In his post, “'Digital Natives' and the end of traditional hotline support”, Ellis Pratt describes how the model of support has changed from the 1990's. In the 1990's users would seek immediate support from people who were geographically near them (usually in the same office or workspace). With the advent of social media, geography is no longer important. Users, especially younger users, are first turning to Google, Twitter, email, instant messages and other forms of social media to get answers to their support questions.
These forms of communication are almost uniformly text-based. Where does traditional software documentation fit in this new process?
Quoting from Ellis:
So what’s happened to the manual - where does that fit in?
In many cases, the manual is now a collection of Web pages. It’s moved up to the top of list, although many may not recognise it as a manual. It might not have an index, page numbers or a table of contents, but it serves the same function.
Ellis is correct. Users are looking for help on the web. If your software documentation is locked inside of a PDF file then it is essentially non-existent to today's users.
Ellis makes some very good points in his post but I think he draws the wrong conclusion in the end:
If companies want to sell to “Generation Y”, they will need to ensure the ways they assist their users reflect this preference for text-based content.
"Generation Y" (or any generation for that matter) does not prefer text-based content. They prefer to communicate with tools that only allow for text-based communication. This is a subtle but important difference.
Putting the Customer Help Desk on Twitter and Online Chat
We quite often will provide customer support via Twitter or a online chat system that we offer via our website. These are text-only delivery systems. We can't include images or videos. But we can provide urls.
Our ScreenSteps Desktop and ScreenSteps Live documentation has been optimized for use in this exact situation.
- The documentation is broken up into small bits that answer a single question.
- The documentation answers "How do I" questions which are the types of questions we receive in support.
- Each section of the documentation has a unique url that we can share in Twitter, chat, email or forums.
Though we are communicating in a text only format, we are providing image-rich communication that better answers our users' questions.
For example, if a customer asked us, "How do I set up a custom domain on my ScreenSteps Live account?" our response might look something like this:
Just follow these instructions: http://bit.ly/9B1WWU
The answer is concise and easily comes in under 140 characters (you can see how we have structured our help system here.
As Ellis states in his post, "Essentially, people followed the easiest path to solve their problem." For many users that involves asking and answering questions via text-based communication. Make sure that your help content is optimized for sharing in that format and you will dramatically improve the results you get from your software documentation.
Check out our post, "Online Help Documentation – 5 Keys To Making It Work" for more tips on how to author, format and deliver your documentation.