Driving Deliverables by Listening to the Voice of the Customer
How can you improve customer success and enhance the usability of your documents? As our technical documentation organization tried to answer this question, we realized that our traditional, engineering-driven documentation model (an outdated and static model shaped by engineering’s functional specifications, technology, and product categories) needed to be reevaluated. This evaluation was our opportunity to change the model to a proactive, customer-driven approach that would center on customer requirements and customer satisfaction with documentation.
To identify customer requirements, we created a team that collects information from various data sources, analyzes the information, and recommends action plans and priorities for organizational goals. We found that selecting the right customer feedback data sources and actively engaging with our customers was easier than we thought.
What Do You Want to Learn?
Reaching out to customers to understand their requirements can be challenging yet immensely rewarding. Before you start researching available data sources, ask yourself what it is you want to learn. Are you looking for high-level metrics that provide general customer satisfaction information regarding documentation usability? Or are you seeking a specific answer about an existing issue or project where feedback could help sharpen the focus of deliverables? Whatever the questions are that you are trying to answer, you need to use the right data sources.
Selecting the Right Data Sources
Some data sources you may consider include company-sponsored events, direct customer interaction, targeted surveys, trade shows, external websites, or Web 2.0 social networking tools (such as Twitter or blogs). While there are many questions to ask yourself before selecting data sources, start by asking which data would provide you with the information you need. What type of data can you obtain from each source? For instance, do you need to talk to customers directly or can you obtain the information you need through an online survey?
To help select the best data sources, evaluate each one to determine the level of detail it provides. Perhaps one data source requires a lot of resources and time compared to another source where reports are fairly easy to obtain and understand.
We had a variety of data sources from which to choose. We selected more than one data source because each source offered a unique perspective and provided different types of data. We decided to use our online corporate survey, online discussion forum, and online feedback form. In addition, we created a customer-contact program to obtain specific details and information around top customer themes and issues.
We started with the online corporate survey because it enabled us to establish an overall customer satisfaction baseline for documentation. A baseline provides you with a starting point that you can use to gauge the success of the projects and initiatives that are put in place to improve customer satisfaction. However, due to limited multiple-choice options, the respondents are not able to provide enough detail to make the feedback actionable. We quickly knew from the survey that customers were not satisfied with specific aspects of documentation; for example, customers indicated that examples are missing or inadequate, but, to fully understand why this problem was important, we needed more information.
To collect the details, we created a customer-contact program to interact directly with customers. When we asked about examples, customers openly told us that, not only did they have trouble finding the information, but the content could be improved to provide more real-world, working configurations. They also wanted to know when a configuration may have undesirable side effects in the network or have interdependencies. This information was shared with the project team, which helped shape their focus and deliverables.
In addition to using the online corporate survey and customer-contact program, we also leveraged information from an online discussion forum and an online feedback form. The online discussion forum is an external forum for customers in the Cisco Support Community. Its primary goal is to obtain customer feedback by creating a virtual customer visit. Customers submit ideas about what they want in technical documentation in general and also in specific documentation sets. For example, there was a discussion about making Cisco technical documentation available on e-readers. We are using this feedback in a request to our tools group to evaluate e-reader possibilities.
The online discussion forum creates a community among customers and the Cisco technical documentation groups. It also creates a community among customers who assist one another with questions. The forum enables Cisco documentation teams to post questions to obtain customer views on particular topics. For example, we posted a question asking if customers wanted audio and video in our documentation. Customers responded with ideas on the types of information they would like to have in podcasts and vodcasts, such as overviews of major releases. As a result, we’ve launched a podcast series initiative that’s already delivered four podcasts to customers.
We also use an online feedback form to enable customers to provide feedback on specific documents. The online feedback form is included in the left margin of each HTML user document on Cisco.com. It is a quick way for customers to rate a document and to submit suggestions. In the last quarter, Cisco received more than 1,200 feedback submissions. The results from the online feedback form not only validate high-level dissatisfaction themes, gauging the usability of our documentation, but also provide actionable feedback through analysis of free text-field data.
Keep in mind that although gathering customer feedback is important, it is also important to let customers know that their feedback was received. We send a response to every customer who submits online feedback, completes the online survey, or posts to the online forum to let him or her know that we are listening. This recognition encourages customers to continue to submit questions and feedback, which is something we’ve seen with top contributors.
Summarizing the Feedback and Providing Recommendations
After you’ve collected the data, summarizing the information from all sources requires distilling a large amount of feedback into a manageable set of frequently occurring common themes. We analyze the results and group the common themes under high-level categories, such as navigation, content delivery, and quality. For each category, we provide recommendations to our technical documentation organization that focus on common themes and major points around which to shape deliverables. We have greater influence because we gather feedback from multiple sources; we do not depend on a single source of information.
Get Started Today!
Are you ready to get started listening to your customers? It’s a win-win for customers and for technical documentation organizations that can yield many positive results. Representing and collecting the information for a complete picture can be challenging yet rewarding when you begin to hear common themes from customers. If your organization is already focusing on common themes, it can be motivating and inspiring to know that you can directly impact and improve customer satisfaction. If you’re not on target, it’s good to know that as well because you now have the insight needed to make positive changes that are more in line with customer needs. Determining the right approach and strategy for what you want to learn may take some time but it’s certainly worthwhile to actively listen to the many voices of your customers.
Cisco Systems, Inc.
Janel Kratky is a Technical Writer/Project Manager in the Knowledge Management and Delivery (KMD) group at Cisco Systems. She is currently leading a team that listens to and analyzes customer feedback from multiple data sources. Janel has been working in technical documentation for over 12 years and active in customer satisfaction ever since she was young working alongside her family in small businesses.