Promoting Document Usage: Taking a leaf out of Business Directories
You can argue all day that you know a customer that reads your manuals but my point is that most don't. It is a blessing in disguise for most of us: we get away with some really sloppy writing. But if you honestly want to help your customers but don't want to incur support costs, here goes:
Don't talk to them about your cream. Talk about beautiful, flawless skin. Didn't get it? No problem. Most software vendors bundle documentation or at least provide documentation online. And, most think their duty ends there. It doesn't. If it did, explain why customers still call up your Support Desk for information; the same information that your manual offers.
The explanation to this predicament lies else where: Business Directories. I used to be a Sales Rep for Tata Press Yellow Pages in Chennai (they call it InfoMedia now). After publishing and distributing the directory to users (all homes with a phone), they ran a publicity campaign. The campaign was meant to educate users on how Yellow Pages can help them. "Looking for an Architect? Look under Architects category in Tata Press Yellow Pages" Or something like that. The success of the brand depended on people using the product.
Do you promote the usage of your product documentation? I know the answer. Most of you don't. So what should you do?
Talk to your marketing/sales and support folks and send periodic e-mails to your customers. "Did you know that the Deployment Guide can help you customize the interface?" Or "Want to integrate MS-Office with your_product_name_here? See the Office Integration chapter in the Deployment Guide."
1) Track the kind of support calls you've been receiving
2)Identify common issues
3) Address them in your documentation
4) Highlight the fixes in your usage mail campaign
5) Start from step 1 and keep iterating!
I said track support calls instead of 'take a survey' because I don't believe in surveys. Surveys are the equivalent of you asking your dinner guests 'Hope you liked the food!' The answer is always yes, unless you have a socially aberrant guest who'd say 'Yuk. That food sucks!'
Think about it.