Technical Documentation Moves Toward Live Product Content

The Internet and mobile channels are fundamentally changing how customers expect to find and engage with information related to a company’s products. To provide an outstanding experience for their customers, a company must provide quick access to relevant, up-to-date technical information in compelling forms. By doing so, companies can increase revenues, improve out-of-box experience, increase self-service, drive down call center calls, and ultimately increase repeat buying and word of mouth recommendations.

To improve customer experience, companies are moving towards a practice of what might be labeled “live product content”. Live product content offers a number of valuable business benefits that cannot be achieved with traditional documentation.

Quick, Easy Access

Live product content is written in modular form. Modularity makes it possible for the customer to find the right information quicker, not having to search through long documents or scan through dozens of pages.

Targeted & Tailored Information

Product content can be assembled dynamically. Live product content is delivered in response to the customer’s question. As a result, the information can be tailored to that customer’s interest and background.

Content Stays Current

Live product content is fresh and up-to-date. In the traditional documentation model, PDFs or web pages were created at the time of a new product launch and not frequently updated. By contrast, by using a database of modular ‘live’ content that engages and interacts with a customer, your content can be refreshed at any time, never becoming stale or outdated. Updated information can be made available immediately to customers, and the customer will not be misled by outdated information. With this ability, companies have the perfect opportunity to increase customer self-service and deflect calls from the call center.

Visually Engaging

Live product content can be visually interesting. Traditional documentation has been static and text heavy. However, customers have increasingly become accustomed to watching video over the internet and on mobile devices. It is no longer adequate to write down the steps of a procedure. Customers will go to YouTube instead of a company’s website and watch someone else’s video illustrating how to troubleshoot a problem. The use of this type of customer generated content is useful, but companies want to own and control what is said about their products. Enabling video to be easily incorporated into their online documentation and managed easily is thus key to customer experience.

Two-Way Interaction

Live product content can enable feedback loops among customers, writers and product managers. Traditional documentation was one-way only – writers would write the documentation and publish it. They had no way of knowing whether any of the content was read, and if it was, whether it was helpful. Live product content changes all of this! Now it is possible to create feedback loops that enable customers to comment on information and provide feedback that goes directly to writers.

Communities Sharing Knowledge

Live product content gives companies the ability to engage their community of customers in the development of the content. Customers often become experts on the products they purchase and find ways to use the products that have never been documented by the company that sells them. This “communal knowledge” is very useful to other customers. While wikis and forums have served this purpose in recent years, they do not provide an easy way to combine “official” company information and informal communal knowledge. Live product content provides a vehicle whereby the blending of “authorized” (company) and “unofficial” (communal) knowledge can take place, and writing teams can set up processes whereby highly ranked “community” content can be curated and approved and eventually incorporated into official company information.

Enterprise-Wide Consistency

Live product content provides an opportunity to provide a single source of content ‘truth’ and eliminate redundant and inconsistent content across the enterprise. For historical reasons technical writing organizations, support, and training organizations all write their own content in parallel. The result is replication of content and the inability to keep that content synchronized. Without a single source of truth, customers find too many answers to their questions. When product content is modularized, it can be updated across the global organization simultaneously.

Easy Collaboration

Live product content allows for tribal knowledge to be more easily captured and shared. In traditional documentation processes, it is difficult for the subject matter experts (SMEs) or field service representatives to either contribute content to the process,or to comment on the content that has been developed, because it is in static forms. SMEs end up having to laboriously make comments on PDF documents. Knowledge from field service representatives who have practical knowledge about “how-tos” with a product rarely have feedback loops that return this knowledge to the writers. With live product content, both experts and field service representatives can find information more easily and provide feedback immediately and directly to content that is updated.

Revenue Opportunities

Live product content can be an upsell revenue opportunity . For example, imagine the person who comes to the website to figure out how to print a photo on a printer.That moment becomes an opportunity to tell the customer about a new camera or printer that makes it possible to print photos via Bluetooth. This shift to online product content blurs the earlier boundary between “pre” and “post” sales engagement.

For more information, see our blog “An Introduction to XML and DITA.”


Andrea is a Senior Technical Writer at Phoenix Technical Publications. Phoenix Tech Pubs has provided complete technical writing and documentation services in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 25 years.