Listening to customers

Subject: Listening to customers
From: Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 18 Dec 1998 12:33:08 -0800

Folks -

One group we're contracting with has an (IMHO) enlightened policy of
pubs people visiting customers and asking them about documentation.
What follows is an edited quote from the report of a visit by the
TechPubs manager and one of the senior writers to one of the company 's
customers (in this case, a large Silicon Valley company):

>Our visit was brief and informal. We began by asking the group if
>was anything in particular they wanted us to change, or anything they
>wanted us to retain in our next publication of documents.
>The group told us they liked that our docs were delivered in paper
><One person> said that when the system is down, a CD is useless.
<Another> mentioned
>that he liked to be able to flip between pages, which you can't do as
>effectively on CD.
>They would prefer a spiral bound format to the current 3-hole punch, so

>that the book can be left open to any page. <Another person> suggested
that we
>put a piece of cardboard at the end of the book to give it some
>when you hold it.
>When I asked them if they care about the document packaging, i.e. the
>they replied that they do not care.
>However, the group requested that we send our docs on CD as well in
>HTML or .PDF format.
>They also requested that we put our docs on our Web page.
>When we asked if the content was good, the answer was that it was fine.

>When they look for information, they find it. They also responded to a

>question that the index was useful.

Several things to note here:

1. The customer company has been in business for a number of years, and
their people see manuals all the time. Therefore their comments can be
seen as probably indicative of similar attitudes from a lot of large
computer industry companies.

2. These folks want it all: they want paper docs, they want the manuals
on CD, and they want them on the web. What this says to me is that they
find a use for all three formats, depending on where the individuals are
when they need information. Note that our discussions on this board have
tended toward either/or points of view, especially in the latest PDF vs.
Paper discussion. Perhaps we should all revisit this issue.

3. Their comments about preferring spiral bound to 3-hole punch should
put the final nail in the coffin of manuals in 3-ring binders. I've
been saying for years that lack of desktop real estate was a motivator
toward moving from binders to either spiral or perfect bound books -
including lay-flat binding - and this simply adds to the argument
against using binders.

4. I find it interesting that they really don't care about the box the
books come in. What that says to me is that such a box is really more a
marketing tool (it makes a great place to slip in the little extra
flyers and other goodies) than an effective pubs tool. However I
personally tend to prefer the boxes because it helps me keep one
product's docs in the same place. But that's just me.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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