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His Eminence, Gause_Brian -at- emc -dot- com wrote:
> You could get to know your readers by creating a page on your company
> website where customers can gather and talk in a forum.
Perhaps you could suggest a convincing business case for that. I floated
a similar boat a couple of years ago, and was eventually asked to stop
bailing after a few go-arounds. All external web stuff is controlled at
headquarters. There's no such thing as just trying something to see if
it works. One of the questions that I didn't answer convincingly was who
would be tasked to manage such forums, and if it was me, how much time
was that going to take and where was I going to find the time?
> Or you could create a email distribution list where customers and
writers can share ideas.
We have specific persons designated for customer contact. The rest of us
are enjoined to not give out our contact info, and to forward any
contacts that accidentally get through. I haven't even had business
cards for the past four years. No need.
> Or you can create an email account in your domain for users to send
> documentation feedback.
We had that for a few years. For a while it went to my inbox and then it
was pointed to Customer Support. The address was published in the
front-matter of the docs. Never got any hits. Now we just publish the
Customer Support address and leave it at that. Customer Support guys
delight in taking trouble calls where the response is to point the
caller to page such'n'such of my docs. When my docs aren't doing the
trick, they tell me, and I fix/expand for next release. But I'm not the
one talking to that customer. I get a nice summary when the issue is
> If your company is large enough, you might have an annual tech
> conference where customers and employees interact. If your company is
> not large enough, you might still attend a tech conference relating to
> your industry.
I understand that we've begun attending select conferences again - 'we'
being the corporation - but writers aren't included. There's no travel
budget for non-essentials. Did I mention elsewhere that I've never met
my own manager?
> There are definitely ways to interact with your users. I've listed
> that quickly come to mind.
And in certain kinds of industry situations, I'm sure that they work
> When you use words like "I will never", then your words becomes
> self-fulfilling. "I will never meet them. I will never talk to them. I
> will never correspond with them via e-mail."
> Well, not with that attitude, you won't...
Yes, sir. I abase myself before you.
You don't happen to work for a company that pays for you to travel to
conferences and trade events, do you? I don't. Haven't this century.
> I know you're chuckling to yourself about others who talk about "know
> your reader", but I'm shaking my head at writers who should know
> than to use words like "never", and give up on customer-contact before
> it even begins.
> Maybe your message was intended to be funny, but what it says about
> work habits and creativity is a dispiriting notion, indeed.
Some people think that tearing other people down is not actually
effective for the purpose of building oneself up in public. But hey, you
The "never"s were quite reasonable logistical limitations. I have never
traveled for this company (in its current incarnations, and a single
previous expedition under the previous ownership was prior to
consolidation aimed at eliminating the need for such travel). There's no
budget for it, nor will there be. My location is a branch office.
There's no business reason for me to be out-and-about. I don't get paid
enough to fund such travel myself (tsk! lack of dedication...) Customers
who do come visit are not generally the people in their respective
companies who actually use my docs.
The people who do travel _from_ here are managers, or (very rarely) an
engineer doing extreme troubleshooting or performing co-development
As soon as they return, such engineers are instructed to taper off
direct communication with techy people they met at the other company,
and begin funneling all correspondence through Customer Support. Part of
that policy is a desire to maintain a "corporate memory", and part of it
is a desire to ensure that nobody makes statements in correspondence
that could later be construed as commitments to perform this-or-that.
You can read my "never" as "never in the prevailing policy and budgetary
climate". If things change radically, those "nevers" might go away.
My view of corporate travel is that it was fast-and-loose in the last
days of the previous century (I even got to attend the STC thing in
Disney World), but then tightened considerably and has yet to loosen to
that earlier extent. The result is that I (and most of my co-workers)
don't go anywhere, and the same applies at customer companies. When
we/they do travel, it's for specific purposes and the meetings are
booked wall-to-wall, usually to resolve technical and contractual
I document (mostly) products that are designed and tested at this
office... which is why I'm here, and not at the head office in the USA.
When I occasionally get tasked to do a product from another location
(because the writer there is too busy), it's far cheaper to Fed-Ex the
equipment to me and send the software as a download. My rump stays here
on my Sissel 30-inch exercise ball "chair". End-user technicians from
(say) the corporate IT office of the Bank of Singapore or of Visa
Corporation never come here. Oops, I said "never" again. If one of them
found my e-mail address and sent me something, I'd reply with thanks and
tell them that further correspondence should occur via Customer Support
(who would be CC'd on the reply).
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