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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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ENIGMA Decoders Have Nothing On We Tech Comm Writers

An ENIGMA coding machine, found at the Computer History Museum (photo credit: TechCommGeekMom)

Technical communicators truly do have skills that most others don’t have, and it’s a simple set of skills. We take for granted that we can display writing and documentation clearly.

What brought this to my attention most recently–as if I didn’t know this fact already–was dealing with emails from work. I was trying to interpret emails from several educated, fairly influential people from the company, and I didn’t have the faintest idea what they wanted because of unclear directions. Granted, it didn’t help that the email system that we are forced to use at the moment (Lotus Notes) is not exactly user-friendly when it comes to formatting content within an email. Even when I could wade through the quagmire of formatting fogginess, what was being requested of me was not completely clear, and I had to send emails back clarifying the requests.

Although we are often required to work on reducing the number of words used to relay our messages and act as translators of content, it shouldn’t be at the cost of miscommunication. Sometimes having more is less, because more detailed directions can provide less back-and-forth of emails, thus more efficiency in getting the work or task done. From a customer perspective, having accurate documentation–even if it’s long–can reduce call centers help requests significantly.

A great example of making sure that content–whether it’s an email or any other documentation–is efficient is when I worked at the Princeton University Press.  The CMS I had to use was an in-house Frankenstein monster of an application, but it worked for better or worse. There was no printed documentation, so when I first started working for the company, I took lots of detailed notes to make sure I understood how to do tasks on the system. I left the company after a few months, but left my notes for my successor. About two years later, my successor left, and my former manager asked me back to fill in temporarily, since she knew my contract had ended, and my ramp-up time wouldn’t be the same as if a new person was coming in during the pinch of getting the new fall catalog posted online. Sure enough, the two-year-old notes were still at the desk, and I could still follow them clearly. (This was when I knew that techcomm was truly my calling!) This reduced the number of times I had to ask my manager to refresh my memory on how to do certain tasks. As a result, the fall catalog information went up quickly, and everyone was happy. Mind you, the documentation I had was pages and pages long–all handwritten, no less, but it was accurate enough that I didn’t need much help in re-learning the system. My second successor was able to use these notes as well, since they were so accurate.

As I said, we take for granted that we have the ability to write cogently and clearly since we all do it on a regular basis. It’d be nice if more people can get the basics of this skill down so that we technical communicators can do our jobs more efficiently. The fact that we can decipher and clarify messages better than anyone should put us in the same ranks of ENIGMA coders, in my mind!