RE: Advocating Documentation and Support

Subject: RE: Advocating Documentation and Support
From: david -dot- locke -at- amd -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2001 15:14:53 -0600

Why is the documentation department seen as a cost? I would say that we see
ourselves as a cost. The most recent mention of the value adds of technical
writing seem to be reducing technical support phone calls and the consequent
costs. But, is that what I really produce? No, absolutely not.

That viewpoint is totally internal, and totally cost focused. What I really
produce is loyal, satisfied customers. What does that do for my company? It
lets me sell upgrades at a cost of sale discounted 60-90% below the cost of
selling to new customers. The problem for my company is capturing that cost.
Not all companies market to existing companies any differently than they did
new customers.

Producing loyal, satisfied customers depends on creating the most intuitive
user interface that can be created, creating the fastest reading
documentation that can be created, creating as little documentation as
possible, and using an integrated content distribution strategy.

Creating as little documentation as possible is done not because we are
trying to eliminate production costs, but because we are trying to eliminate
negative use costs--the cost of non-productive use of the software. It
actually takes more production time to do this than to just do a brain dump.
And, I'm not referring to minimalist documentation here. Minimalism was used
as an excuse for not producing documentation, and it was applied to markets
where users did not engage in discovery. Information design, and graphics
are needed to reduce the amount of documentation a reader has to read, and
the costs incurred by user that do read it.

Part of the content distribution strategy is to make cross references to
technical support. That would make the customer pick up the phone and call
for more information. But, you only do this for tasks in the last 20% of
task frequency. Making the customer an expert and extending an offer to have
a relationship with the company are more important than eliminating
technical support calls. And, the calls can't be completely eliminated,
because of the users might prefer making a phone call over reading the
manual.

Yes, calls about things that customers don't understand need to be reduced.
The content of those calls are evidence of bugs in the content. Yes, those
bugs are detrimental to loyalty and satisfaction, but this is a baseline
process. We have to go further.

The only way we can break out of this cost focus is to change the way we
talk about what we do. We need to evangelize a value add that makes our role
in creating loyal, satisfied customers visible.

David W. Locke


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