your best friend in the marketplace, providing unvarnished, honest feedback and market intelligence. You can use that information to correct weaknesses, build on strengths, make better decisions about product development, gain a competitive advantage—and, ultimately, generate more business.

Three, interactive customer engagement. Who said documentation has to be just static pages lurking on a company website, waiting for customers to drop by? That’s all well and good, of course, but why stop there?

If you know your customers and how they use your product, you can slice and dice your documentation into many different configurations, and push it out onto many devices in various formats.

You can also make your documentation more interactive. Beyond pages of text, figures, drawings and photos, why not add podcasts, videos and automatically updating fields to the mix? Consider a video-game format for a training document, for example. Interactivity keeps customers connected and learning; that can pay off on the bottom line.

Hankering for more information on interactivity? Then you might also like to read Does Your Company Use Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETM)?

Too many companies still view documentation from a limited perspective and, therefore, leave business on the table. You already know documentation is critical for making your products usable and useful. It’s time to take the next step and realize its potential as a powerful, strategic marketing asset.

Talkback: Does your company view documentation as a marketing asset? Do you use documentation to develop and retain your customer base? If you use documentation as a marketing tool, has it helped increase your customer base and revenues? What documentation formats work for you? Share your thoughts and experiences in comments—thanks!   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

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Google Traffic Generation Trends Analysis

Google Traffic Generation Trends Analysis - Video Ads vs. Social Marketing vs. Pay-Per-Click Ads vs. Search Engine-Optimization

It’s no secret that Google recently changed its search formulas.

Google’s intent was to decrease the occurrence of “content farms” in search results, because the farms were clogging the search rankings. Content farms tend to be heavy on ads, post information without much regard for quality, and often use text copied from other sources.

So good for Google! Time to stop rewarding the content farms.

Alas, however, Google’s modifications to its search algorithms also spawned some unintended (and negative) consequences for legitimate companies.

If you own or work at a small business with a web presence, then one or more of the accidental side effects may be giving you a real headache.

Recent articles on CNN Money and in the Wall Street Journal noted that, as a result of Google’s changes, many small businesses have seen dramatic declines in their web traffic and web-generated sales – think drops in sales of as much as 40 percent.

Wouldn’t that make you sit up and take notice? Thought so. As you might imagine, then, those businesses are now taking action.

Which brings us to the “silver lining in the cloud” part.

If you are a freelance writer, pay close attention here, because one tactic favored by those companies is to hire more freelance writers to customize copy.

You see, many of the affected companies sell lots and lots of different products. Formerly, they relied on the manufacturers’ product descriptions, meaning they basically just copied the text. The manufacturers certainly didn’t mind (it’s partly why they created the copy, after all), but that approach seems to have caused their sites to lose their place in Google’s rankings.

So rejoice, freelance writers. As Carol Tice says in her excellent post about this subject: “Google’s change is opening up a world of freelance writing opportunities.”

In addition to writing original product descriptions, companies also need copy for email marketing campaigns, customer Q&A, social media, direct customer communication and much more that will help each company distinguish itself from its competition.

Companies, although you’re going to suffer some short-term pain, in my opinion you have been handed a golden opportunity to make your businesses even more profitable and productive. You and your customers will eventually benefit enormously from what good freelance writers can bring to the table.

Remember, good communication is the heartbeat of a great business. (And better Google rankings.)

Bonus just for you: If you’d like to read more about substantive content and SEO, and why you should care, check out these recent posts:

Now it’s your turn: How do you present your products and services in an original, creative way? What keeps your customers coming back to your website and actually buying stuff? Writers, what do you think about the opportunities presented by Google’s changes? Please share your thoughts and keep the conversation going in the comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write ideas

PDF with embedded video: H1N1 Awareness

This is a screenshot of an informational H1N1 Awareness PDF with an embedded video segment: imported video, hand-illustrated characters, Photoshop and Adobe Acrobat. The subject is the H1N1 virus.

Who says a PDF has to be just an e-version of the static printed page? Now you can offer your readers a rich, multimedia experience by including video in your PDF documents. Although many documents could be made more useful and engaging by adding short video segments, customers and users may find such a feature especially helpful in reference guides, how-to tutorials, and training procedures.

Many writers create documents using content-authoring software like Adobe FrameMaker, Microsoft Word, MadCap Flare, or the OpenOffice word processor. As far as I know, all of these companies have a document-to-PDF guide on their website. If you are working with FrameMaker, for example, you’ll find the conversion guide under Resources.

Are you among those who already use video-capture software to create video segments? Then no doubt you are probably familiar with names like SMRecorder, HyperCam, Camtasia Studio, Adobe Captivate, and CamStudio, among others. If you’re new to these (and similar) packages and want to get a feel for what they can offer, take a look at CNET Download.com for reviews of Camtasia Studio as well as links to reviews of the others.

Once you’ve got your document and video files ready to roll, how to munch and crunch everything into one fabulous PDF?

Use Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro (and Extended Pro) or Acrobat X to embed video directly in the PDFs you create. (By the way, if you have ever wondered about embedding a flash file (*.flv or *.swf format) in a PDF, yes, your users will need a flash player to view the file. Fortunately, about 99 percent of internet users already have flash player installed.)

When you create a PDF, Acrobat will allow you to embed the video directly in the PDF file, or embed a link to a remotely hosted video.

Here is an Acrobat X Pro step-by-step guide to inserting rich media into PDF documents.

And here are some links to video tutorials that show the embedding process:

These resources can help you easily learn how to embed videos in PDF files.

At long last, you can turn those ho-hum, static PDFs into media-rich productions that will boost your users up the learning curve.

Now it’s your turn: If you embed videos in PDF files, which packages do you prefer, and why? Have you discovered any pitfalls to avoid? Can you recommend any helpful tips and tricks? Please leave comments to share your thoughts – thanks! Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals: Multimedia and Multi-Platform

Does your company use Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETM)? These documents offer users a multimedia and multi-platform experience.

Around 1980, some companies and organizations, notably the aerospace industry and the branches of the U.S. military, began to re-think how they presented technical information. Their products were complex, and their maintenance, troubleshooting and product-support requirements were stringent and time-consuming.

They knew they needed to improve performance, reduce errors, and shorten learning timelines. But how?

As it happened, they looked at emerging computer technologies and wondered if moving from paper to an electronic format would improve results. Among their questions:

  • Would users find it easier to learn and use the material?
  • Would they reduce errors and improve performance?
  • Could they integrate documentation with other systems?
  • Could they save money?

Tests with interactive electronic formats showed positive results and so, encouraged, the companies and the military forged ahead into the world of Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETM).

Since that time, we have seen IETM systems develop a variety of features, with most using one or more of the following:

Linear Structure. This sort of electronic document is based on the structure and layout of a printed book and uses navigational aids, such as a table of contents and a list of figures, that hyperlink into the content. A PDF file is a good example.

Nonlinear Structure. These online documents are organized around the logic of the product or task, for example, instead of following a linear book-type structure. However, the concept of a static page remains. As you would expect, there are lots of hyperlinks and other navigational aids. This type of document is often authored in a markup language.

Dynamic Data. These online documents are very nonlinear in structure. Content and pages are dynamic, drawing much of their data from relational databases and data dictionaries. Background programming automatically updates the dynamic data when the databases and dictionaries are updated. Hyperlinking in these documents is typically very complex and is, therefore, usually handled by programming. Content may also be context-specific and user-specific.

Integrated with Expert Systems. As companies build databases of heuristics and expert feedback, these can be integrated with the IETM system to improve the user experience and results. This information can be dynamically mapped into documents in all sorts of ways. For example, feedback by expert troubleshooters about errors and how to resolve them is sought after by companies across the product and process spectrum.

New Frontier—Multiple Devices. Many companies are now changing the way they and their customers think about IETM. From design concept to reality, they are experimenting with unleashing product support through all sorts of channels, for example: Mobile devices such as tablets and phones, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, websites, CDs, PDF, print, wikis, and blogs.

The new frontier of IETM seems to call for a “basket” of delivery platforms, each carefully selected for a certain type of content.

And no matter the platform, content rules. As ever.

Content must be organized in a way that suits the product, the audience, and its intended use. Content must be consistent across multiple platforms, well structured, properly modularized, cross-referenced and completely accessible by a full range of search and navigational features.

IETMs and their spin-offs present design, writing and production challenges, but produce a better user experience and greater performance improvements over stand-alone paper documents.

For more on creating an interactive user experience, see my recent post Let Your Customers Tweet in Your Documents.

Now it’s your turn: Does your company use IETMs? On which delivery platforms? How would you describe your experience implementing IETMs? Do you think the results are worth it? Please share your thoughts and questions about IETMs in comments. Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Corporate Band of Bloggers

Could this be your company's band of bloggers? How could employee bloggers help your company stay in touch with customers?

Face it, your customers don’t want to communicate with your company, they want to talk to you. They want to get personal. Up close. And comfortable. So, how to entice them to pull up a chair, stay a while and get to know you better?

One way of inviting your customers to stay in touch on a regular basis is to assemble a band of employee bloggers to write about their areas of expertise and how what they do relates to and benefits the company’s customers.

For instance, imagine creating a corporate site that showcases multiple employee blogs, all housed under one landing page. In your mind’s eye, can’t you just see your company’s colorful landing page filled with clickable summaries of each blog, a search window, a blog directory and other features that make surfing, searching and reading your company’s blogs easy and interesting? Hey—you could even spice up the mix by adding a few video and multimedia “blogs” as well.

Take a good look around your company. You have departments that specialize in all sorts of business functions, for example: product design and development, data feeds, legal, regulatory, documentation, investor relations, logistics, accounting, shipping, communications, IT, HR, training, and current projects of all sorts—the list of possibilities is as large and varied as the number of companies.

Pull your band of bloggers together, along with an editor and a blogger-in-chief. Give each blogger on the team a byline, and include a headshot and brief biography.

Launch your blog site, and let your customers get to know the people who make your company work.

 

For more information on biz blogs, you might enjoy these two recent posts: Business Blogs: 9 Tips for Great Results and Business Blogs: Top Reasons Why Your Company Needs One

Now let’s talk: Does your company use a band of employee bloggers to interact with customers online? Do you have any advice for those who might be considering such an approach to business blogs? Tell all right here in your comments! Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

 

Promote Communication via a Business Blog

Are you engaging your prospects and customers in conversation? A business blog helps build relationships through conversations that your audiences can relate to.

Are you leaving business on the table because your company is blog-less?

If you are doing business and don’t have a blog, you are missing out on a powerful tool that can serve as a useful connection and communication point for your prospects, customers, suppliers and staff.

Think of a business blog as a multi-functional hub: Users can access it at any time. You can update it quickly. And it benefits your audiences and your company by enabling you to …

  • Share expertise, opinions, thoughts, tips and ideas about your company’s products and services as they relate to your customers’ experiences and needs.
  • Ask for and get customer feedback (which you can use in marketing research and customer support).
  • Build an interactive relationship community with customers, prospects, suppliers, your staff and members of your industry, as well as your investors, partners and board of directors.
  • Tell your story, so someone else (like your competition) doesn’t write it for you.
  • Manage change, so you can direct your company toward the future you want it to have.
  • Give your company a face and a voice in your customers’ mind.
  • Enhance your customers’ experience with your products and services.
  • Maintain an active, informal (and low-key) marketing and branding presence to reinforce your other marketing and sales efforts.
  • Establish blog subscription lists and RSS feed lists to develop customer databases.
  • Quantify blog traffic, including down to the level of how many hits each post gets. Depending on the hosting site, your blog statistics may also track referrers, the search terms used to find your blog, top posts and pages, and through-clicks. These and other stats can provide an informational goldmine for various departments in your company.

Before you dive into the world of corporate blogging, you might find it helpful to take a look at what some other companies are doing. Check out iBlogBusiness, Forbes’ roundup of the best of the small-business blogs, and the Sunday Times 50 best business blogs for a sampling of looks, concepts and approaches.

Ask yourself this: Can my company really afford to remain blog-less any longer, if we’re serious about growing our business and making money?

Now let’s talk: Does your company have a blog? How does it benefit you? Have you found any drawbacks to having a business blog? Please share your thoughts by leaving comments – thanks! Elizabeth Lexleigh    LexPower    The Write Ideas

Social Media and Static Documents

Have you thought about embedding live Twitter streams in your company's online documents? Do you think this could help you connect better with your customers?

Recently a colleague and I were talking about product promotion. As is so often the case in the world of business, the real issue was how to connect with customers on an ongoing basis and get them more involved with the product and the company. All successful companies are interested in that, because they want to encourage customer loyalty, get feedback on specific products and help build a word-of-mouth campaign about their products.

And what better way to accomplish those objectives than by engaging your customers in conversation?

This is where tweets come into the picture.

What if you decided to embed live Twitter streams in your company’s document pages and then invited your customers to become part of a lively exchange of opinions, feedback, suggestions and idea-sharing?

The more my colleague and I batted around ideas about this, the more I thought about the many ways a tweet stream could benefit everyone involved.

So I decided to poke around the Internet and see what I could find, since I was pretty certain that someone, somewhere, must have already experimented with such a useful tool.

As you might expect, there are companies out there which have already embedded live Twitter streams in their documents. I found a really nice example at ffeathers, a technical writer’s blog written by Sarah Maddox. In her post on embedding Twitter streams in documents, she describes how she integrated Twitter into some of her company’s online documentation.

Although Sarah’s post concerns technical documentation, what she has to say could be applied to all sorts of online business and technology documents: imagine brochures, books, white papers, instruction manuals, marketing documents … and the list goes on.

I think the fusion of dynamic social media like Twitter with more static pages like company documents could usher in a wholly new way of interacting with customers.

Why not offer your customers the immediate gratification of expressing themselves directly to you about your products and services? Why not take advantage of this tool to keep a closer eye on the marketplace? There are so many possibilities …

Now let’s talk: Do you use embedded live Twitter streams in your company’s online documents? Do you use other social media to keep in touch with your customers? If so, what are the results? We’re all ears, so please let us know! And thanks for leaving your comments. Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas


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