Companies in a wide variety of industries share a fundamental challenge: inconsistencies among their product documentation and training materials. Examples can include user manuals, quick start guides, and troubleshooting guides, to name a few.
Why the disconnect? Traditionally, when companies had slower product development and update cycles, it was easier to keep training and documentation in sync. Now, with many products having updates released as frequently as weekly, it’s the rare exception that an organization’s training materials can keep pace with product documentation.
This disconnect may seem like a small matter — but it can actually create a number of serious business issues. Among other problems, it risks providing your users and customers with conflicting messages about your products and investing time and money on training that quickly becomes out of date or inaccurate. It can also cause unnecessary customer service calls and help desk tickets and result in duplicative efforts to update materials in various silos.
What’s more, contradictory product material is an all-too-familiar source of frustration for employees who have to work through misleading instructions. Externally, it causes confusion for customers who are trying to learn how to use your products — an experience that can erode customer loyalty.
Fortunately, there is a better way. By creating tighter alignment between your product documentation and training materials, you can improve process efficiency and user experiences, and drive down costs by breaking down silos and sharing information.
3 Tips for Improving Consistency in Your Product Documentation and Training Content
1. Review and strengthen documentation & training plans
Without a well-designed and well-executed plan, it’s natural for an organization’s documentation and training to lack consistency — or even become seriously misaligned. One major reason for this is that without an effective way to connect product updates across the different silos in an organization, training materials tend to lag by as much as a year-and-a-half behind product information. Constructing a comprehensive plan that addresses both documentation and training content needs, in contrast, ensures that all needs are considered — not only those of your customers, but also your sales reps, customer service, tech support, and others.
2. Embrace single source publishing
If you’re used to maintaining separate repositories of content for product documentation and related training content, it may be difficult to conceive of a workable alternative. But the reality is that market leaders in industry after industry have replaced their old way of doing things with single source publishing, a newer, technology-driven solution that not only provides strategic benefits but can also have a significant bottom-line impact.
Single source publishing eliminates the possibility of conflicting information across technical documentation and training by creating a structure that allows the same content to be used and reused for multiple audiences across different forms of media. At its heart is a content management system that staff can use to create and update countless individual paragraphs, graphics, and procedures relating to your product lines.
The system includes detailed programming that gathers specific pieces of written content from your library for the creation of various customer-facing user manuals, FAQs, parts lists, and more. At the same time, it can gather the same up-to-date content and configure it for customers’ training needs. Most important of all, the data records are connected in such a way that changes in one section are automatically “pushed out” to update all other instances. Once the foundation content is established, it can be reused and customized to fit a broad array of specific processes and products — while at the same time, ensuring consistency among all product or process materials.
Among the bottom-line benefits, are:
- Improved customer brand experience and loyalty
- More empowered and knowledgeable employees who can be more helpful to customers
- Reduced helpdesk call volume
- Cost savings from avoiding the creation of duplicate content
3. Use professionals experienced in product training and documentation
It’s not uncommon for companies, especially smaller ones, to establish separate “teams” who are responsible for creating content for product documentation and training. Often, these teams end up consisting of engineers who are expected to transform into technical writers. While such individuals have the necessary product and process knowledge, they often lack the background and/or skills required to write to specific audiences’ needs.
Instead, a more cost-effective approach is to engage with a professional team of technical communicators experienced in conveying product information through a variety of product support and training platforms. Having the right team involved will ensure that the people developing the training and documentation are a) working to leverage the documentation and training content, and b) have experience with tools and strategies for linking this content and driving efficiencies. Improving consistency and quality across your documentation and training resources will lead to greater satisfaction among customers and employees — and also the potential for significant cost savings.
Now is a great time to start
By adopting a new system for developing consistent product documentation, reference, and learning materials, you can meet needs in multiple scenarios across your company, from improving customer service to supporting sales reps in the field.
Establishing such a solution does not need to be a large, ongoing investment. Many organizations prefer to outsource the development and configuration of a single source publishing solution, and then task staff with its day-to-day care and feeding or vice versa. If you’re looking for a way to take your organization to the next level and gain a competitive edge, consider learning more about this dynamic new approach to managing information about your products and processes.