Why bother with user documentation in recessionary times?
Although many organisations see user assistance as a "good thing", it's not immune to the belt tightening that many organisations face in times of difficulty.
Business expert Mike Southon recommends that in recessionary times, organisations should focus on getting sales from existing customers - so customer retention becomes ever more important.
There's a virtuous circle of a customer finding user assistance helps them and becoming a loyal and happy customer. Whilst user documentation can help with the perceived quality of a product before the sale, its key value is in keeping customers: customer retention in marketing-speak. It's the philosophy of Toyota and others - the focus on quality and customer service.
Chris Bose of In Press PR Ltd, told me that recessions are the times when market share changes. This is why successful companies reduce their advertising spend, but never cancel it. They know that when the economy turns and business improves, they'll get more sales than the competition - more sales than they ever did before, most likely.
Recessions are also often the times of greatest technological change. The Great Depression saw the wide-scale introduction on electricity to houses in Britain, and, today, we're seeing significant developments in Help Authoring software. Those companies that can adopt these new developments in user assistance now will be able to differentiate themselves from their competitors - something of importance in these highly competitive times. As the economy swings upwards, this competitive edge will make a difference in sales.
However, it can very hard to measure the effectiveness of documentation. Again, this is where recent technological changes come into the place. A number of Help tools now enable you to measure how many people accessed your documentation, whether it assisted them or not, as well as many other useful measures. Indeed, Web based user documentation can be the trick to increasing your Search Engine rankings (but keep that a secret!).
It may be that you can provide better user assistance for less money. You may find you save on translation costs, lower support calls and lower printing costs.
Perhaps the question should not be "why bother?", but "how can we do it better?"