Improving with the Help of Customers
This article is based on an important documentation improvement project which took us more than a year.
For years we’ve received many complaints from customers such as “you have too many manuals and It’s difficult to find the desired contents”, “In the procedure manual, there is no guide to recover when encountering troubles”, or “information on how to apply the feature isn’t described very well”. Before we performed a user and task analysis, we thought the feedback was too general for us to make improvements. We found a correct and efficient way to deal with such issues after more than a year’s worth of user and task analysis.
Based on the user and task analysis, which covered more than 200 customers worldwide, we restructured and streamlined our manuals for a series of products. The number of manuals has been reduced from 50+ to 5. The current total size of the manuals is just 60 percent of the original. And now each individual can read just one book to obtain the desired information.
After a series of improvements we made, customers representing each persona we address have reviewed the optimized documents and are satisfied. Customers provide positive feedback on the manuals, such as “Great job”, “I like the flow”, “I’m impressed”, “The new documents are very good”, and “Thank you very much.”
How did we do this? Following is the process.
We Started with Customer Surveys
We met with customers as much as possible. There have been many chances for us to meet with them, such as customers who come to HQ for product training, testing, or workshops.
We used several survey methods, depending on customers and survey environments. For example, we conducted surveys through questionnaires and by discussing the feedback with the customers face-to face, by e-mail, or by phone. We joined technical discussions between R&D or Marketing specialists and customers as often as possible. We also recorded the workflow, responsibilities and tasks, concerns, and work difficulties.
We identified positive customers who are interested in improving the documentation. Even after the survey was finished, we may still keep in touch with them to discuss documentation improvements. Customers were glad to take part in these discussions because the improved documentation helps them work more efficiently.
We Gathered Information about the Roles of the Customer and Analyzed the Information
Normally we surveyed customers for less then two hours at a time; however we were able to survey different customers many times. After I had conducted some surveys, I found that the responsibilities, tasks, and concerns of the customer are similar in the telecommunications field, even though the customers are from different countries. This is the same point that I learned from Dr. JoAnn Hackos’s User and Task Analysis workshop in February 2011!
We gathered all the information we obtained from the various surveys. As the surveys advanced, we had a clearer picture of the different customer roles.
We analyzed persona information related to workflow, learning methods, terminology, concerns, difficulties in their work, and additional information they expected.
We Organized Different Manuals According to the Workflow of each Customer Role
The first and most important thing to do was to figure out the structure according to the analysis results for a certain persona and to ensure the structure matches their workflow, so they can easily find the desired content.
We defined each level of headings in the documents according to customers’ comments, so customers can quickly get started. We then identified which parts of the manual should be described in detail, and which parts should be minimized.
When figuring out the draft outline of manuals according to the customer role, if there was anything uncertain, we discussed the role with customers again instead of guessing what they would like the manuals to look like.
After completing the draft outlines of manuals, I double-checked with the customers that had previously participated in the discussions.
We Trained Writers to Work in a New Way
I trained writers and asked them to start thinking from the perspective of the customer. I developed a training course for writers on how to survey customers. Then I took other information architects (IAs) and key writers to the customer study, reviewed their survey reports, and pointed out what was neglected and what they should do next time. This procedure was a little painful as the IAs and writers were nervous to survey customers, and they had little sense about what was important at the beginning. But I showed great patience in guiding and supporting them. After much practice, they became more professional in surveying customers. They started to care about not only the product, but the customers’ concerns. Now, those who understand customers well are supporting and guiding other writers. I call this skill transfer method “diffusion.”
We shared the persona analysis report and our solution with the writers who had taken part in this optimization project, ensuring everyone knew why we carried out this project and what we would do with it.
We optimized examples carefully. During optimization, if there was a part we were uncertain with, we discussed with customers again instead of guessing what they would like the manuals to look like. It’s similar to figuring out the manual outlines.
We provided the examples to writers for reference. It’s usually difficult for writers to start content optimization without a reference, so I provided them with examples and discussed with them, face to face, why and how they should make optimizations.
We provided continuous support for the optimization project. When the writers were optimizing content, I was ready to answer any questions they raised and never let them feel frustrated. After they finished a draft, I reviewed every word of the content and advised them how to make more improvements face to face. Usually they could complete the task after only 3 to 4 modifications. But after each modification, I was glad to see the task going in the right direction. One more thing of note was that the second task for the same writer would become easier than the first one. Once they finished a task beautifully, I showed how appreciative I was and let them share their experience with the others, so everyone took part in the project. Many writers told me that they have benefited greatly from this project.
We Showed the New Documentation to Different Customers Representing Different Roles
We introduced the new documentation to internal customers such as technical support engineers, marketing engineers, and trainers. I shared the major improvements with them and listened to their opinions on the new documentation. Amazingly, all of them were satisfied with it. Seeing that the new documentation could help them to work more efficiently, we were much more inspired by the documentation improvements. They also provided many additional documentation improvements. We used these suggestions to further improve the documentation, ensuring that it would completely satisfy Huawei’s customers.
We showed Huawei’s customers the new documentation in a similar way to what we had done with the internal customers. All of the customers were satisfied with the new documents.
This project has taken us a long time to complete, but the achievements we made in this project make us believe that customer-oriented improvement is the most efficient way to satisfy customers. We will follow this way to continuously satisfy our customers.
Hebe Hui He
Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd.
Hebe manages the Transport Network Information Architect team within the Network Information Dept. at Huawei Technologies. Co. Ltd. Hebe began her information-development career at Huawei seven years ago. Before joining Huawei she’d worked as an optical network maintenance engineer and planning engineer in China Telecom for more than five years. She and her team are dedicated to improving manuals by focusing strongly on customer tasks, concerns and difficulties in their work and helping technical writers to understand customers well so that they work more efficiently.