Getting users to read the Help rather than call support

We spotted an interesting statement by the “Father of Behaviour Design”, BJ Fogg:

“For somebody to do something – whether it’s buying a car, checking an email, or doing 20 press-ups – three things must happen at once.

The person must want to do it, they must be able to, and they must be prompted to do it.

A trigger – the prompt for the action – is effective only when the person is highly motivated, or the task is very easy. If the task is hard, people end up frustrated; if they’re not motivated, they get annoyed.”

See Ian Leslie’s article “The scientists who make apps addictive“.

If we want users to read Help text instead of calling the support line, then we maybe we need to meet those three criteria.

We can assume the user is motivated to fix their problem.

We can write instructions that are clear enough to make them able to solve the problem.

Where some applications fall down is they don’t prompt the user to read the online Help. The link to the Help text is often tucked away in the right hand corner of the screen.

Instead, we could put some of the Help text into the User Interface or the dialog screens,  and we could prompt the user to follow a link to more information. Doing this could get users to read the online Help rather than call support.

Another Masters degree course for Technical Authors to consider

In August 2016, we blogged about a new online MSc course in Technical Writing Masters degree course from Cork Institute of Technology. There is another academic course for Technical Authors to consider:  a distance-learning Master of Arts degree in Content Strategy from FH JOANNEUM.

“The programme is designed to meet the needs of working persons and is specially suitable for students who are responsible for corporate digital content in their jobs. The share of online courses is very high, and classroom teaching takes place in blocks four times each semester. Projects can be completed in the framework of your job.”

The pros

  • FH JOANNEUM has arranged for some of the world’s leading content strategist to teach some of the course modules.
  • The teaching element is essentially free to EU citizens – so there’s an incentive for UK citizens to apply in the next two years. There’s a compulsory €19.20 per term ÖH (student union) membership fee.

The cons

  • During the first three semesters, there are two attendance weeks and two attendance weekends per semester in Graz, Austria. In the fourth semester, there is one attendance week and two attendance weekends. The second attendance week in the second semester takes place on a voluntary basis as an excursion – provisionally to London.
  • The Content Strategy programme yields 30 ECTS credits per semester, i.e. 750 hours. This corresponds to a second full-time job when you complete the entire programme in your free time. You can reduce this workload in your free time by integrating projects at work into your course projects.

If you have the time available to commit to the course, then this could be worth doing.

If you want to consider non-academic options, Cherryleaf’s WriteLessons – a range of online courses in technical communication is an alternative approach.

How IBM uses audience intent modelling

I spoke at, and attended, the Content Strategy Applied 2017 conference last week. One of the keynote speakers, James Mathewson, provided a fascinating description of how IBM uses audience intent modelling to map its content plans. By doing this IBM is able to align its content with the buying cycles for their target personas.

This planning involves the management of 300 million pages and 100,000 marketing assets, and they use a dizzying array of artificial intelligence and software to improve their search engine rankings. However, their strategy is actually very simple.

There are three forms of audience intent

These are informational (learn about a topic), navigational (find information about a topic), and transactional (find a place to buy the solution or get help).

Audience intent

There are two kinds of audience

These are business people and specialists.

There are two kinds of queries

These are branded and unbranded. Most searches are unbranded questions, and people only move to branded questions when they are ready.

There are five stages in the IBM customer journey

Here are the steps and the type of content IBM  provides:

  1. Discover –  What is big data? web page
  2. Learn –  Video on big data (“Four ways big data and analytics transform marketing”)
  3. Solve – A product information page (“14 top big data analytics platforms”)
  4. Try – The offer (Watson Analytics 30 day free trial)
  5. Buy – A whitepaper (“Understanding Watson Analytics”)

IBM has invested heavily in technology

This is used to maintain consistency in the tagging of content, and in the tone and voice. It’s also used to learn what audience want, and are searching for on the web. A lot of searches are in the form of questions, so they mine those questions to discover what they are asking.

audience type

IBM avoids online marketing tricks

James said “clever messages to push people and trick them” rarely work online, and if they do the reader is unlikely to come back. Instead they focus on what the audience wants, and aim to meet that need.

It was the best presentation at the conference, and it provided lots of ideas for Cherryleaf’s website.

Technical writing builds trust in your organisation

I spoke at, and attended, the Content Strategy Applied 2017 conference last week. One of the keynote speakers, Madi Weland Solomon, explored what the impact of content has on users, and the trends that will inform content strategy in the near future.

She said one of the key challenges for organisations will be dealing with the loss of trust in information. She quoted a survey that stated over 50% of Americans have no trust in mainstream news. Her suggestions to fix this was to become more active at representing the public (and end users). Organisations should use more human-centric data and focus on helping users. Referring back to Dale Carnegie, Madi said being useful, and being seen to be an advocate for users, was vital. She suggested the law of reciprocity would play a part in users returning the favour of being helped by the company.

Help and other forms of user assistance meets this type of need. It is already seen at some of the most trustworthy content on the web, and it is useful. The should not be hidden about behind a firewall, but helping to build and sustain the trust between the organisation and the their users.

She also looked at which type of content is read the most: blog articles that have roughly a seven minute reading time. This fact is more problematic for technical communicators, as the trend is to write short chunks of information. Perhaps there is a need to rethink this style, in some situations.

Can a Technical Author be a master of more than one trade?

Technical Authors are normally seen as masters of writing user documentation, but their skills are not often applied to other areas of the business. For example, it’s usually the case our clients for software documentation are different from our procedures writing clients.

However, we’re currently working for a client where we began by editing a white paper, and this has led us on to other projects across departments. Work has included developing customer journey maps, a terminology database, as well as the online Help. The role is morphing into that of a content editor role: checking for consistency, spotting errors in marketing copy, rewriting copy, and so on.

So what is different? What has led to this wider scope? It may be due to us being recommended to them by word of mouth, and they had greater confidence in our abilities. It may be because they are a start up. It could be because many of the staff are not native English speakers.

We suspect it’s because the first project was the white paper. They had something that was very useful to them, for promoting the company. They also included us in their in-house chat system, which meant we could see other areas where they had issues with content. This led to us intervening more than usual, making suggestions in a proactive way. The growth of chat systems, such as Slack and Socialcast, within companies could open up other opportunities for other Technical Authors, as long as they take the initiative.

Towards content lakes

One of the trends in both data and content management is the move away from silos. In data management circles, there is a trend towards the collection and aggregation of customer data into “data lakes”. According to Margaret Rouse, a data lake is:

A storage repository that holds a vast amount of raw data in its native format until it is needed. While a hierarchical data warehouse stores data in files or folders, a data lake uses a flat architecture to store data. Each data element in a lake is assigned a unique identifier and tagged with a set of extended metadata tags. When a business question arises, the data lake can be queried for relevant data, and that smaller set of data can then be analyzed to help answer the question…Like big data, the term data lake is sometimes disparaged as being simply a marketing label for a product that supports Hadoop. Increasingly, however, the term is being accepted as a way to describe any large data pool in which the schema and data requirements are not defined until the data is queried.

(source: what is a data lake?)

“Content lake” isn’t a word that’s used in the content management or technical communication sectors yet, and whilst it seems unlikely end user content will grow at the same rate as other forms of data, there’s a fair chance this phrase could catch on.

A content lake is likely to have similar attributes to a data lake:

  • Content will be stored in a native format that is then changed into other formats.
  • It will use a flat architecture to store data.
  • Content will be stored in some type of structured format. Perhaps XML, JSON or plain text (with AsciiDoc-like attributes assigned to certain sections). However, user documentation does not require the rigorous structure of other forms of content.
  • The content lake can be queried for relevant content, and that a smaller set of information can then be extracted to help answer questions. This might not mean publishing content on-the-fly, but generating PDFs, CHM files and web-based content from a single source.
  • Rather than content being simply archived, it will deliver the right information in very short timeframes.

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