Like most business owners, you probably think of product documentation as an afterthought. It’s something you create when there’s time left over after everything else is finished.
When developing your product, you’ll band together some quick instructions to help users get off on the right foot, and away you go.
However, product documentation is one of the most important pieces of your business – it’s the bridge between your product and your customers. Failing to recognize the power behind product documentation can be catastrophic for your business and hold you in place when you should be soaring.
Read also; why technical documentation is important.
What is Product Documentation?
You know what it is, so I’ll keep this brief.
Product documentation is simply any sort of information that’s created to help customers understand and use your newly released or updated product.
This could be something as small as an FAQ page on your website or a detailed PDF manual that comes with a physical product. Generally, it falls into two categories:
|Online Documentation||Offline Documentation|
|Product walk-throughs||Product manuals|
|Video tutorials||Quick-start guides|
|A knowledge base||Warranty information|
|How-to guides||Back of the box details|
|Customer support team|
Any form of instruction technically counts as product documentation. Still, it’s clear there’s documentation that works and is fit for purpose and documentation that just isn’t good enough, but we’ll get into this correctly below.
You can use a tool like Docsie to create a document with ease.
Why do Businesses Need Product Documentation?
From a business standpoint, product documentation is important for a few reasons:
It saves you time
The greatest benefit is that it saves you time and money. Proper product documentation can drastically reduce the number of support calls and emails you get, saving you money.
This is because you’re putting the power of functionality into the hands of your users, and they can self-serve themselves. This means less time contacting you and asking you to walk them through the product, freeing up your support staff for other matters.
It increases customer satisfaction and loyalty.
If your customers can easily find the answers they’re looking for, they will be happier with your product – and your company.
When you provide someone with a product or service (such as a SaaS), most users just want to get stuck into the core of what you’re offering. They don’t want to sit on customer phone lines or hang out in a live chat. They just want to get on with things.
Proper, well thought out, and comprehensive product documentation allows for this to happen easily since they can self-service and know precisely how to get themselves set up and address potential issues they may be facing.
That’s because your product documentation is part of the product experience, not just an accessory or bolt-on to it.
Think about how Apple and Google do this with their product packaging, like what it’s like to open a new iPhone.
It’s sleek and minimalistic, yet it’s effective. It tells you quickly and easily everything you need to know about the product without being overwhelming. That’s what you should be aiming for with your product documentation.
Since customers have a good experience with your product, this, in turn, leads to customers being more likely to recommend you and continue using your product or service. This can boost your reputation and increase your success as a business, whatever metric you use.
It improves customer support
Product documentation can also help improve customer support by providing a central place for all the answers to common questions.
I’m not so much talking about the included documentation, but instead, what is now more common is to provide product documentation with the product that can help the user get set up and address the most basic issues they may come across.
If the user wants any more help, they’ll usually be directed to the product’s knowledge base online, which will have more extensive content.
This online knowledge still counts as product documentation and is all part of the product’s experience, so you must consider this!
Take the Google Support base, for example.
It doesn’t matter what product you’re having problems with or what you’re trying to do, the knowledge base is laid out in a ridiculously easy and powerful way that helps give users what they need to get results.
Ultimately, this is the ideal scenario since customers can solve their problems without assistance.
Why do Customers Need Product Documentation?
Effective product documentation is not just a way for users to understand how to turn their devices on or where to put the batteries. It’s so much more than that, and still, so many businesses fail to recognize this. Thus, they continue to publish subpar product documentation that does their business no favors.
Product documentation is powerful stuff for a few reasons;
1. It helps them understand your product
Product documentation is essential for helping customers understand how your product works and what they can do with it. They might buy your product for one reason, but educating them on the full potential of your product makes them feel as though they are benefitting from serious value-for-money and opens so many doors in how they can make the most of your product experience.
The more educated your users are, the more they’ll engage and interact with your product, and the more valuable they’ll find your business. This is how you create loyal, returning customers!
2. It saves them time
Just like fantastic product documentation saves you time, it also saves your user’s time! Rather than contacting customer support or searching through forums for help, they can simply consult your product documentation and find the answer they’re looking for.
What Makes Good Product Documentation?
Okay, let’s get into the core of this post. What makes effective product documentation? Why can’t you just type up a list of instructions and frequently asked questions and be done with it?
Well, you could, in theory, but it won’t serve you. Again, your product documentation is a core part of your product experience, and this can’t be stated enough. The two complements each other, rather than the documentation being a mere accessory or optional extra.
There are a few things that make good product documentation:
1. It’s easy to find
Product documentation should be easy for customers to find. The last thing you want is for customers to give up on trying to find answers because they can’t locate your documentation. Make sure it’s easily accessible from your website, product interface, or packaging.
2. It’s comprehensive
Product documentation should be comprehensive and cover all your product’s major features and use cases. If you have a complex product, consider creating multiple levels of documentation (e.g., beginner, intermediate, and advanced) to make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for.
This is where having a detailed, extensive, yet easily navigable digital knowledge base comes into play. You can’t physically have manuals as thick as books delivered alongside them for physical products. You must find the right balance that works for you, your target audience, and your specific product.
3. It’s up to date
Product documentation should be kept up to date with the latest changes to your product. If you release new features or make changes to existing ones, be sure to update your documentation accordingly. This will help ensure that customers always have accurate information about your product.
4. It’s well-written
Product documentation should be well-written and free of technical jargon. Remember that your documentation will likely be the first impression customers have of your product, so make sure it’s clear and concise.
You don’t want to overload the user or stress them over not understanding what to do. While Ikea flatpack instructions are a little renowned in a funny way for this, it doesn’t apply to every business.
A SaaS user, for example, doesn’t want to go out of their way to figure out how to make things work. They understand there’s a learning curve, but they want to onboard as quickly as possible.
As a business, this is precisely what you want as well. Happy, functioning customers that are integrated into your business as effortlessly as possible. It’s up to you to make that happen.
Also, a bit of a top tip here.
Make sure you’re writing for your target audience. If you’re writing instructions for a kid’s board game, you’re going to need to write in a way that they understand. This is far different to how you would write instructions for accounting software, for example.
How to Create Your Successful Product Documentation
I could make a complete guide on how to make product documentation in a step-by-step guide, but the truth is that there are so many variables. What works for a competitor business’s product may not work for you in terms of style and design.
Some products require literal manuals (such as manufacturing printing machines on a factory level), and others will excel with a simple flashcard of need-to-know points. It depends on you.
However, creating successful product documentation doesn’t have to be complicated. Just follow these simple tips to assist you in the process.
1. Keep it organized
Product documentation should be well-organized and easy to navigate. Consider using headings, subheadings, and table of contents to help customers find what they’re looking for.
2. Make it visual
Product documentation should be visually appealing and easy to understand. Use images, screenshots, and videos to supplement your text and help explain complex concepts. Remember, good product documentation is all about conveying as much valuable information as possible in the easiest way, so use images to achieve this.
3. Use proper tools
While you could just open a Word document to write up your product documentation, you’re going to need it to look the part. This means you should use proper tools to create the ideal documentation that’s fit for purpose.
Here are some tools that may help:
- Documentation creation tools like Docsie to help streamline and automate the entire end-to-end process
- AI writing tools, like Jasper, to help write the content
- Piktochart for creating graphics and visuals
- Tools like Grammarly for checking the accuracy and professionalism of the final content
4. Write for your audience
Product documentation should be written for your target audience. Avoid using technical jargon or overly complicated language. Instead, focus on making your documentation clear and concise.
5. Keep it up to date
Product documentation should be kept up to date with the latest changes to your product. This will help ensure that customers always have accurate information about your product. This can take time, but as long as you’re organized and productive with your approach, you should be able to find a workflow that works for you.
Over to You
Product documentation is essential for businesses and customers alike.
Answering common questions and issues can boost customer satisfaction and repeat business. Creating successful product documentation is not difficult, but it does require some planning and effort.
Be proactive in your approach, and you can be sure to reap the many benefits that product documentation has to offer.