Documentation is one of the problem areas in customer service. It’s seen as one of those dull but worthy subjects. Customers rarely want to discuss documentation in any detail, and few of them want to read about it.
On the service side, no one actually volunteers to develop online documentation. While documentation is often left grudgingly until towards the end of the product development process, it really should be developed in tandem with the product or service it describes.
Documentation is important when you are creating help guides and user manuals for your customers. They anchor an organization’s knowledge base and represent the start of an organization’s customer support strategy.
Are you confident your organization’s customer documentation is as effective as you would like it to be? Probably not. Do you have the time and resources available to train your team on effective documentation skills? Probably not. Here are a few simple strategies to help you improve your documentation and delight your customers:
9 Document Management Strategies Guaranteed To Delight
1. Eliminate Use of the Passive Voice
Periodic outbreaks of the passive voice are a plague on effective documentation. The passive voice reduces clarity and consistency of your documentation style while undermining the writing’s efficiency and tightness. The passive voice is writing in which the subject of the sentence denotes the recipient of the action rather than the performer.
Writing in the passive voice is highly detrimental to documentation, especially to process related documentation, where it is essential to understand which people or systems are performing the actions. The good news is this scourge is an easy fix. Under your Grammar function in Word, can click on the “Passive Sentences” option and Word will automatically check for passive sentences.
2. Use Simple Visuals to Engage your Reader
Documentation can be readily improved quickly through using simple visuals. Add “illustrations” to your documentation to improve your audience’s engagement levels by taking advantage of Word’s bundled Smart Art objects.
If you have Microsoft Visio, take advantage of this program’s ability to draw simple diagrams, reducing your need for extensive text. Again diagrams improve stakeholder engagement. One particularly useful diagram is the swim lane diagram, which illustrates agents and their actions. Swim Lane improves clarity around understanding roles, responsibilities, and processes.
3. Use Clear Titles and Bullets
Remember, your audience generally wants to exert as little as energy as possible when reading the documentation. Most clients “skim” documentation looking for the key points and core concepts. Tap into this behavior and cater for their preferences. Headers and bullets, often combined with cut-through visuals, are as important as the text.
For some readers, all that they will read are headers and bullets as they skim read the content. So, when mapping out your documentation strategy, ensure your key points entire are communicated through the headers and bullet points alone. If readers can understand most of what you are saying just by reading the headers, then your documentation will delight your customers.
4. Reduce Acronyms and Buzzwords
Acronyms and buzzwords can combine to create a language all of their own. Overuse of jargon and buzzwords actually discriminates against non-experts, make on-boarding new team members more complex and protracted and are regularly off-putting for customers. Acronyms and buzzwords actually annoy readers and hinder their ability to grasp key messages.
If you must resort to acronyms and buzzwords, define them upfront in a Glossary or common terms section.
5. Adopt the Reperformance Documentation Standard
One of the key challenges organizations face in developing and maintaining excellent documentation is they lack a consistent standard for assessing their documentation. One standard provides a strong metric for most documentation forms. This standard is called the “reperformance standard”.
The reperformance standard specifies the documentation must enable a user to “reperform” the nominated task or process. The documentation must contain sufficient detail and communicate its content with sufficient clarity through a combination of text or visuals as a standalone document to allow the user to perform the steps.
The reperformance standard can accommodate training materials, user manuals, process documentation, and disaster recovery documentation. So, test the quality of your organization’s documentation against this standard and challenge your documentation to meet it.
6. Digitize Core Customer Documentation
A wide variety of document types and forms of customer documentation are involved moving a product from inventory to the customer, from invoices, packing lists, manifests, labels, shipping notices, handling notices, and multiple regulatory paperwork.
7. Adopt the 80/20 Documentation Rule
Few organizations enjoy the resources or the budget to ensure their documentation meets all their organization’s objectives. Aiming for perfection is impractical, especially when building a documentation knowledge base from scratch. Targeting 80 percent of your documentation needs ensures you cover your critical content areas while working within your resource limitations.
8. Avoiding Documentation Overload
In the spirit of documenting an organization’s operations, care must be taken not to document everything. Too much documentation can be as detrimental as too little. The reality is that every aspect of business today is confronted with information overload, despite the best efforts of a company’s knowledge center.
Unfortunately, the most typical response to this problem is to ignore any information that does not represent an immediate emergency. When it comes to customer support, documenting everything is effectively documenting nothing.
9. Enter The Knowledge Base
As organizations increasingly deal with globally distributed customers and suppliers, particularly those dealing with multiple time zones and geographies, they face pressure to digitize customer documentation and share that information across online platforms.
Having all of the information associated with a customer accessible online allows customer service agents to anticipate customer needs, reduce errors, while meeting, and exceeding customer expectations.
All of these point to the need for an integrated information management infrastructure or knowledge base. Without a knowledge base infrastructure, customer information will be scattered across the organization, critical information will be unavailable at key decision points, and operating cycle times will inevitably degrade.
Any company doing business internationally understands governments worldwide require accompanying documentation with every international shipment to monitor the movement of goods across borders. Implementing these nine simple but powerful tips, enables organizations to take their organization’s documentation to the next level.
Jason Grills is a writer and a technical support executive currently associated with ProProfs Knowledgebase Software. He enjoys writing about emerging software products, new designs and trends in content marketing. He lives in Los Angeles, California. In his spare time, Jason enjoys pampering his pet dogs, shopping, and doing all things creative.