As a passionate self-service advocate, I’m surprised more people don’t think of technical writing in the same vein as content strategy.
It’s as if the need for smart, organized content ends when a prospect becomes a customer. Sure, content strategy exists to convert and sell. But it takes really strong, well-written documentation to build and retain customers. One communicates a world of possibilities and the other helps the customer realize them.
So what is support’s content strategy — and how can we turn it into knowledge base best practices?
Your support voice is an extension of your brand
Campaign Monitor, an email campaign platform, treats technical writing as a natural extension of their brand and product. This job description (they’re hiring!) shows the care and planning that goes into their support content strategy.
Campaign Monitor’s ideal technical writer
“You are a perpetual learner with a passion for technology and user experience. You know how to ask intelligent questions and interpret the answers. Maybe you’ve been accused of nitpicking – how things work, how a restaurant menu is punctuated, how the TV guide is formatted – but it’s only because of your meticulous attention to detail and obsession with continuous improvement.
At work, you use these strengths to identify content and process improvement opportunities that will make life easier for everyone on the team and impress the socks off of customers.
You’re also motivated to work independently, enthusiastic about co-authoring docs, and willing to roll up your sleeves and do whatever’s necessary to meet team goals.”
Here are a few reasons why Campaign Monitor’s approach to the Technical Writer role is ahead of the curve:
- “Experience explaining technical concepts to a broad audience…” This is often a job that falls on either engineers (who usually aren’t experienced writers) or the marketing/communications team (who don’t have the same level of product familiarity).
- Collaborate with multiple teams This is not a solo job. It’s collaborative rather than siloed role for engineers, with teams across the company contributing to final outputs: marketing, PR, product, project, and legal teams may be involved.
- Support content that is concise, trustworthy and visually engaging This job calls on the same creative and UX skills of a marketer rather than a technical expert. Can a concept be better explained visually? A GIF? An infographic?
Campaign Monitor has created a forward-thinking role that redefines knowledge management. It’s rarely useful to write out a list of steps. Technical writers must understand what customers are trying to achieve and why and use that to communicate solutions.
‘Simple’ should be your default starting point
The best support is your customers not needing support at all, if you can manage to achieve that.
Failing that, the second best support enables customers to resolve their case (or figure out next steps) in as few steps as possible.
That’s why developing content for the most probable audience is the foundation of effective content.
Think about how broad the audience is for UK.gov’s website: 64 million. That’s the United Kingdom’s entire population. The team behind UK.gov’s redesign set out to build a site that was accessible to the broadest audience possible, including non-native English speakers, the elderly and the visually disabled.
Look at how easy and straightforward it is to obtain an answer to maternity pay entitlement. This page tells you what you need and takes you through a step-by-step set of questions:
The results won them the Design of the Year award.
The UK.gov team says of their guiding principles, “You shouldn’t have to understand how government works to be able to interact with it. Government and the services it provides are often complicated, so we should hide complexity where possible.”
If the UK can make its bureaucratic rules and regulations accessible to an entire nation, your business can (and should) do the same for your user base.
How to make sure you’re writing for the right audience
Your marketing team should be the first place you poke around for the demographic information and user personas that help you determine your audience.
But even then, you want to make sure you’re writing for the folks who will actually be using your KB.
A CTO might buy a CRM, but it’s the sales team that uses it day in and day out. Your audience may be an intern with little to none of the baseline knowledge you’d think they have. So beware not to use data that doesn’t apply to your audience because the people who buy your services might not be the actual end users.
It’s worth going straight to the audience to find out who you’re really talking to. The easiest way to do this is by conducting a survey of users who have either contacted your support team or used your self-service tools. Any of the following would work:
- A Foresee-powered survey
- A quick question at the end of a live agent interaction
- A follow-up email sent to a sample of customers who recently had a support interaction.
Key details like age, tech literacy, primary reason for using the product or service and education level will help you find the appropriate voice for your knowledge base.
Your self-service knowledge base should be part of your overall content strategy, not exiled to it’s own domain.
When you know your audience, you can adjust the tone and style of your content to speak to users the way they wish you would. The way you support your product is as important as the product itself. That’s why I predict we’ll see the need for interdisciplinary writing and smart, savvy communication increase along with rising user expectations.
I’d even argue that the way you support your customers is more important than the way you market to them. Your support strategy is essentially your retention strategy, so give it the time and attention it deserves.