User experience, known as UX, is a critical aspect of communication regardless of what you are documenting. The work that we do as writers and content managers is about clarity, accuracy, consistency, and readability, and all of these things create either a good or bad user experience. This has always been the case, but nowadays there is another factor to consider: multi-channel consumption of information.
Multi or omni-channel consumption means your users/customers are reading or consuming your content across a variety of media including (but not limited to):
- Mobile devices
- Online chat
- By visiting physical locations (such as storefronts or service centers)
- PDF (print?)
Inconsistency across these delivery formats causes confusion, irritation and ultimately, anger. The Nielsen Norman Group (NNGroup), perhaps the leading firm assessing best practices for UX, has published research on the importance of maintaining a consistent user experience across all of these media delivery formats.
The Benefits are Substantial
From the NNGroup research:
“The benefits of consistency in the omnichannel user experience include:
- Familiarity and Confidence. A consistent experience sets expectations for future interactions with your organization and builds user confidence.
- Learnability. Consistent experiences are more learnable for users who have interacted with your solutions on various other channels.
- Efficiency. When designs and features are consistent, customers can complete tasks faster and more efficiently on the channel of their choice in the context of their everyday lives
- Trust. Users crave consistency and companies that can provide consistent experiences across channels will quickly earn users’ trust and build credibility.”
With a DITA CCMS, like easyDITA, these are now much easier goals to accomplish. Multi or omni-channel publishing, without laborious manual formatting for each channel, is a core benefit of using a DITA CCMS. Consistency of brand DNA, structure, voice, process, boilerplate, etc., is enforced by the content architecture you create in your CCMS.
Consistent information design assumes your users are going to consume content from various sources concurrently. That means switching devices, utilizing things like contextual help in various screen sizes, having PDFs that deliver in the same order and voice as a Knowledge Base or Wiki, and more.
Don’t Limit Your Consistency Model to Your Business Group
“To customers, you are one company. They don’t draw dividing lines between channels like organizations do.”
NNGroup also notes that users don’t care about differences in the way internal groups handle communications- they want the same consistent experiences when interacting with different business units of even a large organization. Even Apple, the largest tech company on the planet, delivers the same documentation experience to users, regardless of the hardware/software they are interacting with (although with varying degrees of success!).
Consistency is Supported by the Reuse Capabilities Built Into a DITA CCMS
A major core benefit of a structured content solution is its extensive ability to enable consistent reuse of content. This not only saves enormous amounts of time spent duplicating efforts (likely because previous versions cannot be found or kept up to date, or they are not be known to even exist), it ensures a consistent experience for consumers of that content. A simple example like a boilerplate Safety Warning not only should be totally consistent, but there could be liability concerns if you have multiple versions, some of which may not have been vetted by a subject matter expert.
Structure Implies Order
By its nature, structured content is designed to imply order on your documentation. By organizing your topics with maps (a basic building block of structure), it is always the map that gets published, regardless of target format. This means that having a piece of documentation appearing in multiple places does not require formatting to be associated with the content. Although initially complex to grasp (and not in the scope of this article), this concept is core to maintaining a consistent content experience; that cannot be guaranteed with unstructured authoring environments like MS Word.
In Closing: UX Should Never Confuse–Your Product Experience is Closely Tied to the Entire User Experience
We constantly hear that we should ‘delight’ our customers and prospects if we are going to keep them and get referral business, good reviews, and other reputational assets. Inconsistent or confusing differences between content delivered to the many media options people sift through constantly, will not delight your customers. Use your DITA CCMS and your content architecture to provide a consistent experience and that delight will follow.