Create Content That Users Need

I’ll admit that sometimes us Tech Writers think we’re the unsung customer heroes within organizations. That we’re the only ones who truly care about what users actually need.

In reality, there is so much we can learn from our peers across functions about how to deliver value to customers. There is one function, in particular, that has the most to gain or lose when it comes to creating value for customers. I’m talking about Sales, of course!

In a sales-oriented post by Wilson J. Pang, he describes the difference between a nice-to-have vs. must-have product. Naturally, must-have products are much easier to sell.

Does this mean that it is impossible to sell something that is nice-to-have?

Absolutely not. Matter of fact, you can turn ANY nice-to-have product into a must have by selling its benefits.

https://sumodash.com/the-most-simple-guide-to-must-have-vs-nice-to-have/

Technical communicators are experts at transforming jargon-heavy or complicated material into clear and concise content. The problem is that it is easy to stop there when our job isn’t done yet.

Yes, we have to document functionality. However, the subscription economy requires us to encourage product adoption every chance we get. To help our customers the most, and in a way that simultaneously helps our clients or companies (and therefore paychecks), we must orient our perspective based on user needs.

Wilson talks through the process of how to translate factual feature statements into benefits for sales and marketing content. We need to follow the same principle and weave value realization into all instructional content.

Our users do not need our content. They need the outcomes and value that our content enables them to experience.

The View from Outside In: What Users Don’t Care About and What to Do Instead

This post is based on my presentation at STC Summit 2019, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), and incorporates takeaways from Alan Porter and John Bowie.

Customer interactions are becoming synonymous with content interactions. Today, content must be available for more than single-channel troubleshooting, documentation, training, or lead generation. All content must be available across all touchpoints to satisfy user intent at every stage of the customer journey.

But all too often, organizational divisions and siloed knowledge lead to different teams who publish different types of content in different channels.

Spoiler alert: Your customers don’t care.

Presentation slide courtesy of simplea.com with text The customer doesn't care where your content comes from

Invert your perspective to outside-in

Do you care about your customers and incorporate their perspective into your strategy? Your answer is likely an emphatic YES, as it should be! However, that’s not enough to create and sustain an optimal customer experience. Committing to an outside-in approach means prioritizing customer value over what seems best for business (or your team) now.

When it comes to content experience, outside-in perspective means challenging the status quo of how you create and deliver content.

It’s time to evolve to a mature content experience that puts customer value first. What does that look like? The answer is complex in terms of the many variables involved, but simple to describe in terms of what it looks like in practice.

A mature content experience has two main components:

  1. Seamless content delivery – customers can access the exact information they need in whichever channel they are interacting.
  2. Feedback loop to business objectives – all content interactions are correlated to desired outcomes or analyzed for actionable insights to improve products or services.
A Powered by MindTouch graphic depicting Seamless content delivery - customers can access the exact information the seamless content experience—delivering content customers need in whichever channel they are interacting

Seamless content delivery

Content channels are splintering based on customer demand. Some key stats from Gartner about self-service illustrate the influence of customer self-service expectations:

  • 15% support interactions will be handled via artificial intelligence by 2021 – a 400% increase from 2017
  • 85% support interactions will start with self-service by 2022 – up from 48% in 2018

Both technology and human-controlled processes will need to improve to accommodate these interactions. On the technology side, artificial intelligence and machine learning are already getting incorporated into your tools to automate engagement.

The harder change to make will be, as Gartner recommends, to distribute consistent knowledge across all self-service and assisted channels. Consistent knowledge delivery will be a challenge to achieve because it requires people and process alignment. So we need to start the tough work now to get our content ready for the technology already en route.

Does your content pass the water test? For consistent knowledge distribution, your content needs to be able to adapt into any channel or device just like water can take the shape of any container.

Image with text Content is like water

Two of the most important “containers” on the path to ubiquity are conversational user interfaces (chatbots) and voice assistants (smart speakers). These mechanisms need the same content to be delivered with quite different formats—most significantly, either with or without a visual user interface.We must prioritize the experience of the people interacting with these devices to help them get the information they need.

The future of content during this Industry 4.0 era requires certain characteristics identified by the Information 4.0 Consortium:

  • Molecular
  • Dynamic
  • Ubiquitous
  • Independent
  • Spontaneous
  • Offered
  • Profiled

Incorporate Information 4.0 characteristics for your content to work best for chatbots, smart speakers, and the all-important humans. Approach knowledge as microcontent snippets that are fluid enough for all touchpoints.

Feedback loop to business objectives

An outside-in perspective goes beyond seamless and consistent content delivery. Prioritizing user experience also means taking every opportunity to reduce effort and improve value for your customers.

While you tackle the challenge to align your teams and processes around user-focused content strategy, ensure that alignment is directly connected to your business objectives.

Content measures to consider:

  • Conversions – when a user completes desired goals. Identify both your micro conversions (smaller value interactions moving towards a goal) and macro conversions (completed transactions or interactions of monetary value). Measure where and how your content fits into your conversion landscape.
  • Leading and lagging indicators – measures of activities around content delivery (leading) and the outcomes of content interactions (lagging). Correlate the relationship between indicators to determine which leading indicators are most important to focus on (and act on) to achieve the desired lagging indicators for your business objectives.

Content measures to be wary of:

  • Vanity Metrics – easy-to-measure (and manipulate) data that doesn’t necessarily correlate to anything meaningful. For new web-based content, perhaps after you upgrade your dated PDF outputs, these metrics can be a good place to start measuring. But repeatedly showcasing page views, sessions, bounce rate, or time on page without correlating to value-based outcomes (like conversions and lagging indicators!) does not provide any actionable insights to improve.

After you become a pro at measuring all the right things, look for actionable insights to improve your products or services. As John Bowie of Edmentum called out in his presentation:

You can’t write your way out of a problem you designed yourself into.

Your customers give you invaluable information about what they want when they interact with your content, which includes their search queries. Evaluate content interactions through the lens of data-driven optimization to ensure a feedback loop to the organization.

Find opportunities to improve in a way that reduces customer effort, which may even eliminate the need for some of your content. This highlights why vanity metrics on their own can be unhelpful or even misleading. More content interactions do not always equal better experiences!

If you are responsible for any type of content in your organization, be prepared to disrupt your own methods to achieve a blended content experience that’s best for your users.

Connect to your customers with knowledge

Content professionals have an opportunity to provide more value to customers than ever before, but it takes enterprise-wide collaboration to execute properly.

Their self-service journey cannot happen successfully without your focus on next-gen knowledge management.


Originally published on the MindTouch.com blog