Digital Product Support By Justin Halfpenny
When deciding exactly how to provide product knowledge and information it’s vitally important for manufacturers to put the needs of their end users first.
For a manufacturer, effectively delivering information for product support to their end users – in this case, operators of complex machinery or equipment in the workplace – will generally depend on three key factors:
- The content (the information itself)
- The environment (where, and in what conditions, it will be consumed)
- And the medium (how it is consumed)
It doesn’t matter if an operator is looking for a step-by-step guide for how to use the product, advice for troubleshooting a problem, or instructions to repair it themselves on-site. The manufacturer must clearly understand, and actively cater for, all three of those factors in order to create a positive customer experience.
The content, the environment, and the medium, must be handled in a way that’s most suitable for the end user’s specific individual situation when operating those products.
For example, if a ‘how to’ training video is supplied to an excavator operator or technician, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to watch and listen to that video easily in an environment like a busy or noisy construction site.
Conversely, if that same instructional content is provided in the medium of written text in a large, easily readable font size with supporting images, arranged into bite-sized chunks, then it will be much more accessible for that technician, and therefore more valuable to the customer.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a closer look at each of those three important factors, and understand how to approach the challenge of delivering information and customer services tailored to the end users’ needs, to make sure they can be as productive as possible at all times.
Support content is almost a compulsory companion to, or extension of, any product today. We live in the information age, and technology has made it possible for anyone with a mobile device to gain instant, detailed answers to virtually any question they may need to ask.
Add to this the ever-evolving expectations of workers influenced by the seamless experiences they have in their personal lives (with consumer mobile apps). This means content must now be just as thorough, engaging, interactive, and useful for complex equipment or large manufactured machinery as it is when accompanying everyday products in the consumer context.
If you needed to understand how to set up a new TV at home, or find a recipe for a meal you’ve never cooked before, your first step would be to search for digital content on a mobile device. That’s because we know the instructions we’ll find are trustworthy, clear, and easy to follow. Operators and technicians now expect the same experiences in the workplace.
The environment the end user inhabits while working will always affect their consumption of that content, and this is perhaps the most important factor for manufacturers to consider when designing and distributing information for their products.
Manufacturers must be mindful that this content will almost never be consumed by a person sitting at a comfortable desk using a desktop computer, even if that’s usually the situation it’s created and published in.
An engineer on a busy, hazardous, possibly outdoor site might only have a small phone screen to work with and lots of noise surrounding them.
The manufacturer must deliver the information in a way that will ensure the user can quickly consume and easily understand it within those conditions.
While a training video might be suitable for someone at home or in the office, a more traditional static, step-by-step manual would be more valuable on-site where the conditions are more disruptive.
Once those two factors are understood and taken care of, the appropriate medium becomes the final piece of the puzzle. Content today can be delivered in a vast range of either traditional or highly sophisticated mediums. Video, audio, large manuals with printed text, PDFs, images, even digital overlays on to physical products through augmented reality technology.
For any manufacturer, the primary medium chosen to deliver product support information must be both user and environment-friendly, and specific to the operators of the product or equipment. Manufacturers should know what the most suitable way to deliver this is, based on the product or piece of equipment itself, and the environment it will be used in. The medium should always reflect that, as with our previous example of a training video.
However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean the same content should not be delivered in other mediums too, once the primary medium has been decided. Again, taking our first example, it’s possible that a video will need to be created at some stage for some users, even if the most common way the same information will be consumed is through written text.
The manufacturer should also look to deliver the information through a number of other mediums as well, in different versions, because technology provides a choice for end users these days, and there will invariably be different personal preferences. For example, being able to scan or interact with content on a digital device is often extremely helpful to orientate the user or reader in certain situations
One way of handling this is creating and storing the information in a digital format that is easily translatable into lots of different mediums, if possible, creating the most positive and satisfying customer experiences possible once the information is distributed.
Bringing it all Together
Ensuring your products’ end users are highly productive, and able to get their jobs done as best as possible, is a priority for any manufacturer. These days, that often means enabling them to support themselves when problems arise by accessing content in quick and easy ways. So, the key to a satisfied customer is providing the right content through the right medium for each user, matching the environment and the use cases they are facing on a daily basis.
Simply giving out instruction manuals, or deploying information to smartphones or mobile apps, is not enough for a truly successful end user experience. Your product-related content needs to be provided to customers in multiple mediums, so different use cases can be supported and all environments are manageable.
It’s easy for desk-based decision makers within the manufacturing organisation to ignore the needs of the end user, and overlook their actual environment where they will need to consume the content.
Manufacturers must be aware of the expectations of their customers, and have more empathy for the challenging environments their end users are facing when operating their products.