Does your company or organization practice reputation management? I certainly hope so, because it has become a key indicator for success. Briefly put, reputation management is managing what people are saying about your company and your products or services. How do you manage something that other people are doing? The only legitimate way is by offering an exceptional experience to your customers. This drives reviews, referrals, word of mouth, and general buzz about your company from those who have done business with you. To potential customers, these kinds of feedback are invaluable because they come from resources that, presumably, have little to gain from praising or criticizing your product or service.
Your Documentation Impacts Customer Experience
Most of us have seen reviews that comment on the instructions, help materials, and customer support associated with a product or service. Savvy marketers recognize that this content serves a major purpose to them, when considered from a reputation perspective.
Retail furnishing giant Ikea is famous for its ability to reduce assembly task instructions to their most basic form by turning them into cartoons—with no text at all. And reviewers of their products very seldom complain about their assembly instructions (though there is a thriving subculture of people who assemble Ikea products for a living). Their customers are willing to accept a high degree of assembly work in exchange for inexpensive, well-designed products. But if those products had confusing or incomplete instructions, their business would take a nosedive.
(I can’t help but note that eliminating text in instructions also eliminates translation costs for this global business, another example of how well-designed documentation can have a big impact on costs).
The Review Culture: “The Instructions Were Excellent” Vs. “The Instructions Were Confusing”
One of the primary reasons that reputation management has become so critical to business success is the emergence of the review culture. Driven originally by online forums, the culture of reviewing products and services left the techy realm and entered the mainstream with Amazon Reviews, where you can read user reviews of virtually any product. People review everything from socks to sophisticated equipment, often equally in-depth. Review rankings (4 Star, etc.) are one of the most used search filters for consumers doing research. This model has extended out into business to business (B2B) research and buying decisions, with many businesses adopting an open review policy (allows both positive and negative reviews to be viewed) on their own product or service sites.
While seemingly counterintuitive, allowing negative reviews shows a degree of faith in your product and gives a clear indication that the reviews on the site are legitimate. Even with the occasional poor review, this policy seldom backfires. And if it does, it offers managment invaluable feedback on issues they may not have been aware of. Another benefit of proactive reputation management.
People Will Post Your Content in Public Places
When someone, in the research phase of a buying decision, finds useful content, they are very likely to share it via social media, on a site, or through email. They seldom care if that content was not intended to be shared or meant to be publicly and widely disseminated. From a reputation perspective this can be a mixed thing as they are just as likely to share content they are unhappy with as the stuff they liked. Regardless, you have to assume that it will be out there whether you like it or not.
So, How Does Documentation Fit Into Reputation Management?
Documentation is direct communication with the customer or prospective customer:
- If it is high quality and useful, it makes them happy and cuts back on costly live customer support while helping with customer retention and referrals.
- If it is incomplete, inaccurate, or difficult to understand and use, it not only frustrates the customer, it also sends a general message about the company and the product. That customer, in the review culture, is likely to share their experience, good or bad, with others considering the same product.
Reputation Is About Experience and Documentation Is Critical To Experience
Understanding that the quality of your documentation has a much larger role in your success than it did in the past is vital. Buyers don’t respond to pitches, they do homework to find solutions. A major aspect of that homework is the reputation of your product and company among its customers. Documentation is at the front line of defining your reputation and should be treated as the critical communications asset it has become.