A Little Product Documentation Help Please

Michael Vizard
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The problem with product documentation these days is that while tons of time and effort go into creating it, once it's up on the website, most companies forget about it. There is, of course, some forlorn hope that somehow this information will first be found and then actually used. But product documentation doesn't usually get connected to any meaningful business process. It involves blind faith in that it somehow will lower the total cost of customer service - even though more often than not the documentation aggravates the customer even more.

The folks at MindTouch are trying to change the way most businesses think about online product documentation with an update to a content management system that is optimized to create it. This new release not only makes product documentation easier to use on the Web by embedding contextual help into a Web page, it also allows companies to keep track of what user accessed what specific pages.

That's useful information, says MindTouch CEO Aaron Fulkerson, because that information can then be shared with the sales department to provide additional insights into customer issues, which can be used to create opportunities to sell additional products or services. Furthermore, Fulkerson notes that if a lot of customers are accessing the same context help files, it's a pretty strong indicator of an area that could use some additional product development work.

Fulkerson says that when product documentation is done right, it can not only pay for itself by reducing customer support costs, but it becomes a critical element of a company's overall marketing and sales strategy.

Of course, a trip around the Web readily shows how many companies are still stuck in the 1.0 era of the Web. Given the fact that usually the first contact anybody has with a company after buying its product is usually a Web page with product documentation, a company's brand value is increasingly being determined by what's happening on those product documentation pages.

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