We are in the business of getting people the information they need and letting them get back to their life. Fundamentally, that’s what we do, whether we write user manuals, policies and procedures, create illustrations, videos, or any other thing.
And in this information rich world, this is an important thing to do.
No one reads the manuals
If I had a US dollar for every time I’ve heard “No one reads the manuals” I’d be retired in the tropics, playing with large dogs and writing crazy stories. While no one reads the instructions is a true statement, it’s a false statement.
People do read the instructions we provide. They do. But not like a novel – when was the last time you read your employers Policies and Procedures guide, start to finish? Probably never. It’s not that interesting.
But you may have read a part of it in the last month – perhaps when you completed your expense report for attending the STC Summit conference. Because you couldn’t remember what the per diem was and how to charge that properly. Because you don’t fill out expense reports often, you needed to be reminded of how to properly do that task. So you could get on with your life.
And that’s how it works
This is how our instructions are used – on demand. People rarely read our instructions from beginning to end, to see how it all turns out. Typically, people read what they need to know right now and then move on.
Perhaps they need to refresh their memory about how to run the month-end report, or how to rewire the speaker wiring for the home theater system the 3 year old gleefully pulled out. or they need to create an expense report.
So how can we help?
We can create short, to the point instructions for these user moments. I call them Job Aids, you may call them something else. But they are short overview instructions for important infrequent tasks.
Installation is a good job aid – typically called Getting Started guides. For most things, you install one time and then never again. You probably don’t reinstall your garage door opener – after it’s complete, you can happily throw away those instructions.
Other tasks that make good job aids are running end of month and end of year reporting. Not done often enough to remember exactly how to do it so a refresher is helpful. You probably don’t need to include how to run a report, because reports may be run at the end of every day. How to set up the end of year report and archive the data is similar but different.
Make them available to your users
OK, so if my users only need these infrequently, how do I get that information to them, you may be asking yourself.
You can ship them with the product, if you know ahead of time what is needed. But most of us don’t have the luxury of knowing ahead of time.
If you talk to your support people, they can give you ideas. Many of the questions they get are actually Job Aid questions. So talk to your support people and see if they get the same sorts of questions.
Then develop the job aid. Try to keep it to one sheet of paper, front and back.
Now you can post the job aid in the support area of your website. Ask support to tell callers about them. If you send a marketing thing to your users every month or so, include links to the newest job aids to get people to know they are there.
Job aids can impact the company’s bottom line
Consider tracking statistics to see how often the job aids are looked at/downloaded and if those sorts of questions are being asked less often in Support. That’s how you know you’re being effective. Take those numbers to management as clear evidence the docs group is making a bottom line impact on the business.
Clearly someone is reading them, you can say. As a matter of fact, this month, X people read them. And Y people didn’t call support to ask about that topic, as compared to 6 months ago.
by Sharon Burton