Re: saving trees (printing)

Subject: Re: saving trees (printing)
From: Jenn Wilson <jenn -at- mylar -dot- outflux -dot- net>
To: Bill Swallow <techcommdood -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 5 Jan 2006 15:34:01 -0800 (PST)

Hello, Bill!

I'll begin with a little background on my audience's perspective: my company makes software for distribution companies, and many of our end users are considered "old-school," in that they're generally not very fluent with computers. They usually prefer to take notes on paper, talk to people on the phone or in person, that sort of thing. In other words, they're not terribly excited about learning new software to begin with, so one naturally wouldn't expect them to be enthused about electronic doc delivery at first.

Many years ago, our company issued a set of print manuals, written by a former trainer. To make a long story short, they were expensive, poor in quality (super-confusing!), and impossible to maintain. The company scrapped the whole idea of documentation, until they eventually decided to hire a professional full-time writer (me). When I came on board, a lot of the clients remembered that there USED to be some manuals, so they eagerly anticipated new ones, in hard copy.

I don't issue docs in print, for various reasons. Instead, I publish them in a password-protected support website. The folks who actually log in to get documentation are often supervisors or managers; they look up answers or print materials for their lower-level employees.

Most of our clients are fine with this arrangement. It lets them feel like they're in control -- they can log in and just print the page they need. If they lose it, they can print it again. The online docs are always up to date (at least in theory!), so there are no obsolete print manuals gathering dust. I also publish announcements, reminders, and tips in the website, which helps the users feel all the more engaged and supported.

However, electronic doc delivery is a point of contention for some of them, at least at first. A lot of our users learn best by reading instructions on paper and applying them onscreen, instead of bouncing between two application windows on a small monitor. They can still learn from paper, of course, but someone has to take the extra step of printing the pages, which is a pain when they're already short on time.

Some new clients (usually smaller businesses that aren't big on IT to begin with) have told us that they feel cheated, in that they spend $X for software and don't even get a physical manual they can stick on a shelf, and when you buy a copy of MS Word at Best Buy, it always comes with a manual, no matter what, so why can't we be like everybody else? :)

In almost all of these cases, though, once they get in and start using our support website, they really like it. They like the search engine, they don't get papercuts, and they have easy access to other information about their accounts (trouble tickets, status on custom projects, etc.).

We do have plenty of end users who see going online (for any reason, not just for software info) as a chore... they simply lack the time or patience to log in and look for what they need, so some prefer to phone in and pay for helpdesk time instead.

One of our biggest challenges: we can't really require anyone to use the website. We strongly encourage them to use it, and most do, but some can (and do) get by without it. If they feel they're doing just fine with the knowledge they already have (which erodes with turnover, lack of re-training, etc.), they miss out on learning new ways to use our software more efficiently. It can also affect business development on our end, since there's less incentive toward upgrades. (This is more a matter of how we do business than how we handle docs, but it's worth mentioning.)

Anyway, that's the gist of it. In terms of differences between electronic delivery methods, I don't have much feedback to share there, beyond some users stating that they don't like to use all those keystrokes or mouse clicks (meaning more than one or two) to find the answer to a question. In other words, some of them want context-sensitive online help, but that's unfortunately not a possibility for us.


On Thu, 5 Jan 2006, Bill Swallow wrote:

I'm interested in cutting down the number of pages in our printed
manuals in favor of electronic delivery (PDF, HTML, c-s Help systems,
etc.). I wanted to get a feel from people who have done this as to
what the customer reaction was. Please don't reply with comments on
the value of print and so forth (at least not to this thread)... I'm
just looking for customer reactions. We're doing our own audience
analysis, content analysis, and so forth, but having some outside info
will also help in our decisions.



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saving trees (printing): From: Bill Swallow

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