Q Thoughts

Give Manuals Their Due!

by Connie Johnson

It’s about time product manuals got their due! A recent story on Forbes.com talks about how companies should change their view on product documentation from, at best, a necessary evil and instead view them as an asset that can improve the business.

At OwnerIQ we’ve believed that for quite some time and we have the data to prove it.

There are two broad reasons why companies, especially consumer product manufacturers and retailers, should take a more strategic view of their documentation.

First, Cost Control

Manufacturers and retailers incur costs from poor or inaccessible documentation everyday in the form of expensive product support calls and product returns.

Products are becoming increasingly complex. Continual improvements in electronics places more on-board computing power on most products which leads to increased functionality, usually in the form of more features. Anyone who has recently purchased a dishwasher or a washing machine, two products that have traditionally had straightforward features, is intimately familiar with the explosion of settings and options in even middle-of the-road versions of these appliances.

How do consumers learn about these features? One way is through the product documentation, preferably online. We did a survey when we first launched our ManualsOnline site and asked 2,700 people how they learned about their products and how they troubleshoot problems. The stunning finding was that 77% of respondents said that learning about features was the most frequent reason for consulting a user manual.

If consumers can’t get at the information they need and they pick up the phone, it’s a margin disaster for the manufacturer. Because manufacturer margins on some technology products are already so thin, one call to technical support can wipe-out the margin entirely.

According to a Forrester study, calls into a call center average $5.50 per call and go as high as $50 per contact. For complicated technical support the cost of a call can go even higher.

If consumers can’t figure out how to make the product they just bought do what they want they are also liable to return it. According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), 8% of all CE products are returned. In some categories, such as video, the return rate is as high as 13%. According to the study, 36% of the products are returned because they didn’t work as expected. Put another way, consumers were either misled about features going in, or couldn’t get those features to work once they owned it.

Better and more accessible documentation, in the form of manuals, FAQs and wikis among other things, has direct improvement on margins and the supply chain.

Improving the Top Line

The fact that documentation can improve margins and reduce returns is pretty clear-cut. What’s less appreciated among marketers inside manufacturers and retailers is the impact that product documentation and self-support material can have on the top-line of a manufacturer.

Aaron Fulkerson in his story on Forbes.com says that fully 70% of the qualified leads that his company receives come from organic search traffic and that his online product documentation is directly responsible for generating half of his entire site traffic.

Given the online path-to-purchase, we also see that product documentation can be effective online traffic generators for manufacturers and retailers if managed correctly. The product support content usually has both the largest and sharpest search footprint. For example, listing manuals in ManualsOnline.com can immediately increase the visibility of this content and drive more traffic to a manufacturer.

Consumers are also increasingly using product documentation in a pre-sales capacity. In our survey consumers cited the importance of reviewing the manual prior to purchase (13.6%) and using the manual to check compatibility with other products, (19.5%).

At OwnerIQ, we’ve also created a way for a manufacturer or retailer to leverage the online traffic generated from product documentation. OwnerIQ enables a manufacturer to message consumers again after viewing online product documentation. We have partners using the capability to build their email lists, drive consumers into channel or up-sell the consumer on accessories – all top-of-funnel objectives supported by product documentation.

We’ve produced a short video that illustrates how it works.

In the search driven online path-to-purchase, product documentation is the most effective tool for getting a consumer to your site, educating them and now, with OwnerIQ’s channel marketing service, driving them in-channel to actually buy.

Categories:Posts from 2010


One thought on “Give Manuals Their Due!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *