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Tech Comm=Customer Satisfaction. Or So It Should Be.

Nadeen says, "SIMMAH DOWN NAH!" at the idea that tech comm will be playing a more active role at customer satisfaction. Click on the image to see the OPPOSITE of customer satisfaction--a la Nadeen.
Nadeen says, “SIMMAH DOWN NAH!” at the idea that tech comm will be playing a more active role at customer satisfaction. Click on the image to see the OPPOSITE of customer satisfaction–a la Nadeen.

As I continue to study my digital marketing course, and I start to delve more into trying to understand content marketing, to me, I end up going back to my foundation, which is customer service and consumer relations, and how that all ties into what technical communication is about.

My career did not start in tech comm. My first job out of college was doing field sales for a gift novelty company. I wasn’t good at it, to say the least. The next two jobs were working on the other side of a toll-free number for customer service, specifically for a consumer goods company, then a pharmaceutical company. As much as I wasn’t a fan of those jobs, they laid a strong foundation for work that I would do later. When you get calls for a medication that’s been temporarily discontinued that are literally a life-or-death medication needed for someone, yet you can’t say, “Sure, take some of our reserves!” to potentially save that person’s life, it has a big impact on you. Nothing after that, short of other truly life-or-death situations, are important in the big scheme of things. I found that if nobody died and the economy didn’t crash if I didn’t do something, then it wasn’t quite that important in the grand scheme of things if I couldn’t get it done on time. It would just be an inconvenience that the content providers could’ve avoided if they did their jobs in a timely manner.

But there are a few things I learned during my years in customer service that have stuck with me, other than most things are not life-or-death situations.  Customer service is a two-way communication. All situations, even non-business ones, require providing customer service to each other. There can’t be full understanding unless there is a full give-and-take from all parties involved. You can’t talk without listening. And listening alone doesn’t work unless you give feedback. This applies to personal relationships as well as professional ones, if you think about it.

So as I’ve gotten older and transitioned careers from customer service to technical communications (and random IT-like jobs in between), the idea of providing customer service has stuck with me–how can we communicate information so that everyone is happy in the end?

This is an important point as to why being a technical communicator has been a good fit for me. As a technical communicator, it seems to me that we produce what creates and maintains customer service. We write product manuals, we write help files, we write FAQs…we are the ones who write the content that makes customer service happen. We fill in the information gap!

Now, content strategists are starting to lean towards content marketing. In my mind, marketing has always been the push for the product, or the “razzle dazzle” to entice you towards that product or service. Customer service, and by extension tech comm, was the post-sales process that helped keep the customer experience smooth and happy, thus promoting brand loyalty.  I’ve felt that customer service always had the harder job of retaining sales and customer loyalty than those who hawked the products and services.

But with the advent of digital marketing, and more and more use of the Internet for searching before even getting to the marketing part, those lines between marketing and customer service are seriously starting to blur. Digital marketing is now, from what I can see, turning traditional marketing upside down. People will look at product instructions and specs and the FAQs before purchasing now. Wait, that’s backwards by traditional marketing standards! The sale of goods or services is now based on reaching individuals as closely as possible through searches and website content. The “bling” of media ads are still around, but don’t have the same impact as finding websites that can provide you with exactly what you want at the right time, when you want it. Technical communicators, especially those in mobile, know this already. It’s something that I’ve heard time and time again before I’d ever heard of “content marketing”.

Having a technical communications background along with my customer service background will help with this topsy-turvy new world. But when content marketing jobs continually advertise asking for heavier emphasis on marketing skills and experience rather than content strategy skills and experience, those prospective employers are wrong. Moving forward, the internet is where customers will find more information, and content strategists and tech writers know this already.  We’re already grounded in this. We can learn the marketing stuff, but understanding how to write the content that customers want and need is something that often eludes marketers, but not technical communicators.

Time will tell how this pans out as the call for “knocking down the silos” between content strategists and marketers has bellowed, first by the content strategists, from what I can tell. The way we search, heck–the way we acquire any information anymore is through the Internet more and more. Why not let those who are more experienced get a crack at making the marketing experience in this new digital age more effective?

Sharon Burton has written an entire series on how content writing and product instruction writing deeply affects the customer experience. I highly recommend reading it when you have a chance–good stuff there that support my viewpoint.

What do you think? What is your experience? Do you agree with the idea that tech comm holds a bigger place in customer satisfaction than people are giving it credit for? Share your comments below.

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Plain language always wins. Always.

Businessman Midair in a Business MeetingI love it when I’m inspired to write a blog post due to something that I read through social media. In this case, this morning I saw a Facebook post written by Jack Molisani, author of Be The Captain of Your Career, executive director of the Lavacon Conference, and technical recruiter that intrigued me. His post is listed below with his permission. It stated:

Just read this in a resume:

“Sophisticated, results-driven Program Management professional with a demonstrated ability to successfully lead business or technical initiatives with demonstrated experience in IT Governance, cost and schedule management, leadership, cost estimating, and infrastructure management covering full life-cycle application development & integration, data management, strategy & IT architecture implementations/roll-outs.”

First thought: Sophisticated? He wears shirts with frilly cuffs and drinks tea with his pinky up?

Second thought: Run-on sentence. Can’t communicate well in writing.

Oh candidates, why must thou shootest thouselfs in thine own feet?**

I definitely agree with Jack’s assessment. The run-on sentence is particularly bad.

The thing that caught my eye even more was the language used. As Jack alluded, it initially implies some sort of sophistication or high-intelligence level.  But in the end, couldn’t this candidate have simply said, “I am a successful and reliable project manager with experience in X, Y and Z”?   I mentioned to Jack that I would not be surprised that the candidate wrote this way because many job descriptions for openings are written similarly.

One of my greatest frustrations when I did job searches in the past was getting through wordy job descriptions, as they were written in the same gobbledy-gook language used by this candidate. WHY? Is this done for the purpose of weeding out candidates from the get-go, as if to say, “If you can’t read this, then you must be too stupid for this job”? I’ve often gotten that feeling.  Or, I’ve read many job descriptions that sound much grander than they are–again, much like this candidate’s description of himself–only to find that it’s a basic job with several steps, and it’s not that hard to do. The job description was only made to sound like more than what it really is, which is what this candidate was trying to achieve, I’m sure.

This made me think about plain language use, and how it’s starting to take hold in technical communications. I’m really glad about this shift. Why? To be honest, I’m an idiot. While I have a solid education, and can speak and write fairly well, how often will you hear me using the $10 words? Rarely. The use of “fancy” language alienates people, and in my case, it overwhelms me. My brain can’t always process it sufficiently. I find that technical writing is similar to translating complicated English into simplified or plain-language English.  Since I’ve learned how to do that over many years, it’s become a little bit easier for me to process. But, most people don’t have that internal filter. They hear or read, “Blah, blah, blah,” as Jack implied in his reaction above.

A follow-up comment to Jack’s post by one individual pointed out that this is how business people are taught to write. That’s a good point. I would also point out that legal professionals have the same issue. Have you ever tried to read “legal-ese”? It’s just crazy. I remember an early assignment in grad school required us to look up the local legal codes in our towns, and “translate” the legal mumbo-jumbo into plain language. I remember mine clearly, as it directly related to my house. Put into plain English, the particular housing code from my town stated that if you have a pool in your backyard, you have to have a fence around it for legal and insurance purposes; if you didn’t, you’d be fined. Simple enough, right? Not if you read the original language.

Why are business and legal professionals still writing as they did a century ago? Who are they trying to impress? In our current digital age, it’s a pointless endeavour.  We are a society of instant gratification. We need people to get straight to the point. This is most evident with the proliferation of mobile devices. We need information to be short, fast, and quickly comprehensive.  Writing in the “sophisticated” language used by that the job candidate above isn’t going to help anyone anymore.  We need to be able to communicate with customers and citizens in a way that everyone can understand. This is not the dumbing down of language as we know it, necessarily. As I said earlier, using grandiose language alienates the reader, especially if the reader is trying to find out basic facts. All Jack wanted to know was whether this person qualified for the job.  Instead, he had to translate what the person was saying before he could determine that, and that act in itself turned Jack off to this candidate. It’s not a good reaction to have.

Plain language is not simplifying language for the less-educated. It’s a simplification of content at its best. Technical communicators and universities (and yes, I’ll even say it, all schools in general) have to start teaching their students to have a full understanding of rich vocabularies, yet choose words wisely to communicate the best message possible. Tech comm does that in aces. We need to get the business schools and law schools (among others) on board with this concept.

So, Candidate, if you want to get in Jack’s good graces (or anyone’s good graces for that matter), you’d be better off writing in plain language. If you pick up a copy of Jack’s book, too, you’ll get some other hints that will make you a more viable candidate. Get to work!

**Update: a few hours after I originally posted this, it appears the either Facebook is hiding the post, or Jack took it down. I know that some of the comments he got showed that people misinterpreted his intention and purpose of the post, and perhaps it got too heated to keep the post up, which is a shame. I definitely did get his permission first before I “reprinted” it here.  I support Jack’s intention in sharing the information, because I know that he didn’t publically humiliate a specific person by name or inference, and his purpose was to show how a recruiter really does react to a poorly written resume. Jack’s business, and by extension his recent book, are meant to be guides to helping anyone get a good job. Jack has continually pointed out that many of the steps needed are so basic. This is what he was trying to point out in the post he wrote above. I suppose I understand his position because I’ve been the candidate enough times that I actually know that the smallest things–like what Jack pointed out with this candidate–have made the difference as to whether I got an interview or not. The other perspective I understand is that as a recruiter. While I’m not a recruiter, my mother owned her own agency for years, so I learned a lot from her about what that business entails, and it’s not an easy job. So for that, I understand where Jack was coming from. He wasn’t being antagonistic, but rather it was a remark of frustration. –techcommgeekmom

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Back to School (as a TechCommGeekMom)


Someone mentioned to me recently that as “TechCommGeekMom” that I seem to concentrate on being the “TechCommGeek” than the “Mom” in my posts. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, since I do talk about my son often enough, but it’s true that I do mainly try to center my writings about tech comm and m-learning/e-learning geekery, but perhaps it’s time to think more about adding some more parent-centric postings.

And just as a warning–this is a true test of using mobility, as I’m typing this on my iPad while on vacation, so this will truly test how mobile *I* can be to do most of the things I like to do more than 600 miles from home.

Recently, the following article came to my attention:

Guest Post: Core Skills for Technical Writers Often Overlooked

In this article, the author talks about how many of the basic, fundamental functions of being a good technical communicator are lost. Writing cover letters, resumes and follow-up correspondence with well-written, grammatically correct technical aspects are now missing. He questions how that could be lost, and how that needs to be recovered.

I agree, not only as a technical communicator, but also as a parent. For me, while my technical communications skills are truly at the heart of my profession, being a parent is highly integrated into what I do as a technical communicator. As a parent, I am equally responsible to make sure that my child is getting at least an appropriate education, and being able to get the fundamentals of good writing is important.

One of the big things that seems to be a hot topic in the e-learning and tech comm worlds is the idea that conventional methods don’t seem to be working anymore, and the big DIY movement is starting to take hold slowly but surely. There was also a Forbes article that was out a day or two (sorry, don’t have it at my fingertips–will edit this and add later if I find it again) that was trying to dispel the myths of online learning. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m a big proponent of e-learning and m-learning. The Internet is FULL of resources that I wish I had as a kid, and now as a parent, I know my child can utilize instead.

And this is when mommy-mode comes into play when I’m thinking about my son’s education–or the education of any child as a mother. I guess I think about it more since I am trying to gain more footing in the m-learning world, but also because I am a mom, and I can see how he benefits from it. Because my son is high functioning Autistic/Asperger’s, his learning needs are more basic, meaning it’s not that he can’t learn the same information as everyone else, but one needs to get down more to the core of those topics on a very basic level and build up in order for him to understand and grab the concepts. Again, this is not a dumb child–far from it. In many respects, he’s brilliant. He loves science, especially physics-related topics, and can out talk some grown-ups on the topic. But math and writing and social studies and foreign languages…ugh, that’s another story. One also has to remember that just learning appropriate behavior does not happen inherently for him either. He gets easily frustrated, and resolution skills do not come instinctively to him. He is constantly being taught strategies on how to improve his behavior and resolution skills so he doesn’t have meltdowns as often. Social skills need to be taught to him like any other subject at his school, so as a parent and wannabe educator, I have to think about these things. Even for me, I had many of the same issues, but I think my parents were equally able to try to handle it as my father was a professional educator for over 40 years, so I benefitted from him, as well as my mother, who instilled strong communication foundations with me at a very early age.

As a parent myself now, I feel it is our duty to work with teachers to help our children as much as possible to learn the fundamental skills that will not only allow them to do well in school, but also do well in life. There was a recent argument as to whether people really need to learn algebra. I happen to be a proponent of algebra for everyone, but how advanced one gets with the subject is the question. I remember my father saying–and I agree with this– even when I was a small child that we are taught basic algebra when we are still in grammar school. After all, getting the equation of 5+5=___ is really the same as 5+5=X. Or 30/X=5, and X needs to be determined. So, sure, cranking up the challenge is inevitable. But calculus? I didn’t take it, and with the career I’ve had, I never used it. But I needed more on probabilities and statistics, for sure, now and then (I managed, thankfully). There are professions that do need higher algebra and calculus, and if kids think they are going into those careers, then they should take advanced mathematics.

At the same time, depending on the school, basic life skills aren’t taught anymore. There was a time when wood shop, metal shop, auto shop and home ec were necessary classes, as they were what drove the economy, and most people’s highest level of education was completing high school. I went to a prep school, so I learned none of those topics except through my dad making sure that I could check the oil, change a flat, add brake fluid and change the air filter and my mother teaching me a little bit of cooking (mostly self-taught). They still are, but other things like computing and basic business classes are needed. My own parents always would try to get me to take business courses. To take the marketing or business law courses that I was most interested in, I had to pass accounting, and I couldn’t pass accounting. So everything I’ve learned about sales and marketing I learned the hard way–through experience. I did take a computing class (remember, I graduated from college in 1990, when dot-matrix printers were the norm as well as having computer labs to use Notepad-like word processors to write our term papers. I credit my own instincts to take that computer class as the right move–that served me more than taking accounting.

Recently, one of my cousins mentioned that she was making the suggestion of taking business courses to her almost college-age daughter. I told her that unless her daughter wanted to go into a business career, it wasn’t a good idea, and that I felt that some sort of computing class would be better. There are two essential courses that I think EVERYONE on the planet who seeks an education should have a basic technical writing or business writing course, and at least one computing class under their belts. It doesn’t matter what country one comes from or what language one speaks, but clear communication in any language, and knowing how the technology that helps that communication–especially in business–is essential. Without being able to communicate effectively and not understanding the tools that will helps one communicate effectively, a person will not get as far as they could. The basics of business otherwise comes purely from doing and learning on the job, not from some book.

This brings up the concept of DIY education again. While there are still a lot of things that are right in instill our children with basic skills through a conventional education, something’s not working anymore to make sure that our children know more than we do. Yes, you read that correctly. Our children SHOULD know more than us. They should be know as much as parents, and then some whenever possible. They should be learning from our past mistakes as well as learning what has been discovered since the time we were children. There’s a term that’s thrown about with today’s generations about these kids being “digital natives”. This is a somewhat accurate statement, only because for the most part, they don’t remember telephones with cords, Atari 2600 video game systems being the revolutionary gaming system that everybody had to have, or a time when there weren’t computers to do everyday school research or type up a professional looking report with fancy fonts and pagination. But today’s Generation X–my generation– really were some of the earliest adopters of digital technology, and in some cases, we don’t have much to show for it as a whole. I don’t know how many of my friends will tell me how they don’t understand how such and such works with a computer, and it’s something rather simple. Today’s generation has to be prepared for the future better than we were. I did my best to keep up, and it was my ability to write well and having some computer knowledge that helped me along the way. But much of the computer knowledge I’ve gained over the years was more self-taught, or I made my own agenda to learn it. I created my own DIY education out of necessity. While there will be an argument that DIY education is really about meeting individual interests and individual needs, why isn’t there an interest in doing so in conventional education?

Many years ago, the “No Child Left Behind” act was put into place in this country (the USA). It sounded good on the surface, but then I found out that the award winning, top notch school district that we were sending our son to didn’t comply to those standards. I was initially shocked and upset about this, until I understood why. The district was not in compliance because it was accounting for special needs children that either could not or never could, comply with the standardized testing needed to prove that these new standards were being followed. Those children needed to be left behind due to their own personal necessities. Some would catch up or do the work at their own pace, and some might never comply, and my district doesn’t force these children to be something they’re not; they are treated like people, not numbers. And as it happens that my son eventually fell into a category where sometimes he was able to meet those standards, and sometimes he couldn’t–I understood what my district was doing. They were allowing kids to be individuals and did account for different learning abilities. The other part of that is that many of the parents in my district tend to be fairly well educated professionals as well, and a huge majority are newer immigrants that place a very high standard on education, so it’s clear that parental intervention is a big part of that. For my family, the involvement of both my husband and myself in my son’s education is very clear. Without us, my son would not be where he is today. I’m not saying that teachers weren’t essential in helping my son learn–quite the contrary. They fill in all the huge gaps that we miss. It is because we intervened at an early age, worked with him, sometimes using unconventional methods to get him to learn what he needed to learn, and it was due to our personal intervention and playing such a key role in his learning that his autism eluded us until he was 9 years old.

So, as kids of all ages start going back to school at this time of year, I feel that tug of academia pulling me in again. Sometimes it’s the student in me yearning to be back in school again myself, learning something new. But for now, it’s me knowing that I have a responsibility as a parent to ensure that my son gets the most out of his education, whether it’s through homework exercises done with me to learn a concept he didn’t understand at school, or helping a teacher reinforce a new learned social skill that he learned in school. I recently saw a cartoon in which it depicted that in the past, if a student didn’t do well, the parents blamed the student for not working hard enough, but in current times, the teacher would be blamed by the parents. While there are instances that both students and teachers today need to be accountable for a student’s success, the key missing piece that is equally accountable is the role of the parents.

Parents are a child’s first teachers, so by not setting higher standards for ourselves both personally and professionally, we, as parents, fail our children by setting a poor example. Parents need to set the tone and set the standards for their children. If it means finding unconventional ways to ensure that a child is learning in addition to what conventional education is already providing, then so be it. For me, using my experiences as a technical communicator/budding m-learning specialist are what help me be a better parent. I use my skills to help my son learn how to write in his voice, using various means that work for him in a way that can help him grow and progress in the future to a day when he will need to be able to use these skills on his own in the “real world.” I try to show him new technology as well, and sometimes he teaches it to me.

In the end, it it my job to help him grow up to be an effective communicator–no matter where his path leads him, and it is my job as a parent to ensure that whether it comes from me, a teacher, or some sort of digital learning experience, that he has the foundation he needs to get ahead.

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Harvard Business Review: I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.

Harvard Business Review: I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.

An English professor friend of mine posted this on Facebook, and it struck a chord with me. While I will never claim to be an expert grammarian (even though I did very well in my Professional and Technical Editing class in grad school), I have to admit I’m a bit of a stickler for good grammar as well. I suppose because some of the basics come so easily to me, I don’t understand why they don’t for others. I’m always surprised to see people who are pursuing Master’s degrees in technical writing have such poor grammar. Okay, not everyone, but a good portion of them. How did they get through high school and college and still not have some of these basics down as described in the article above? I don’t understand that concept. The whole essence of being a technical writer, to me, is being that precise and picky when writing or editing content. If words are not crafted in a particular way, their meanings or messages are lost or misconstrued, and that can be disasterous.  I happen to know that the part-time job I have at an academic publishing house was originally gained because I was the only one who actually sent a cover letter that was written in a grammatically correct way.

This article truly speaks to me, and it’s why I try to work very hard at being as detail oriented as I can be, because it’s the difference between getting a job and keeping a job.