JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.
At the 2012 Best Practices conference, keynote speaker, Ben Jackson, Vice President of User Experience at Juniper Networks, reported on a poll conducted with major customers. Customers were asked if useful and usable information contributed to the value of the Juniper products they used. To everyone’s surprise and gratification, the customers attributed 10-20 percent of the product value to the content. Excellent content made the product more valuable to the customers.
What reasons might customers give for connecting excellent content with product value?
- Excellent installation instructions enable customers to set up the product correctly and get started quickly.
- Excellent user information ensures that customers can use the product to meet the goals they had when they purchased the product and discover new goals to meet additional needs.
- Excellent troubleshooting information anticipates the problems that customers may encounter and provides sound, understandable corrective actions.
- Excellent instructions anticipate gaps in user knowledge and supplement basic tasks with the tips customers need when they need them in the context of performing tasks.
Each of these value propositions aligns perfectly with a definition of excellent customer service. However, each of the value propositions represents a post-sales rather than a pre-sales result.
Of course, we know that when the customers receive the value they expect from a product and its supporting information they are
- more likely to purchase the next product from the same company.
- more likely to recommend the product to others.
Excellent post-sales support builds customer loyalty. Excellent information reduces the cost of post-sales support by moving the customer to self-support rather than assisting through costly calls to a support person. Many of the technically sophisticated customers we interview prefer to find answers to problems themselves rather than calling support lines. Hence the popularity of online search and crowd-sourced content written by customers themselves.
Michael Hammer, who gained fame in the mid-90s with his book, Reengineering the Corporation1, wrote about post-sales support in his March 2001 article: “Post-Sales Support Processes: The Next Competitive Battlefield.”2 Hammer points out that “post-sales support is one area that offers businesses the prospect of significant competitive advantage. …By reengineering their post-sales support processes, customers can significantly improve their customer retention, operational performance, and competitive differentiation.”
For an analysis of the supply and support chains, please read my article: Supply Chain or Support Chain? Where Does Information Development Fit In?
Despite the obvious advantages of high-quality information in building a strong post-sales competitive advantage, high-quality information also plays a significant role in pre-sales for an increasing number of products.
In a personal communication, managers at Kohler reported that a very high percentage of customers, both homeowners and professionals, visit the company website to review the installation instructions before purchasing. Homeowners consult the instructions to ensure that they will be able to install the product themselves and that they have the required tools. Professionals consult the instructions to help them accurately estimate the time required and pricing of their proposals. The more difficult the installation appears, the higher the price.
Similar actions are likely with many other consumer and professional products. One colleague reports that a relation consulted the manual of a motor manufacturer to check on a technical specification. Such information is often not available in standard marketing content. The best sources are the detailed specifications and instructions found in technical manuals.
We also have anecdotal information from sales personnel that customers ask that the technical information be included with a proposal or as part of the sales process.
Of course, some companies sell their documentation to customers, creating a revenue source. Unfortunately, this policy often prevents the information developers from creating more useful information sources such as topic-based web delivery. Their companies seem reluctant to sell information that is not delivered in paper or on a CD.
Does your organization value the technical information as a significant part of the sales process? Do you have information that demonstrates the relationship between a successful sales process and high-quality technical content available to prospective customers?
Christopher Ward of WebWorks and I are interested in learning more about how technical content might influence a product’s sale. If you have research information or even anecdotal information that your customers are buying your company’s products as a result of checking the technical information online or asking to review it as part of the sales process, we’d like to know about it. You will find our invitation on our CIDM LinkedIn website.
Dr. JoAnn Hackos is the CIDM Director.