In May, I attended Zendesk's one-day conference in Dallas titled, "The Future of Customer Experience".
One statement that really resonated with me, as a developer of customer-facing educational content and self-service resources, is something said by Jason Maynard, who is the VP & GM of Zendesk Guide and Data Products. He said "Self service is a fixed cost that pays dividends as your business grows."
"Self service is a fixed cost that pays dividends as your business grows."
The session reported on three typical approaches to launching a help center: 1. the agile improvers, 2. set and forgetters, and 3. patient planners. You can read an elaboration of these approaches here. Having worked with a number of software companies, I can see how the agile approach seems natural and appropriate for developing self-serve content, since many software companies are already using an agile approach to updates. Zendesk's own research bears out that the agile group does best when looking at how well self-service content deflects help center tickets.
I found the Zendesk conference and articles to be very focused on the support audience. And for good reason. I recently read a case study through another tool, MindTouch, about an 86% ticket deflection rate. In that case, the company already had help before (the reported case study), but the help was not easy for customers to use so it wasn't getting the desired results.
Help isn't always enough, but using a well-planned single-source approach to content development benefits not only support, but also can be leveraged for other educational content, like marketing, sales, onboarding and customer success, and throughout the customer's lifecycle.
So for this post, I'd like to offer a few suggestions for creating helpful help, so that the effort and fixed cost that you put into developing your self-service content is as efficient and effective as possible and can easily be reused for other educational purposes.
I don't want to trivialize the work that technical writers like myself do, nor minimize the value of collaboration with subject-matter-experts who may not be as good at writing. But because I'm also very interested in learning, I hope to start a conversation about how to help people be better, more effective workers - not just the people creating the help content, but the readers who rely on it as well.
I'm planning a training session and/or online course to elaborate on these suggestions. I'd love to hear your comments on location, format and any additional topics to include.
Spring CEdMA Training Leadership Conference Notes
Maximizing Long-Term Success with an Orchestrated Onboarding Journey
Donna Weber started with a quote I love and had heard before from Tara-Nicholle Nelson, author of The Transformational Consumer: "Most companies are very focused on getting new companies into their funnel. It's...unsustainable as a business model to spend so much money generating new disengaged customers." Donna reports that well-trained customers have a higher NPS and are 20% more likely to renew, among other benefits, but that many companies are using hope as a strategy instead of creating an orchestrated post-sales journey. She says that great content is not enough, you need to connect the dots for the customer and set expectations about where sales, marketing, training and professional services fit. Instead of existing in separate silos, combine assets and frameworks to make it as simple as possible for customers to be successful.
A Customer Success Executive Perspective on the Role of Education Services
This panel discussion included:
Best Practices to Impact Corporate Success: Key Findings of the 2018 Business Survey Results
Dick Braune, Director Education Development for BMC Software and CEdMA Services Trustee, reported the findings of the 2018 CEdMA Business Survey. Respondents included 70 member companies, with insight into several areas of how different aspects of education are being handled by different companies, such as profit and loss vs. cost center business models, education operating margins, and the role played in Customer Success organizations. As expected, self-paced content is driving additional education revenues at higher percentages than in previous years. The impact of education again shows that customers with training renew more frequently and churn less often.
Onboarding through Continued Education: Leveraging Learning Paths for Long Term Success
Lynn Marie Viduya and Veronica Ruff, both of BlackLine, explained how they have leveraged learning paths to support various training programs in both freemium and premium training for customers, partners and employees. BlackLine U learning paths include general (freemium), premium training, certification, and employee learning paths. The free eLearning includes two learning paths (for user and admin), while the premium training leverages eLearning for CPE and unlimited custom learning paths. After implementing the new learning paths, BlackLine saw an exponential increase in customers taking eLearning on BlackLine U, as well as over 200 partners certified on the product via self-study.
Innovation Award: A 100% Secure Cloud-based Certification Model
Okta presented their certification solution, which won the CEdMA innovation award. The core of their innovation is the Discrete Option Multiple Choice (DOMC) methodology, which is patented by Dave Foster, PhD and Chairman and CEO of Caveon. Using DOMC in their certification testing provided several benefits, including:
How to Build a Scalable Engine for Content Creation
Alyce Gershenson explained how Talend leverages front-line experts for knowledge base content creation. Everyday, they have new articles that are available immediately to an internal audience. Articles recommended for external audiences have an additional process for publishing to ensure quality. Talend learned some difficult lessons about rewarding contributors and eventually found the balance of motivating contributors for quality content. Ultimately, KB articles don't replace the "official" documentation - they provide more flexible information like use cases. But these articles are seen as a good alternative to training in some cases.
Dynamic Partner Enablement Strategies
Jillian Alexander, VP of Knowledge Services and Delivery at Kinaxis, explained how they implemented their partner enablement vision to provide a scalable and complete continuous learning program that drives early adoption and easy access to knowledge, skills and certification globally. In phase one, they found that the solution they built was not being accepted. They took their lessons learned to improve their offerings in phase two, which resulted in an increase in partner certifications, course completions and total reach.
Certification: All Business, no games?
Zarogina Azocar, Certification Program Manager of Alfresco, provided some tips on how they used games in a certification exam preparation setting. Accepting that they couldn't cover all of the content required for preparing for the certification exam, they instead implemented a workshop aimed at serious attendees who were responsible for gaining knowledge on their own time. The workshop included a few games to provide an engaging exam preparation experience.
Integrating Skilljar with Skytap to Manage Hands-On Labs
Darryl Quinn, Director of Global Education Services for Alfresco, discussed some of the challenges they had with virtual machine (VM) environments for student hands-on labs. They built an integrated, automated solution even though their new learning management system (LMS) didn't natively support managing the VMs. The new solution includes auto-expiration of VM sessions with region-based VMs that integrate back into the LMS.
Emerging Trends in Education Services: New Roles, Accelerated Delivery
How do you remain relevant? Danielle Campbell, head of Americas Digital Learning Services for Adobe, and Natasa Koledin, Senior Director, Global Education of Pivotal Software, Inc., described new terminology and practices for training and education to survive in today's marketplace. By fine tuning internal partnerships, you can leverage work that has already been done and be comfortable with the fact that enablement happens with various other groups throughout a company, too. They discussed ways to scale by using industry partnerships with marketplaces like Lynda.com and Udacity. They also talked about ways that metrics being measured are also evolving.
Maximizing the Impact of Video
Ryan Kershner, Senior Manager of PTC University User Experience, shared some fun new videos they recently launched. Using a story-based approach that focuses on high-level concepts rather than specific tasks that may change with each software update, he showed how PTC has created easier engagement with more video consumption that is now a new source of revenue. Their customers love it. PTC University incorporated green screen videos combined with screencasts and used machine transcription to create closed caption files and an interactive transcript.
The Fall 2018 is scheduled October 17-18 at Babson College. The board also made an announcement that membership prices will be increasing and starting in 2019, CEdMA will move to a once-a-year conference.
I eagerly anticipated this Spring's CEdMA Training Leadership Conference, with a theme of "Driving a Learning Journey for the Subscription World." CEdMA is the Computer Education Management Association, "the premier organization for training executives, managers, and professionals on a management path in technology companies." In preparation for attending the conference, I set up notes for each conference session in an Evernote notebook so that I could already have a place to log my thoughts about what I learned. I made arrangements for my schedule to be off for a few days. And I made my travel plans...
As I prepared to leave Dallas for San Francisco the day before the conference, I had an experience that was a perfect example of how the right customer education at the right time can impact a company's bottom line.
I missed my flight. And for a completely preventable reason.
For those of you who don't know, Dallas has two airports. Dallas Love Field has its origins in World War I (around 1917), but starting in 1979, was governed by The Wright Amendment, which limited flights outside Texas. It just wasn't big enough to handle lots of flights. DFW Airport first opened in 1973 and is the hub for American Airlines. How these details relate to my story is that in practice, I'm used to Southwest Airlines (and almost no other airlines) flying out of Love Field, and all other airlines flying from DFW. Even though The Wright Amendment was fully repealed recently, as a Dallasite, that news didn't seep into my consciousness enough to question my assumption that my April flight would leave from DFW.
So I scheduled my shuttle to pick me up at my home and drop me off at DFW. Unfortunately, my Virgin Airlines/Alaska Airlines flight was scheduled from Love Field.
In some ways, I was lucky. Since I'd taken a shuttle, I didn't have to worry about my car. I grabbed a cab and headed straight for Love Field. The traffic gods were smiling on me, and we actually got to Love Field in about 20 minutes. The mistake at this point was a cost I could swallow: a $45 cab fare.
When I checked my bag, the ticket agent informed me that boarding was starting in 5 minutes. "I made it," I thought.
And then I got to the security line. It was not five minutes long.
There were two announcements while I sweated in the security line. "Passengers for flight blah blah blah to San Fransisco should make their way to gate blah blah blah," the announcer said. "Lots of you are missing." I wondered if I should ask to cut in the security line, or if that would just cause problems with TSA. I decided the best plan was to be patient. I watched the clock and the progress of the line. I thought it would be close, but I would be okay.
When I got to the gate, moments after they'd closed the doors, I found out that 13 other people had also missed the flight. (The gate agent had told me that passengers went to the wrong airport EVERY DAY.)
Now, I'm not one to find someone else blame when things go wrong. I take full responsibility for my mistake as my mistake. You know what they say about assumptions. (In case you don't: "It makes an &#! of u and me.") I should not have assumed. But in all fairness, it was a fairly valid assumption.
Everything worked out okay in the long run. I was able to get on a flight early the next morning, which worked, but made for a long first day of the conference (and I missed the first/keynote session). But I had to get ready super early in the morning, without any of the clothes, makeup, etc. that I'd packed for the conference that left without me in the checked bag.
But I also had plenty of time to ruminate on how this could have been prevented. Where in my ticket purchase or even on the check-in email that arrived several hours before my flight could I have challenged the assumption that I was flying from DFW?
I went back and looked at my interactions for the flight purchase. And the only thing I found anywhere was the airport code. Dallas Love Field is DAL, whereas DFW is obviously DFW. I should have seen it and known. I never would have goofed had it been reversed.
But honestly, that's a difference that's easy to miss, and for someone who doesn't know (maybe some of those 13 other people who missed the flight), a pretty subtle distinction to expect travelers to get right.
So where could education play a role in preventing this mistake? Again I'm making an assumption that the airline would want to prevent the mistake: while it was marginally expensive and annoying for me, I'm imagining that several people missing flights on a regular basis (if my experience is common) is less profitable than operating with full flights. Not to mention the indirect costs and potential loss of future sales.
And this is the real lesson from this story. Look at this line in the email I received to check in for my flight FROM Dallas. Pay attention to the part in yellow.
Customer education can be as simple as including one sentence in an email to help make sure that passengers have made the appropriate plans to get to the right airport.
And in one of my favorite sessions from the CEdMA conference, Donna Weber shared her insights on how having the right content is not enough. You need to connect the dots for the customer.
In my next post, I'll be sharing other key takeaways from the CEdMA conference on additional ways that education can play a role in both your customers' success and the company's success.
I read David Allen's Getting Things Done in about 2006. I didn't implement it all at first. In fact, as a perfectionist, I mostly dropped it when I didn't have the perfect system. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I kept coming back to it when I felt overwhelmed by all I had to do. Though I tried different apps and approaches, it took some time before the system I use today evolved into what it is. It is by no means perfect still. But I've let go of the perfectionism enough to see the benefits I get in using this workflow to manage my tasks, complete projects, and work toward my goals. Today, I'd like to share an overview of how the tools I use fit into that workflow. The benefits are lowered stress, increased productivity, and greater creativity.
The first phase is to collect all of the reminders of what you need to do in one place.
The second phase is to process those items to figure out what exactly is the next action.
Then you can organize the reminders to help you take the right action at the right time.
Phase four is to review your reminders and your overall system on a regular basis.
Finally, take action on those reminders to get things done.
Nozbe is my trusted system for everything I need to do, and my number one answer for where to include a reminder of something I need or want to do. As GTD seeps into how you do things, you'll understand that you can think of something, immediately store it in your trusted system, and not have to think about it again until you are focused on the other phases of the workflow.
I have a reminder to check my voicemail every day, because I rarely get important messages that way, but I handle it the same way if an item in that inbox represents something I need to do.
Evernote is my final important inbox. I use Evernote for storing resource information, brainstorming and draft writing, and managing the big picture of my projects and weekly schedule that Nozbe and my Calendar can't quite do alone. But if something in Evernote represents a task, I add a reminder, and its integration with Nozbe makes that note show up in my Nozbe inbox.
When I process my Nozbe inbox, I think about what actually needs to be done. What project is the task related to? How long do I think it will take to complete? Is it really the next task, or a multi-task project for which something else really needs to happen first? This separation of clarification in this step, from the capturing process in the previous step, was key to reducing much of the stress that I felt about what I needed to do on a day-to-day basis. I could capture a thought without having to figure out what it meant, and I could later figure it out what it meant without having to rely on my memory that something needed to be done.
When you clarify (process), you are attempting to make it as easy as possible for your future self (or a person to whom you delegate the task) to understand what exactly needs to be done. Answer the question "what is the exact action that this reminder represents?" Give it an action verb and move on to the next item.
There are eight possibilities when organizing the "stuff" that comes your way:
Trash - Let it go if it's not something you need or want to actually do.
Someday/maybe - if you've come up with a good idea, but it needs to incubate a while, you'll need a place (you regularly review) to hold on to that idea. While I do have a Someday/Maybe project to store these tasks in Nozbe, I also have Evernote notebooks for specific someday/maybe ideas where I can continue to collect thoughts and brainstorm. I may or may not ever act, but I have a safe place for those ideas to take root.
Reference - if the inbox item represents something that you want to keep, but doesn't represent a task you need to do, then store the item. I love Evernote for storing many types of things. I do still also have a physical file cabinet for items that I haven't digitized.
Project plans - if the task is part of a bigger project, I add it to the task list for that project in Nozbe. I spend time on managing projects that includes figuring out what the very next action is to move a project forward. In Nozbe, starring an item from the project list gets that item on my Priority (or next actions) list (see number 8).
Do it - as I mentioned, if the task is quick enough that it won't throw off your organizing workflow, go ahead and do it and get on with your life.
Delegate it - If the task needs to be done, but not by you, you'll need to have some method of delegation and follow up with that person. My task manager, Nozbe, allows you to invite team members to your Nozbe projects and then have an option to delegate the task to that person.
Defer/Next Actions - Most all of my actions that are not done, delegated, or added to the calendar get put on project lists. But the Next Action list (which is called Priority in Nozbe) represents the tasks that I need to do as soon as possible. While I'm organizing, I can also add context to the task, such as if it's an errand or phone call. These contexts help me identify tasks that are better suited for some times of day or circumstances better than others.
It's also important to review someday/maybe and reference information occasionally.
The reviews are the part of this system that I still have the most trouble implementing. It's hard when I'm busy to set aside time - and of course, the longer I wait, the longer it takes to get through everything. But I also know that when I neglect my reviews, the uncomfortable sense of unease creeps back into my life, generating the stress of not knowing exactly if I've forgotten anything.
When I first started freelancing, I used Adobe Technical Communication Suite for FrameMaker and Robohelp, and I really liked the simplicity of the RoboCapture tool that came with that suite. I kept using it long after I moved on from FrameMaker/Robohelp. Once Office added the ability to insert a screen clipping for Word and PowerPoint, I often used that. So it's only been recently that I've really embraced Snagit as my capture tool of choice. But I mentioned last post, I'll never go back!
Open the Capture tool to the Image tab.
Indicate the type of Selection from the drop down list.
The setting I chose allows me to draw specifically a portion of the screen (at the time of capture), but I like that you can also hover your mouse over a portion of an app to capture that frame. It gives nice, clean lines.
Select the gear icon to choose whether to Select region at capture or use a Fixed region. The Fixed region might be useful if you want to quickly capture many images of the same spot on your screen.
Select Border from the Effects drop down list. Select the gear icon and choose a color and line width.
Now choose your Share setting from the drop down list. There are several choices and integrations for how to share your capture. For this project, though, I chose File.
This is the real magic for me. Using the File setting (from the previous step), I can choose to add an automatic file name and fixed folder location. No matter which option you choose, select the gear icon to customize the setting.
When you select the Automatic naming settings... button, you can choose components, text, and options for how to name files. It's worth thinking about this a little bit. In the example below, I'm working on a topic about columns.* All I change is the text in the Prefix text: field and let the defaults handle everything else, but you could get much fancier. Select OK to apply your settings.
There's a second setting you need to think about under Share for this workflow. Under Fixed folder, select Browse to choose the location for storing your images.
I always set up an Images folder for each project. Within that images folder, I create folders that depend on the project. For example, in this case, I have a folder for each module/chapter. Within that, I have another folder for each lesson. Each lesson folder has 4-6 topics (and those ideally have a separate name).*
- While writing, I set up the screen I want to capture.
- I press the PrtScrn key and hover over/draw around the part I want to capture.
- I select Finish in the SnagIt Editor window.
Train Your Customers is now The Customer Education Toolbox to focus on the tools and strategies for content development, especially for customer self-serve educational content.
Content development is what I do best. In fact, for this post, I'd like to take a look back at the content I developed in 2017 and share the tools I use to make that happen.
I produced 110 minutes of tutorial videos, and between the videos and eLearning, recorded approximately 210 minutes of narration. I wrote another 6000 words of new knowledge base content across four different software products.
After working as a localization specialist on other authors' single-source documentation for several years, I also authored my first massive single-source documentation project for both user guides and online help for a multi-module SaaS product.
In addition, in my own business as a freelancer, I wrote proposals, blog posts and even a start to my own course content.
It all feels like a pretty good accomplishment, so now I want to share the strategies and workflows that help me stay super efficient and productive.
In this post, I'll introduce you to my technology stack. What I've learned in 12 years as a freelancer, is that one tool does not do it all. I'm a big believer in using the right tool for the job, and these are the tools I've invested in on a regular basis to help me create effective content.
Evernote - Even before I went through the Evernote Certified Consultant training program, I was storing lots of content in Evernote. Now I use it for almost all of my first drafts, as well as collecting thoughts and notes about particular projects. I love that I can access these notes from anywhere and create content without any fuss. Plus, it's easy to copy and paste into another application when I'm ready for fancier formatting.
Word - I've used Word forever, as many of my clients have long preferred it for user guides and manuals. Since I've developed Word Essentials, Advanced, and Expert courses, and produced hundreds of pages of manual content, I feel it's safe to say that I'm a Word power user. As a power user, I know that most people don't use a fraction of its capabilities, many of which I leverage for "intermediate packets" of work for content that will eventually end up in another platform.
Flare - I first started using Flare about 5 years ago for doing localization work and quickly came to prefer it over Robohelp. It's a powerful application, and is the best I've seen at developing topic-based authoring for single-source documentation and delivering those docs over multiple outputs and audiences. When there are hundreds of pages of content to maintain, Flare is my tool of choice.
SnagIt - Since upgrading to SnagIt 2018 at the end of October 2017, I've taken over 1500 screen shots. It's never been so easy to grab a shot and organize it for later use. The new features of filling the background and editing text are exciting, even if they don't quite work as seamlessly as promised. I will never go back to another tool for screen shots.
PowerPoint - PowerPoint is sometimes the right tool for putting together a simple visual. Although I learned Photoshop and Illustrator way back in the 1990s, I haven't kept up and would never consider myself a graphic designer. But I can put together shapes and other visuals to communicate a message, and sometimes PowerPoint is the right tool for that.
Audacity - I've only used Audacity as a recording and editing tool. I've tried the in-product audio recording and editing tools for other tools, including Camtasia, Captivate, Storyline and Adobe Premiere Pro, but I prefer Audacity. Maybe if I was a narration/voice over specialist, I would use a more sophisticated tool, but as it is, it gets the job done and has some nice features to keep me efficient and productive.
Storyline - Storyline 2 is the newest tool in my toolbox. I love how easy it is to develop interactions and review questions. But even though it tries, it doesn't do other jobs as well (or at all) as some of my other tools, like software screen simulations and output as video for YouTube. I've tried Storyline 360, but haven't found a motivating reason to upgrade yet.
Project Management and Beyond
Coming up, I'll be doing some deep dives about specific workflows that help me take advantage of each tool's strength, while staying efficient and effective with the task at hand.
Who writes and develops your articles, tutorial videos and interactive content?
I called what I did "customer education" before I knew that was an actual thing. A little over a year ago, I looked at the freelancing projects I liked most and start blazing a trail to a career with growth potential. I knew that end-user enablement was somehow different than employee learning and development, without quite being able to explain what was different or how what I did fit in. Then, at a conference, I met Adam Avramescu, Customer Education Leader at Optimizely, and started to think that I was on the right path.
Part of a technology company's success is created through providing top-notch educational content for customers and potential customers. Rob Castadenda, founder of CEO and ServiceRocket, said at the Business of Customer Education track at Gainsight Pulse in May 2017 - "Customer education is a proactive way to help customers be successful with your products from the start." A recent job posting by Box explains the current customer education revolution so well: "The emergence of the Customer Education field is the result of the pervasiveness of SaaS businesses and their need to prove their products' value to customers. The old Learning & Development parameters are no longer sufficient to drive product adoption."
The right content (delivered live or online) can bolster a customer's successful onboarding and engagement with the product, so customers can get maximum value from your product. That also means expansions or referrals, as well as the renewals a subscription-based company needs to thrive.
But it may be hard to find the right person who can create this content, especially in a way to leverage similar content for different purposes or stages along the customer journey.
In an ideal world, you've got your Customer Education role(s) reporting under Customer Success, and Customer Success in constant communication and alignment with other areas of the company that use customer-facing educational materials, like Sales and Marketing. You'd have a repository of knowledge and content ideas shared across the company, such as in Evernote Business shared notebooks, which could quickly and easily be re-purposed for different needs with a single-source mindset.
But we don't live in an ideal world.
I've been monitoring the types of jobs that incorporate customer education since I put that stake in the ground for my own career, and am amazed at the inconsistency in what I find in this exploding discipline. Recently, over a period of two weeks, I identified 29 different titles (for 35 different current job postings available on LinkedIn, both entry-level and leadership levels) that included developing customer education content as most of or a significant portion of the job responsibilities. These range from the more obvious "Customer Education Specialist" role to various sales, success, and product-related titles. Some companies graft titles from the learning and development world, like instructional designer, but I suspect those are more mature companies with the need for specialized roles. Other companies seem to create their own titles that incorporate the shared responsibilities and blended roles required in a fast-paced tech company.
It's a wonder that tech companies find the content development skills they need in potential hires, and that people with those skills find the companies who need them.
Julia Borgini had a great article to help with identifying what companies should look for in the person who develops the content for the customer education building the foundation of customer success. She calls the role "Learning Designer." To summarize, her top recommended skills and competences are:
- Understanding of how people learn
- Passion for knowledge and learning, while focusing on the outcome for the learners
- Ability to communicate complex topics in terms people can understand
- Knowledge of the latest tools for developing educational content
- Skills to manage projects through the development and delivery process
- Design skills to create visually appealing content
- Ability to create meaningful assessments
Julia closes by saying it may be difficult to find one person who demonstrates all of these skills (though, to toot my own horn a little, I know it's possible). Make sure to evaluate your goals to determine what kind of content you need for where you are in your company journey.
Adam Avramescu says "I like to say 'we are all educators' when it comes to making customers successful." But he believes that Customer Education is the in title that will stick as time goes on - be it Customer Education Content Developer or Director of Customer Education - and that some existing L&D titles like instructional designer will stick around as specialty roles.
If you haven't already, make Customer Education a part of your organization's plans for obtaining, onboarding and retaining customers with the content to help your users succeed.
Single-source documentation is a concept that has been around for some time, if mostly championed only by the technology providers and practitioners who already know it's power. I got interested in the concept early in my career, back B.K. (before kids) in the mid 90s; and for the last 12 years as a freelancer, I've applied the principles whenever and where ever I can to improve my own personal productivity and efficiency.
Write once, publish in different formats for different audiences
Single-sourcing is one of the most powerful processes available to prepare you for riding this wave.
“Establishing processes and priorities for curating and managing knowledge within and outside your organization will help you become more efficient and your knowledge products...become more effective and valued.”
I used this utility to make sure I could explain single-source publishing as simply as possible.
To boil it down to the essence, single source publishing is a way of writing once for many uses. It takes a bit of work up front to write in a way to use it again, and another bit of work to store the content in a way to make the pieces easy to find later.
But the payoff for the added set up is an exponential increase in efficiency and productivity. You can maintain the content pieces in an agile way to keep up with your product changes, and assemble deliverables ranging from white papers to knowledge base articles to training materials in minutes.
Single source publishing is a way of writing once for many uses. Writing and storing the content takes a little extra work at the beginning, but pays off in increased productivity, with more efficient updates across multiple outputs and audiences.
A good overview starts with a summary of Anders Svensson's 5 principles*:
- Don't repeat yourself (instead of repeating the same content in multiple places, reuse it)
- Keep it simple and straightforward (the simplest way is usually the best)
- Aim to make topics stand alone
- Each topic has only one job
- Avoid specifics or use simple strategies for dealing with them (like variables or conditional text), which must be balanced with the “keep it simple” strategy
It is possible to over-complicate the design for reusing content. I once had a client who wanted user guides for multiple modules of multiple products with multiple licensees. As I implemented his requests one-by-one over time, the documents I'd inherited ended up getting so complicated that maintaining what amounted to hundreds of pages of content needed to be a full-time job rather than a once-every-update outsourced project.
However, in the new subscription service landscape, these principles of single-sourcing are vital not only to documentation, but to every aspect of an organization’s content creation, from customer education and success to sales and marketing.
The most successful companies will master these methods of reusing and sharing content across their organizations.
* Svensson, A. (2016, January 13). The 5 Principles of Single Sourcing in Technical Documentation. Retrieved from LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-principles-single-sourcing-technical-documentation-anders-svensson/
Your company may need to create self-service resources, training, and even marketing/sales content with an educational slant. It would be great to wave a magic wand and have all of that appear instantaneously. Or to hire an army of qualified helpers and start seeing an amazing return on your investment.
While a long-term strategy can connect and reuse content for different purposes, it's best to determine your main goal to help set priorities on where to start and how much you can tackle now.
There are number of common goals that companies have when they want to create self-service content. I polled my colleagues on The Customer Success Forum on LinkedIn and got some some feedback that mirrors what I've found in my consulting work with software companies.
Reduce Support Costs
"Of course they want to reduce support tickets. Support is expensive...you want as much self-service knowledge as possible."
If this is the issue you want to start with as you embark on creating your content, make it a specific, measurable goal, like "I want to reduce the number of open support tickets each month by 10%." That way, you can get a clear financial impact that shows the value of your time spent writing and maintaining online help or a knowledgebase.
Brooke Harper, a Sales Development Representative, clarifies the purpose of content like this. She says "As a consumer, I usually look for a quick answer to basic questions or quick actions to simple tasks."
Scott Hopper mentions a couple of other goals you might have as you develop content. "Onboarding customers and converting trial users, puts money in [company's] pockets."
Let's look at these goals separately.
Convert Trial Uses
He wanted to give the potential customers enough self-service information in a Quick Start Guide to help those customers make a decision about purchasing the product. For him, we determined that his goal was to have an increase of 5 sales a month, which was worth thousands of dollars a year, for an investment of a couple of weeks of focused effort.
Improving Onboarding Process
"One goal is to facilitate adoption for large accounts, where a CSM could have a hard time delivering high-touch assets for every user. This helps deliver product and support updates to all customers with just a link."
This is closely tied to a goal of providing self-serve education for customers. Self-serve education can be anything from basic 1-2 minute YouTube tutorials on how to complete specific tasks, to much more elaborate academy course offerings that go beyond using the tool into industry best-practices, as well as preparation for high-stakes proctored exams (certification).
All of these are good goals, and you can find evidence in the Customer Education discipline of how beneficial each can be to your bottom line. Once you start developing your content, you will find that much of what you develop can be tweaked to serve more than one purpose including in sales and marketing where the financial return is more obvious.
But when you are starting out, focus on one very clear, specific goal. It's great to think long term about how that project can scale along with your company. You need to have that laser focus on what you are trying to accomplish. Otherwise, you may end up with lots of help, but find that your customers don't find it very helpful.
The challenge is to write something related to the topic of the current chapter we are reviewing within the group, which for this week, has to do with productivity myths.
My own myth was that I believed that I just needed the right tool or process. I could get things done - and not feel overwhelmed - if I just had the right system.
"It’s hard even for a naturally organized person not to get lost without a good productivity system." #10stepsbook
I forgot about GTD for awhile, but every time I started feeling especially overwhelmed, I came back to the practice of emptying my head and thinking through the next steps for each of the goals I hoped to accomplish.
As my freelance career expanded, I found that I had to get very good at project management because I often juggled up to 7 or 8 direct client and subcontracting projects in different phases at once. I used a few different digital tools to help me stay on top of things, and even started and stopped with Nozbe a few times before coming to the regular practice I have now (which still has lots of room for improvement!).
The truth is, that for me, no matter how I set up the tools that help me keep on top of my projects, I sometimes found myself using my to-do-list as a way to keep me occupied on tasks that needed to be done, without making progress on my bigger personal goals, especially when they don't have an immediate economic payoff. This is why I still don't have a finished novel (although I do have a memoir ready to be published!). And why I have a number of ideas for business-related books and/or courses yet to complete. You can even see this mentality in my current project lists. Is the color coding a subconscious message? The top projects (in green or gold) are client projects that make money more or less immediately. Those tasks get done. The tasks for personal goal projects (especially those in pink, purple or blue) are more likely to languish in those projects for weeks or even months without making any progress.
One of those personal projects that's been on the back burner is my new blog (in addition to this one - Train Your Customers isn't going away anytime soon). I'm taking this challenge as the opportunity to get it going, even though I plan to start publishing posts on a temporary Weebly site before the new blog finds its permanent home probably early in 2018.