Put your customer support on autopilot with good user documentation

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Help-For-PDFIf you own a technical product such as a SaaS app and you have customers, then you should not be a stranger to the term customer support. If you are building one then you should be thinking about customer support. A cornerstone of good technical support is good user documentation. Before I started the development of  quikstarts.com‘s backend (authoring application) I conducted one of many surveys with about 75 entrepreneurs who were in various stages of product development. In hind sight, this was not the best group for me to survey because it was not the core audience for the product but it was still a valuable learning experience. Data analysis never hurt anyone.

Back to the survey. Some surveyed were building products, others worked at companies that had already released products and some were founders with launched products and customers. The survey results revealed some interesting things. One of the survey questions was, “Do you feel that your product requires user documentation” almost half of the responders (45%) felt that they’d channeled Steve Jobs and their software application did not require user documentation because it was just that intuitive and awesome. This was an actual multiple choice answer from the survey.

About (20%) of the same group of responders answered that they had considered user documentation for support prior to and during product development. Not a large number but good to see. I was not surprised because in my practice I have observed that customer support and other functions of business operations are generally an after thought until post launch, when customers start initiating support request.

The most interesting response that I found while reviewing the results was the amount of time being spent on support per week handling support request for those with launched products . It was 5 – 20 hours per week. Wow! I was thinking to myself, that this is the same group that felt that their customers would not need support because the apps were  intuitive and easy to use. On the one hand, I was not surprised because it is not uncommon for businesses to undervalue user documentation and self help resources while placing emphasis on shipping. In addition, the time spent providing support is often discounted by business owners as a one off or as something that doesn’t take much time to do. See my post “Do you know what your time is worth” for more detail on why this can be a costly mistake.

It really doesn’t matter how well a product is designed, there will always be users that have support needs for the company that created it. Even Apple, who arguably produces some of the most well designed, intuitive, hardware and software products in the world, has extensive user documentation online. In fact, at quikstarts.com, one of the most visit pages on the site is related to identifying which operating system is running on an iPad –  “How to check your iOS iPad version“.

So create good user documentation and allow your customers to help themselves. Some of the things that your user documentation should contain are:

  • The content should be searchable as this is how a lot of people search for help today. Table of contents of indexes are good but I think good search is all that you need.
  • Approach the topic and write as if you are a novice.
  • Clearly note the version of the product.
  • Detailed step-by-step procedures for performing specific task.
  • Plenty of good screenshots. Pictures are worth a thousand words. The more images you have, the easier it will be for your users.
  • Rock Star maintenance – This documentation should be considered a living document meaning that when the application changes so does the user documentation.

quickstarts.co is a product that I am working on that will help you create this type of documentation. Go check it out today and start reducing your time spent providing support for your users.

Update 1.31.17

wpDocs.co is a product that I developed on the WordPress platform for creating documentation.

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