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© 2010 Ugur Akinci
When times are rough, one of the first things companies try to cut back on is documentation. Some managers believe that if they fire a few technical writers and skip on user and installation manuals the company would make more profit.
The reality could be just the opposite. The company may actually end up losing its customers to a competitor and lose its market share altogether.
One obvious thing that happens when a company cuts down or eliminates its documentation is that the volume of phone calls to its call center (assuming it has one) goes up dramatically. Frustrated with the details of using a complicated software, hardware, or software-hardware system, customers start peppering the call center with detailed product questions instead of the regular stock questions that a call center is prepared to handle.
Call centers work with call scenarios to make sure no important step is left out when a customers calls for an answer to a FAQ (Frequently Asked Question).
What a call center is not designed to handle is the kind of product information that only a SME (Subject Matter Expert) can handle. And that’s precisely what a technical document is: it’s a publicly available record of a SME’s wisdom produced at a finite cost. Once it’s produced, a tech document’s “operational cost” is minimal (like the hosting expense of the web server on which the document is posted). However, the same cost keeps escalating when product information is served by a call center.
For one thing, since they do not have a relevant reading-script to follow, call center staff is flustered when confronted with SEM questions and they start making mistakes, providing wrong information without meaning to, putting people on long holds, and thus increasing customer frustration for multiple reasons.
There is another angle to this negative development: if a call center staffer’s performance is measured by the amount of time spent per call (shorter the better), then the staffer may instinctively start dropping tough calls and hanging up on “difficult clients” — thus increasing the overall customer frustration even more, and eventually leading to angry customers.
Nothing can be more detrimental for the business of any company than a group of angry customers since they talk, post bad reviews on the Internet and YouTube, and your ship of business would quickly start to take water. Given the generally competitive business environment, the ultimate cost of trying to cut down back on documentation might actually be losing a chunk of your market share.
Here is an excellent article on the same topic