Good technical manuals are good business

Good manuals are good business.  What is the cost of adding a quick start guide, a YouTube video or some extra FAQs to your manual? Compare that to the cost of daily calls to your helpline, a bad review or a lost customer.

Happy users are the future of your business. If your equipment is easy to use, and does the job, they won’t consider looking at a cheaper competitor.

We all like to believe we are tech savvy. The honest truth is most of us struggle daily with our mobile phones, computers and appliances! We rarely use the advanced features.

Tips for good wording

  • Simplify instructions into plain English (Flesch-Kincaid Test Level 6 or better)
  • Make sure there is a clear structure, logic and flow
  • Cut text length – put details or examples into visually-distinct “call out” boxes
  • Re-write into short, active, punchy sentences that start with a noun
  • Get rid of acronyms, jargon or slang
  • Ensure scenarios and examples are sensitive to ethnicity, disability and gender
  • Read a few paragraphs aloud – is this how people really speak?

Tips for good Design

  • Add a table of contents to jump to sections quickly
  • Make headers, numbers, fonts and colours consistent and legible
  • Convert text and tables to diagrams, charts and infographics
  • Break up long, grey blocks of text with relevant photos
  • Redesign page layouts to make them legible and memorable
  • Create a company style guide that includes both comment language and design elements.

Software Manuals

On the one hand, software companies take delight in placing commands in hard to find menus. Help files are little more than a list of available menu items.

On the flip side, software companies complain that users expect to push the “install” button on sophisticated software without so much as opening the manual.

The end result for technology product and service providers is:

  • 90% of the power of their technology goes unused
  • endless support calls from upset customers
  • frustrated call centre staff who answer the same questions over and over
  • a poor reputation for service
  • lost sales due to bad mouthing or a lack of referrals

It’s a PDF file – why are you trying to save paper?

In an effort to keep the manual small, technical writers don’t explain “old” features and focus on the new one. If you have used the software for year, this makes sense.

But what about the new users who haven’t used your product before?  You need to allow for beginners, without talking down to expert users.

The easiest way to deal with varied skill levels is to split your manual into sections. Create a quick start guides with images for beginners, and videos for those doing complex tasks.

How do your build a reputation for good support

Many customers assume 24/7 support is part of the price. How do you build a reputation for “delivery” without spending all your profits on support staff?

Take your support online

  • Split PDF manuals in sections – don’t have a 20 MB file.
  • Convert presentations to videos – most people find videos easier.
  • Let buyers register online for software, product ownership or warranties. Now you have contact details!
  • QR codes are quicklinks to webpages you can scan with a mobile phone.  Create product stickers with QR code links to that product’s online help files.
  • Users must register to get access to details that might reveal intellectual property
  • FAQs (common questions) should be set up to evolve.  Let users add new questions that your team and trusted users can answer.
  • Let users report and track their bugs and issues online. Do not use Facebook – you can’t control it!  Don’t use github unless your users are tech pros.
  • Build a mailing list. Email tips to users by level and type.
  • Always announce bugs quickly – don’t hide the problem
  • Set up online training events that promote good use and show off new features
  • Ask users for what feature they would like to see next – you might get some easy wins!
More in this category
More on this topic