My latest iPhone arrived with a tiny, two-inch square, two-page manual enclosed in the box. You might think, “See, the world really is moving toward less documentation!” But within two weeks Apple showed me it still values documentation; it just packages it in a different way.
The day after my iPhone purchase, Apple sent me a long, full-color email full of how-tos, knowledgebase items, and links to videos about a host of new features I got with the phone, many of which I did not know existed. A week later, I got another email with information about new products to enhance my iPhone experience, with links to more resources. Many quick searches in Google have provided me with a wealth of answers to many questions I have about my phone.
With today’s digitized world, companies should be spending more money, not less, on documentation. Like Apple, your organization should be spending more time developing a documentation strategy. Without a doubt, documentation is the lifeblood of a successful organization.
Use your documentation as a warranty
Everyone agrees that having a warranty is a good way to keep customers. But have you considered that online documentation can be just that, your promise to your customers about what they can expect from your products?
If you have great documentation, then everyone has access to the same information about how your products work. If you post this warranty online, then both your clients and your staff are using the same documentation. When your customer service representatives interact with a frustrated client, this shared resource can be used to ascertain whether your product is not working as expected because it is misunderstood versus that a feature is broken. This documentation can also be used as a basis for developing new features requested by your clients.
Encourage your employees to write documentation
Encouraging knowledge sharing is popular. People spend hours Googling how to use new features of their latest purchase; the first place I went when I was buying my new phone was online. But have you considered developing documentation as a part of everyone’s job description, not just the technical writers tasked to do it every day?
This kind of effort will not only increase how much documentation you have; it has the net effect of encouraging employees to be more self-sufficient and to learn on their own. When employees document what they do, it makes life easier for everyone. In the case of a promotion or job change, the people hired to replace them will need less training and will have a great resource to turn to. Inspire your senior-level employees to document answers to commonly asked questions. This effort will allow these valued employees to focus on higher-level tasks and need to answer fewer support calls.
Share your company vision with documentation
Everyone knows it is important to share your vision with your clients. Companies spend big dollars on marketing campaigns and conferences to stand out among the many choices available to current and future clients. Has your organization spent time developing effective documentation collateral to support these types of initiatives?
Take the time to develop documentation pieces to use with the various ways you communicate your vision and success. When you develop marketing campaigns at specific times in your product life cycle, match them with strategic documentation pieces that promote your accomplishments. When you have your annual event, create documentation for it and add it to the handout packet. And always, always, post all this material online. By posting documentation online, it is not only available in your campaigns and conferences, but your client can also use it later.
Is your documentation strategy effective by these metrics?
Let’s return to evaluate Apple on their documentation strategy. Within two weeks of owning my new phone, I saw that Apple placed a high value on documentation, regardless of the packaging that came with my phone. Apple showed me that it supports the three ways outlined in this article: the creation of an online warranty, an environment that supports knowledge sharing, and the use of strategic documentation pieces to promote their vision and success.
How does your company match with these metrics? Do you walk the talk when you say you value documentation? What can you do to change the way documentation is regarded at your organization?
More than just words, is documentation the lifeblood of your organization?