Does quality documentation reduce call center cost?

Subject: Does quality documentation reduce call center cost?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, "Platko, Mickey" <Mickey -dot- Platko -at- hp -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 03 Oct 2006 09:24:13 -0400

Mickey Platko wondered: <<My team believes high quality, well-written support documents increases the ability of customers to solve their own problems, rather than calling the help desk. We're looking for articles or studies that indicate that quality documentation reduces costs and increases customer satisfaction. Can anyone point me in the right direction?>>

A 1995 special issue of STC's journal _Technical Communication_ (on value-added, with Ginny Redish as the editor) provides a good range of articles that prove quite clearly how we add value--and by how much. You may also find something of interest in the following article, which is by no means equally rigorous, but nonetheless provides some food for thought:

Unfortunately, although the basic premise is sound, there are several problems with the effort to prove that we add value. First, people who read neither manuals nor online help will not benefit from well- written documentation. This means that your documentation will only affect the (potentially small) subset of your audience that actually reads this material. Worse yet, if you're in the situation of trying to fix substandard or even bad existing documentation, this proportion becomes even smaller, because people who have learned not to trust your docs won't keep trying to do so. <g>

Second, the best documentation in the world can't save a crappy user interface, poorly debugged software, or a product that simply doesn't work the way its users work. So you can't solve these problems through documentation. However, since we're often the first people to see a product, we are also the first ones to spot these kinds of problems. If we can report the problems and provide a suggestion on how to fix them, we clearly add value to the process--but that value is difficult to quantify, because if you solve a problem before any user encounters it, you can't easily collect statistics on the impact of that problem.

On rare occasions, we get to actually kibitz over the interface. I've occasionally had an opportunity to sit down with the programmers and discuss how a program should work, and demonstrate this*. Value added? The programmers design the interface once, then start coding, instead of constantly tweaking and revising the interface, wasting many hours in so doing. I've heard of a few companies who actually understand the value of this up-front design. Their numbers are growing, but they're still desperately in the minority.

*Hart, G. 2006. Creating interactive prototypes: let's move beyond "paper prototypes". Information Design and Architecture SIG newsletter ( 0601_interactive_prototypes.htm) --> The link is broken, but you can probably find it there (June issue, I believe) with a bit of poking around. Just getting set to leave on a trip, so I probably won't have time to post my version of the article on my own Web site. Later this year, hopefully!
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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca

(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)

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Does quality documentation reduce call center cost?: From: Platko, Mickey

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