Delivering More than Text
Salesforce.com has always produced context-sensitive help, standalone HTML help and guides, and PDF help and other guides, along with the occasional workbook and quick reference card. In the last year we’ve also produced or started work on new types of information: videos, guided tours, and even a comic book. My colleagues, Jo Ward and Dean Atchison, and I will share with you why we turned to these output types, how it all worked, and what lessons we’ve learned in the process.
Our team creates guided tours for some new features. Guided tours are a series of pop-ups with explanatory text as shown in Figure 1. Jo Ward on our Documentation team says that they are “an engaging way to introduce new features on a single interactive page.”
Figure 1: One Popup from a Guided Tour
Guided tours contain basic guidance to show immediate business value—they don’t explain every feature, contain unique information, or replace help. A guided tour answers several questions about a feature or sub-feature.
- What is this feature/sub-feature?
- Why should I use it?
- Where can I find it?
To help writers create guided tours, Jo Ward worked with our User Experience team to create a design pattern to help writers choose the appropriate titles, text, and links. Writers work with product managers and developers to ensure that no single page in the salesforce.com application has too many guided tours. Users can choose to hide the guided tours permanently or view them later. Guided tours always end with links to related videos and the online help. The tours are “pushed,” that is, they automatically pop up when the user navigates to the application page until the user clicks a control to permanently hide them.
To help with translation into 12 languages, text for the guided tours is kept in label files, just as the regular UI text is. Guided tours supply a text-only version for accessibility.
The framework that supports guided tours was created by a developer on the UI team who worked with the Documentation and User Experience teams. The code is adapted by each feature team as needed. Several writers on the team provide support and expertise to writers who create a guided tour for the first time, especially around issues working with developers who add the guided tour to the application.
Why Guided Tours?
The User Experience team responded to customer requests with the proposal for guided tours and then partnered with the Documentation team to seek buy-in from the Development, Quality Engineering, and Product Management teams. Since the guided tour is automatically displayed, it solves the problem of a user having to navigate through help topics to find something, or worse yet, not know there is something to find. We’re working on ways to collect metrics on the use of these guided tours, but so far anecdotal evidence supports their continued use.
We decide which features or sub-features to support with guided tours by determining the anticipated learning curve for a new feature. Features with new, complex, or unfamiliar user interface interactions are prioritized.
It’s important to perform thorough editing to ensure that the tour is focused on the business case, not too software-focused. Also the text in the guided tour must be concise and use an engaging, informal tone.
It’s not appropriate for every group or feature to have a guided tour. Because they are pushed, not pulled, it could be frustrating for users to see too many tours. We have a team that edits and reviews tours for each release to check for tone and to ensure that we don’t have too many guided tours in one product area.
Dean Atchison from our Documentation team helps writers create videos. He tells the story best:
“We started creating videos based on customer feedback. A common thread started appearing in our user surveys that customers wanted videos in addition to standard documentation. We realized that we live in a YouTube generation and our users learn in different ways. Some want to read; others want to watch.
“We first focused on creating videos (see Figure 2) for new features, and it was really up to the writers whether they had time and interest to add a video to their already busy schedules. We have created a few videos for legacy features, and I’d like to focus more on this area in upcoming releases. Ideally, I’ll prioritize which features get created based on various customer inputs. For example, what features do our customers search for most in our help? What features and behaviors generate the most support calls, etc?
Figure 2: Frame Capture from a Video
“At first we used Adobe Captivate to create videos and hosted the videos on our Salesforce servers. Now we’re starting to create our videos using Camtasia, which I’ve found is easier to use for non-interactive demos, and we are beginning to deliver our videos over YouTube.
“Some teams are more excited than others about videos. We rely on the writer