By the time your customers find and read your support or troubleshooting documentation, they’re likely already frustrated or confused. It’s easy to accidentally compound a reader's exasperation by writing content that doesn't match their perspective or underestimating the importance of user experience.
One of the most important steps in helping (and ultimately retaining or evangelizing) customers is demonstrating that you understand their feelings and that you want to help.
The good news is this: if your support articles and other knowledge base content lack empathy and perspective, it’s pretty easy to identify the problem and rewrite it.
Identifying unsympathetic articles
You need to know ASAP if a piece of documentation is not working for your audience. That's why you should prioritize gathering feedback.
Be sure that you’re collecting feedback from customers, as well as your colleagues or peers. You can track this using a feedback widget or feedback form, or provide a way for readers to get in touch with the author directly. Then, make a note of the pages that are identified as "not helpful" so that you can make updates as needed. Tools like Typeform or Hotjar make this easy.
It’s important to remember that user feedback will not usually include specific solutions for how to improve the content — its primary purpose is to flag documentation that needs revising.
You should also plan regular check-ins with your customer success or support team, as well as your salespeople. These are individuals who spend their entire day talking to customers, learning how they speak, and working with them to solve issues. Get a feel for what they’re hearing most often, how users want to be addressed, and areas where empathy is lacking.
Use the product. This might seem obvious, but in order to write useful product documentation, you’ll need to use the product or service yourself. You should do this consistently, in all different moods and settings, and use different site navigation paths every time to understand the full spectrum of your customers' experiences.
Fixing the problem
Embrace your expertise. Since you're the product expert, it’s okay for your opinion to come through in your writing. In fact, it should!
The reader assumes that you know the most about their problem, so if your documentation lacks a clear point of view, it will send the message that you aren’t confident in your own advice. Would you follow instructions that seem uncertain? Would you trust an authority who can’t speak definitively about their domain?
Consider it this way: the customer is reading documentation so that they don’t have to do all of the thinking that you already did.
Cut out the jargon. Your readers do not want to open several tabs and frantically google your industry terms. Use an informal, active style, similar to the way you’d speak to someone in person. Explain the process as if you were on a support call or addressing the user in person.
If you would have to stop and define a bit of lingo for a friend of yours who doesn't work in your industry, it's best to avoid using it in your support documentation. If you find that you have to use a word that the average person would be unfamiliar with, be sure to provide a clear and concise definition.
Plan for the future but focus on the present. Don't put off creating great support documentation until after your next product update or launch. Timelines don't always go according to plan, and you don't want to leave current users hanging.
Plus, when you write customer support content with the mindset that it will soon be replaced or outdated, the user can tell, and will likely feel neglected. Just because big changes are on the horizon doesn't mean you should abandon the users who are looking for answers now — they deserve the same effort and attention as future users.
Wherever possible, structure your content in a way that will make it easy to edit as your offerings evolve.
“Good writing will get replaced. Bad writing will get replaced immediately. Epic writing will get edited.”- Daniya Kamran
Use technology to your advantage. If you want to create the best possible experience for customers who reference your support documentation, just putting blocks of text on a page isn’t going to cut it. Your knowledge base strategy should go beyond the content itself and take into account the platform where it's posted.
To keep your customer support operations running smoothly and demonstrate to customers that you care about their experience, you’ll need to leverage platforms that connect to one another (or, even better, a single platform that does it all — AI chatbots, helpdesks, customer portals, and more). Tools like HubSpot Service Hub™, Intercom Articles, and more can keep your knowledge base connected with other facets of your customer support services, improving the overall experience for both your customers and your team members.
Lean on resources like Write the Docs. Write the Docs is a global community of support and technical article writers, editors, and contributors. They have fantastic articles about Support team documentation writing and even have an active Slack community dedicated to relevant discussions.
Your users typically look to support materials when they're in a confusing situation, or something has gone wrong. Remember that when writing your documents. And don't forget to...
- Create a feedback channel for your users to weigh in on the helpfulness of your articles.
- Use your product to find and highlight potential trouble areas proactively.
- Form an opinion, and cut the jargon.
- Seek immortality by writing articles that can be updated or adapted, but are still helpful for users right now.
- Leverage technology to integrate your documentation with other facets of customer support.
- Get help and connect with other support documentation writers like yourself.
When in doubt, remember: an emotionally appropriate response should always preclude a substantive response.
Want Salted Stone to audit your top support articles? Mention this article when you reach out to us and let us put your materials to the empathy test.