by: Craig Haiss
Gathering feedback is challenging for most technical writers. If you do not have direct access to customers, you’re often forced to gather information indirectly. Or, worse, you are forced to document everything and hope that some of your content will hit the mark and make someone’s life easier.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Can you imagine how insightful it would be to talk to customers on a regular basis? To ask them what features they find the most confusing?
Enter customer support
In most organizations, there is an entire team of people who do exactly that. They are called Customer Support. And, they are probably your best resource for finding out exactly what your documentation should cover to meet the needs of your customers.
Sure, there are other ways to gather feedback, such as usability testing and analyzing traffic to your help servers. But usability tests force you to make assumptions based on a small sample of customers. And analyzing server traffic forces you to make guesses about why users visit some topics more frequently than others. Are those topics, for example, more useful or were they just easier to find?
Support reps, on the other hand, can tell you exactly what features are causing customers the most grief. They can tell you that they receive 20 calls every day from customers who don’t understand how to set up a printer, but hardly any calls about how to actually print a document.
Your support team can also help you by providing source material. Support reps often document workarounds for common problems, so they can refer back to them when talking to customers. These documents can form the basis for new procedures and reference topics in your user manual. You might need to do a bit of rewriting, but the technical details are usually spot-on because support reps are focused on solving problems quickly to keep average call times low.
You should also include support reps when you route documents for review. Their expertise makes them incredibly helpful reviewers, and they can enhance the accuracy of the documentation as well as fill in gaps to address common customer complaints.
Common goals, common ground
Remember, technical writers and customer support reps have the same goal: educate the user. By working together, you can provide more accurate and useful documents. These documents will help to reduce the number of support calls the reps will have to handle. Fewer support calls means that reps can spend more time with customers who need extra attention, instead of rushing to keep up with incoming calls. It’s a win-win situation.
So, have you made friends with your Customer Support team? If not, now is a great time to start reaping the benefits of a mutually beneficial relationship.
About the author: Craig Haiss is a veteran technical writer in the software industry. He spends his free time hiking trails with his family and pretending to play the guitar. You can read more at his blog, HelpScribe Technical Writing.