Some years back – more than I care to admit – I took a memorable week-long intensive training course, Quality for Project Managers. The instructor was an affable guy, and he encouraged everyone’s participation by playing games and showing funny, relatable scenes from movies. It’s where I became aware of the sleeper classic Office Space.
The first day of class he pointed to one of the attendees and asked him to explain how he gets up in the morning as if he was talking to someone who never did it before. We didn’t understand why he would ask such a question and how it could relate to project management. This attendee replied, “I have a cup of coffee and then brush my teeth.” The instructor looked puzzled. “Really?”
He pointed to someone else, asking the same question. She said, “I work out and then take a shower and get dressed.” He laughed, “That’s an interesting way of putting it.” He continued with a few more students. Many of them had similar stories. He seemed to be enjoying the responses but more in a you-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about kind of manner. Finally, he said, “I can’t believe this is the way you describe getting up in the morning. How do you get by every day?”
We all laughed a nervous laugh. What did he mean?
“Your explanations are unclear. How would a person who’s never done it before understand your instructions? The way I get up every morning is first, I stop the alarm clock from ringing by pressing the alarm’s button with my left pointer finger. Then I raise my body upward, put my left foot on the floor and swing my right leg around and put the right foot on the floor.”
We laughed again. What kind of class is this? We all know that’s essentially how just about every human gets up out of bed each day. Why would you need such a graphic explanation?
Explanations Need to be Clear
Why? Because we take for granted that what we instinctively know how to do – whether through intuition or experience – is something everyone knows. That may be true with something as simple as getting up in the morning, but it’s not true with the products, services, and software we offer as organizations.
If our customers can’t figure out where to start or how to use our solutions, then guess what! They are not using it. Not using it means they don’t need it. And that’s not the place where any of us want our customers to be.
That training course set the stage for me on giving clear instructions for others to follow. Sometimes, I forget those basic lessons. But any time I realize something wasn’t communicated efficiently, I revisit that course to set me back on the path again. It was the guiding pilot on how I set up our TruVoice Help Center a couple of years ago.
So what’s the best approach?
Show Customers How to Use Your Solution
The best place to start is with the basics. Yes, you may offer some really amazing bells and whistles with your product, which may even be a big selling point in your presentations. But most of your customers have to start from the beginning.
Here are 9 tips to get you started:
- Write each step it takes to accomplish your instruction in detail. The directions should be written to the least knowledgeable person. Those who are already familiar with your solution will glance over the details anyway.
- Only include one direction per step if possible.
- Keep these directions in consecutive order. No jumping around.
- Include an image with each step or combine a few steps in an image. If you combine steps, then label each part of the image with the applicable step number. I find that having the images to the left of the directions or below the directions to be the clearest way of demonstrating the instructions.
- Use clear language. This is not the place for flowery adjectives and company-specific verbiage.
- Bold key terms in the directions. This is typically meant for software instructions but can work for other types of guides as well. This is helpful for the skimmers – the ones who like to scan directions because they understand what they need to do, just need to know where to go, click, etc.
- For online instructions, include links to other instructions, definitions, or resources that may be of further assistance to the user. If the instructions are not available online, be sure to still reference other instructions and include where they are located.
- Keep the instructions short. Nothing scares off somebody faster than a 2,000 word discourse on how to do something. It’s better to break the instructions into smaller ones and have a series of instructions instead.
- Make a video. Sometimes you just need to see something in action to understand it. Short videos can demonstrate to your customers how to use your solution’s features. If you have the resources, you can create videos to accommodate your written instructions. You can use video recording/editing tools like Camtasia and Animoto to help you create a video of your instructions.
Remember: if it’s easy to use and learn, then they will be motivated to use it. Encouraged customers who are using your solution will want to keep coming back!
What’s your recommendation for teaching your customers to use your solution? Please share in the comments.