Customers as advocates

I attended the Customers as Advocates conference yesterday, at the invitation of the hosts Strand Writing and Design. Strand is a copywriting company, and their conference focused on the challenges of creating relationships with customers that will lead onto them providing customer references and case studies.

Although the conference was focused on case studies and advocacy, I was struck by the implications for the user assistance and technical content that organisations produce.

Below are my summaries of two of the presentations.

Ian Williams – Customer Experience and the disappearing sales process

Ian Williams, of Jericho Consulting, looked at what he called “the disappearing sales process”. He quoted research from Google, IDG and Forrester showing how important content and customer recommendations are in the buying process today:

  • 57-70% of the buying journey is complete before a potential customer looks at marketing content or engages with anyone in the sales team (source: CEB/Google).
  • 21% of buying cycle is spent by business buyers in conversations with peers and colleagues (source: IDG).
  • 56% of the buying cycles is spent by business buyers searching for and engaging with content (source: IDG).

He also stated that Customer Experience, and an organisation’s brand, is about “keeping your promise” – that the customer’s expectations must be matched by what they actually get.

Implications for technical communication

This is more evidence that the content Technical Authors create (user guides, FAQs, Help, getting started guides, troubleshooting information etc.) can be an important factor in the buying process. Prospects will do their research, and they seek out trustworthy content about a product.

It also highlights the importance of a consistent message and experience throughout the customer journey. The “promise” must be consistent in the marketing and the user assistance. You also need to deliver on that promise; poor quality post-sales content just won’t do any more.

Mark Gallagher – How Formula 1 will affect your business

Mark Gallagher has been a senior F1 executive of over 20 years. He talked about how the business of Formula 1 is changing, and how those developments are likely to affect the wider business world.

He explained that the Formula 1 constructors were now the world’s experts in capturing data, analysing data, and providing information on performance improvement to the end user. Constructors, such as McLaren, were now applying this expertise to a wide range of industry sectors.

Mark predicted that this expertise could be applied to the “Internet of Things”, where devices capture data and provide advice and information to the end user.

IMPLICATIONS FOR TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION

If these capabilities were applied to mainstream software, perhaps we could see applications such as Word and Excel capturing data on how you use the software, and then providing advice on how you could have completed that task in a better way.

In fact, some applications are providing this type of feedback already. Here’s a screenshot from an Android app called Steno Keyboard. It analyses your keystrokes and tells you if there was a better way:

Screen from Steno Keyboard app

The type of development would change user documentation into performance support, and move more of the user content into the application itself.

Conclusions

This post represents just a few notes from the conference. It’s clear that content, in all its forms, is becoming a key factor in the buying cycle. User Assistance is not just for customers, it’s for prospective customers as well.

27 February 2015: Trends in Technical Communication training course

Cherryleaf’s Trends in Technical Communication Course – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques will be held on 27th February 2015.

If you want to discover new approaches to technical writing, this one-day, hands-on advanced workshop is right for you.

You’ll find out how Technical Authors in leading companies are now applying techniques from other disciplines (such as psychology, copywriting, usability and elearning) into the information they create.

The course has been designed to be independent of any particular authoring tool, and to work in both a structured and unstructured authoring environment.

See Trends in Technical Communication Course – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques

Five predictions for technical communication in 2015 and beyond

It’s time to put our heads above the parapet, make ourselves hostages to fortune, and predict what will happen in technical communication in 2015 and beyond.

1. “User Churn” will lead to SaaS providers looking to assist users in better ways

The move towards Software as a Service (SaaS) has led to organisations worrying about “user churn” – if users give up using the application after only a short period of time, the company won’t generate enough income. This means it’s becoming more important to assist the users when they begin to use the product.

2. Organisations will take a more holistic approach to communication with users

We’re seeing organisations looking at the all the ways it communicates with users, and making sure they are consistent and supportive of each other. For example, the training emails sent out to new users, the User Interface text, the Help and the training videos.

3. Software developers will see Help as part of the product design, as first user Help grows in popularity

Instead of seeing the user documentation as almost as an afterthought at the end of the project, we’re seeing organisations considering the first user interaction Help you see in mobile applications. This has to be planned into the UI itself, which means technical writing can no longer be left to the end of the project.

4. Microsoft’s greater level of informality in its Help will be copied by others

Microsoft’s “No more robot speak” programme, which has lead to a more empathic and informal tone will be noticed by more companies. We understand Microsoft has only spoken officially about this change twice; it’s likely that many organisations will misunderstand what Microsoft is doing and make mistakes when they try to adopt a similar approach.

5. DITA will make slow progress

It’s easy to forget that the DITA technical writing standard is used by fewer than 10% of technical communicators. When the Lightweight DITA standard approved later in 2015, it may become easier for smaller organisations to adopt DITA. However, the adoption of DITA is likely to continue as its current rate – a slow, but steady 1% per annum.

Your predictions?

A lot of these trends actually began some time ago, but we’re likely to see them adopted more widely in 2015.

What you see as future trends? Use the Comments box to let us know.

Microsoft’s “No more robot speak” in action

 

Our post about how Microsoft is changing its writing style (Microsoft moves away from “robot speak” in its user documentation) generated a lot of interest, so I thought it might be useful to post some examples of it that we’ve spotted.

These examples are from Office 365 Premium Edition.

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Reframing technical communication as marketing

We’ve noticed a few slidedecks and blogs recently that have been looking at the value of technical communication in marketing a product successfully. With the trend towards earning revenues over a lifetime (rather than in a single upfront payment), the marketing strategies employed by organisations is changing.

Scott Abel has posted a slidedeck called “The Future of Technical Communication is Marketing”, which you can see below:

Acrolinx has also been posting blog posts on a similar theme, such as How Technical Communicators Help Build Customer Relationships and Building Customer Relationships: Why Content’s in the Driver’s Seat.

Marketing is becoming, particularly on the Web, about designing User Interfaces for prospects and for customers.

Technical Authors will need to understand how marketing is changing in order to understand and explain how they can add value to that activity.

“Bad information is Marketing’s fault problem. Good information is Tech Comms’ specialty. Let’s do the maths.”

inbound marketing and technical communicationsThe quotation in the title is from Roger Hart’s presentation at last week’s TCUK14 conference. Roger is a product marketing manager who spent a few years as a Technical Author. In his presentation, Collateral damage: do marketing and tech comms have to fight when users get informed?, he explained some of the most powerful marketing content today is high quality user information – especially the content that Technical Authors produce.

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Microsoft moves away from “robot speak” in its user documentation

DSC00498One of the highlights from the Technical Communications UK 2014 conference was the keynote presentation from Microsoft’s Doug Kim. Doug is Senior Managing Editor for Office.com, and leads guidelines and best practices for Voice in Office. By Voice, he means the tone of voice and style of English used in the User Interface and user documentation.

Doug Kim at TCUK14

The change in voice is something we explore on our advanced technical writing techniques course, so I was interested to see how Microsoft was addressing this topic. The good news for us is that Microsoft’s approach is consistent with what we advocate on the course (however, we will need to update the course before the next one in December to include some of the topics Doug discussed).

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The lost Steve Jobs interview – on successful products

Last night, we watched Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview on Netflix. It’s a lengthly (70 minute) interview from 1995, in which Steve Jobs discussed his recipe for a successful business. The interview was made 19 years ago when Steve Jobs was still running NeXT Computers, and just six months before he rejoined Apple.

Here are some highlights.
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