How unempowered customer care departments erode brand value

Customer support is the face of any organization.

No, media adverts are not.
No, marketing department is not.
No, retail outlets are not.
People in the retail outlets are, and they are, in principle, a part of customer facing group.

Customer experience business units when not empowered to wow the customers, are helpless in the face of customer interactions/queries/issues. This erodes the brand value like nothing else. As always, no business unit wants to end up doing so. Even though the individuals stick to the script, the textbook, the processes, and the guidance from higher ups, erosion just happens. Almost as if by magic! At times, this is how we customers are left to feel, not wanting to give you our money anymore.

Leaving a person dangling in an obstacle course

Leaving a person dangling in an obstacle course

I shall even claim that in 80% of the cases,

fine print exists because the businesses want to safeguard themselves against whatever they cannot fix for good.

The good news is, simply start by fixing the following frequently heard of ways, some of which are (unintentionally) in vogue in your customer-facing teams.

  • Feedback: Sure I shall take your improvement for feedback and deposit it in the system for implemention AFTER we solve your problem using our traditional methods, against which your feedback is.
  • Protocols: But this is the only process!
  • Terms and conditions: You signed the form yourself. It clearly indicates these surcharges/conditions/noservice clause/etc.
  • Helpless: I realize it is my organizations mistake, but I am sorry, I cannot fix it.
  • Call volume: Due to xyz issue, our call center is flooded with calls right now. Please hold for a long time/call later/call another number/try self-help/etc.
  • Replacement: (Just because you raised a hue and cry on social media) We shall provide a discount/replacement/cash back/special call/vouchers/etc. just this once. Please be happy and don’t give us more bad air through your social channels.
  • Social Media: The organization is so afraid of and naive to anything (negative) on social media that if you raised a issue it has to be resolved. The organization shall divert more resources than requied to provide social support rather than other traditional support methods.
  • Talk offline: Please message your contact details, so we can take it offline. That way the organization does not have to publicly respond on a social media channel.
  • Changes in the deal: This deal and the contract can change any time without notice. The company is not liable to provide this offer once it expires. And customers don’t have a way of knowing when it expires!
  • Process changes: No, it does not work this way anymore. We have shifted to a better process without retaining the classic one for old timers like you. Please join us in following this exciting, super deluxe, certified, and acclaimed way of doing things now. By the way, we did not think your inputs before or your feedback afterwards was necessary. Forget about transition and hand-holding through the change.

Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons here.

How techcomm pros can lower the barriers to entry in a support system and improve the overall UX of a support channel

After serving me well for more than five years, today my LG microwave wouldn’t start. It’s unimaginable to spend a day at home with a toddler and a non-working microwave! I went through another unimaginable experience today–how some companies raise the barrier for customers to join their official support system. For example, when one heads over to LG’s support system at http://www.lg.com/in/support/repair-service/schedule-repair, they ask you to log in or register. One has to fill in a long form and specifically provide the serial number and date of purchase of the appliance. While this is mandatory information to keep out non-customers and to ascertain warranty, it is by no means a mandatory information for registering on the site!

LG support registration options

LG support registration options

 

A better customer experience should be to get as many customers into the fold of formal support system, as easily as possible. Once folks are in with their identity, you have more information and opportunities to customize the experience and gain the trust of this person forever. What a great opportunity to make repeat customers! Support after all is not a cost center, but a profit center (see http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/04/thinking-lifetime-dont-break-the-chain.html).

You may wonder, what this has to do with techcomm, writing, content creation, and documentation. Anything and everything a customer sees on the Support page or login is content! We writers, editors, and designers can create (content) experiences that are personalized for the person logged in. Of course, it needs a lot of smooth engagements within the organization. It is easier said than done. That’s why it is worth doing!

Marketing and branding using support content and web design

As a content creator, customer advocate, and an end-user, here’s a quick list of suggestions from me (more later):

  • Make us navigate only a tad bit. Target for a maximum depth of 1-2 clicks from your home page. Chances are we are in a rush or frustrated or both. Techcomm pros can use web analytics to find browsing paths and optimize those.
  • Use whitespaces and icons on the support pages a lot. You are not selling anything to us right now (except a good experience). Techcomm pros can QA the design, the content, and the overall UX.
  • Make your icons generic and also usable for color blind people. Techcomm pros can QA/audit these.
  • Make yourself accessible on all social networks. Go where your customers are. I am logged into X network all day long and that is the lowest barrier for us to enter in to a conversation with you. Techcomm pros can be available themselves on the social networks or facilitate the usage of social media.
  • Make login creation an easy process. You can also identify us by our customer IDs, our mobile numbers, or our product serial numbers. Techcomm pros can consult with the engineering/IT teams on the requirements.
  • Allow social media integration to authenticate on your support systems. Do respect the boundaries though! If a customer is looking for help or resolution and you push advertisements to their network in this scenario, be ready to hear profanities. Of the kind, I cannot describe on this blog. YES, you deserve nothing less for such a shameless plug. Techcomm pros can be the eyes and ears of an organization and alert about unwanted/intrusive scenarios.
  • What’s stopping you from making a login on my behalf when you get to know my mail ID? Assign an auto-generated password and mail me the details. Appear generous and don’t insert any other information in this email. Techcomm pros can QA the UX and consult on the customer needs.
  • Promptly publish all methods to contact you, without making us hunt for them. We may want to call you one day but want to ping on a social network another day. See the above point about being present where your customers are present. Techcomm pros can update the content appropriately and can champion social media usage.
  • Find a way to have smart front desk staff members–call centers, receptionists, personal delivery guys, waiters, salesmen, and social media people). We customers judge you all the time. Even after you’ve made the sale. Techcomm pros can help with trainings, case studies, internal QA and audits, and facilitation.

Social Media etiquettes and best practices

I know a lot has been written on the topic. You can read all about it via this Google search.

It is impossible to have a set of social media guidelines, that work for all scenarios. New fails and faux pas keep showing up, even from experience people and established brands. All we can do is minimize them, educate ourselves, and well… hope for the best! 🙂

The reason there is room for each of those apparently repetitive points, is:

  • Social Media is subjective.
  • People have varied opinions.
  • One man’s misery is another man’s fortune/delight.
  • Subjective things are mood-dependent.
  • Cultural, geographical, racial, gender related, and other such differences are difficult to figure out, fathom, prevent, plan for, and mitigate.

I could go on and on, but you get the gist. I have shared my condensed experience at http://list.ly/list/EnJ-what-to-do-on-social-media-channels-to-prevent-social-media-fails.

Leave a comment on what your experience says.

Adobe Acrobat quick tips and best practices for Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

In this rolling set of tips, I am sharing tips and tricks to use OCR in Adobe Acrobat.

  1. First tip has to be about the wonder called OCR! You can make your scanned images searchable by running OCR on them. Also, you can extract text from ‘image PDFs’ by doing so.
  2. Before you scan a whole lot of documents to OCR later, scan one paper at different settings and run OCR to see how the results are. Use the settings that gives you the least number of OCR suspects.
  3. To get the best results from OCR, use ClearScan. It generates smaller file sizes and looks better at a given DPI. For an in-depth description, see this article.
  4. When scanning documents customize the options to improve the quality of the scan and hence the quality of OCR. The settings I find useful are highlighted in the following screenshot. See this help article for more details.
    My Acrobat scan options in Configure Presets
  5. Create as high quality scan as possible. Expect a good OCR if the image is 300 dpi or better. 600 dpi is good enough for most common purposes.
  6. Acrobat cannot OCR a page that is more than 45 inches in any one direction.
    Maximum PDF page size for Adobe Acrobat OCR
  7. You can add files other than PDF documents by selecting ‘In Multiple Files’.
    OCR on multiple files in Adobe Acrobat
  8. You can run OCR on an entire folder by selecting ‘In Multiple Files’ and then ‘Add Folders’.
    OCR on a folder in Adobe Acrobat
  9. You can disable OCR when scanning files. You may want to do so, when scanning many files and you have limited computing power! In the Configure Presets dialog for scanning, deselect ‘Make Searchable (Run OCR)’.
    Configure scan presets in Acrobat for scanning
  10. If you have a choice, do not use text over bright or dark graphics in the source to be scanned. Such text is not recognized properly during OCR, as the contrast between the text and the background is not high enough.
  11. To enhance contrast, and hence the probability of a good OCR, turn on the darkness of the text and the lightness of the background to maximum, while scanning. Also, use a black and white setting, instead of color or grayscale scan.
  12. Make sure the printed paper is lying flat on the scanner bed and aligns with the edges of the bed. Former may lead to folds and hence distorted text in the scan. Latter may lead to text at an angle in the scan. Both types of scans are not a good source to run OCR on.

More Acrobat and OCR resources:
Help and support page for official content: https://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat.html
Acrobat user community: http://acrobatusers.com/

Share as comments, the OCR tips from your experience.

2013 in review for this techcomm blog

Happy New Year to the readers and to the community members! Thanks to WordPress.com for sending across the annual report of this blog. I am making it public and sharing it here. Essentially, I maintained the status quo during the year gone by and wrote a few but engaging posts on specifically useful topics.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

SEO tip – Write relevant and search optimized topic titles and headings

Search engines do not ‘see’ a document or an article, they parse. The spiders or crawlers rely on metadata to understand the structure of a document or an article, the flow of content, and the relative importance of various chunks. Whether you call it a topic, a section, a heading, or a title, the entity that goes in a H1, H2, etc. HTML tag and in the title meta tag in the HTML source of your article are important to search engines.

The meta title tag generates the browser title and is displayed in bold in the Google snippets. Many a times, users open or neglect a web page, depending on the snippet of a webpage.

Best practices for writing topics are:

  • Keep it relevant to the content. Having a good heading that reflects the nature of the content, allows search engines to verify that you really are talking about what you intend to talk about. Mind you, search engines verify because they do not need a title to figure what the article is about. However, no search engine worth its salt will promote unorganized content.
  • Preserve uniqueness between title and meta description. This helps you cover more keywords without stuffing. Keywords in title and meta description have far more weight than keywords elsewhere on the page.
  • A topic’s title page should have topic of the article, the brand name, and the product name.
  • Populate a page’s title tag using only 60 characters. This is human-readable sentence shown in searches. Page titles must be unique across the site.

References:
Here (PDF) are Google’s SEO guidelines.
There are many ways, besides HTML tags, to indicate content structure to Google via metadata. See Providing Structured Data.
See HTML Improvements suggestions in Google’s Webmaster Tools.
My previous SEO tip – Provide unique Descriptions for articles to improve search engine snippets.

Blogs and official documentation aka Why technical writers should blog

Today morning, via Twitter, I landed up on Neal’s blog post Using humor in your documentation. Or not. Go read it–some nice pros and cons of using humor in documents!

The post got my thinking about how I write as a technical writer and my desire to better the UX for my readers. I too document Enterprise software (Adobe Connect and Adobe LiveCycle) in my current job. Also, I have never used casual language or humor. However, the rewrite of a warning, in Neal’s blog post, is enticing 🙂

I think a great way out, is to separate the two styles in to two different containers–official documents and semi-official or even informal blogs.

Why should we blog

Why should we blog

The humorous, casual, informal, witty, off-beat, and community content should be re-directed to the blogs! If they are done well, the blogs compliment the docs nicely. I am listing some advantages of blogging that come readily to my mind:

  • One does not have to deal with the issue of localization of blogs. Blog content can be consumed by readers in their locales via Google Translate. Typically, organizations shy away from recommending that official documentation be read via Google Translate! This is not to suggest that humor gets translated–this post is just about blogs and documents. Irrespective of humor, via blogs we save localization costs.
  • Blogs are not driven entirely by timelines or ties with lengthy review cycles or are a mandate. Blogs can be ad-hoc, personal blog posts can be published without internal reviews, and there can be both, lean periods and peak seasons, for blogging.
  • Blogs also help in creating a good buzz about the software, in the community. This helps in indirect marketing. Blog posts can further feed into other social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, List.ly,  Pinterest, and so on, to drive social media engagement.
  • By re-purposing multiple blog posts, one can compile cheat sheet, tips and tricks, lengthier technical articles and workflows, and so on.
  • On blogs one can invite community members to write–guests posts are a great way to give recognition to power users, as well as, have a vibrant community around a software. Exploring how other people use the same software leads to better self-learning as well.
  • Many writers shy away and many a times editors do not permit documenting what do not work very well in the software. On blogs one can post actions that users should avoid, provide workarounds for broken workflows, share less-professionally done illustrations that cannot make it in the official docs, invite the community to share real-world workflows, etc. With timelines, styles guides, and localization costs driving documentation, it is difficult, if not impossible, to do all of these as part of documentation activities.
  • With blogs one doesn’t need a user story! Not just technical writers but any member of engineering team who blogs, gets to be in touch with the real community, interact with the real users, face the real bugs, and get to know the real workflows.

Share in the comments, what are your reasons for blogging?

——–

Updated Oct 23, 2013 to add last bullet point.

To allow for social collaboration and embedding of this content, I have re-purposed this blog post as a List at http://list.ly/list/DDo-why-should-technical-communicators-and-writers-blog.