Updated: Apr 23, 2020
By Lauren Thibodeau and Donna Weber. First published on the Customer Education Management Association blog.
According to McKinsey and IDC, knowledge workers spend on average 19% of their working time - about a day a week - just looking for information, not actually doing productive work. That’s staggering for a few reasons, not least of which is the math. Let’s take a company with 100 employees who each earn an average salary of 80K per year. If they all spend a day a week searching for information, with mixed results of finding what they’re looking for, that’s $1.6M a year in lost productivity, for that company alone. Employees could have been doing higher value work. And take this real-life example: a company founder who was known to spend half days looking for documents in corporate systems to share with new employees, only to come up empty handed. What was even more frustrating: he wrote those documents, so he knew they were there!
For tech companies looking to educate users on their products, maximize customer adoption, and minimize churn, this is a serious problem from both a customer perspective and a business perspective.
Let’s start with the three key areas of customer pain:
Barrier to elevating skills and product usage. How can customers gain the skills and knowledge to do their jobs better and get value from using your product, when they need to hack through an overgrown jungle of content to find what they need? When you have multiple systems to search, and no map or prescriptive path to guide them, customers get frustrated. When they do find content, it can be outdated and use inconsistent terminology which leads to confusion. When customers can’t find what they need to use your product effectively, odds are they won’t adopt it, get value, or renew. And then you have a churn problem on your hands.
Over reliance on people. When customers can’t find what they need quickly and easily, they reach out to customer support and success organizations, or other “smart humans” in your company that can answer their questions. This causes friction and frustration for customers, who need to stop what they’re doing, to try to get hold of someone who can help them.
Customers give up. This is perhaps the most serious of all. One of Lauren’s favorite questions to ask customers is this: “If you had a magic wand to change anything about our company what would it be?” One customer, having no knowledge of what part of the company Lauren led at the time replied, “I’d make it 100 times easier to find information online so I could solve issues myself. I’m pretty resourceful, so I plow through and try to figure things out. But my team has given up looking. And as a result, I’m 100% sure we’re not using your product to its full benefit.” Yikes! Of course, we did make it 100 times easier, starting with the steps we outline in Part 2 of this blog, but likely not before a number of users hit rock bottom and gave up. And as we know, bringing users back is exponentially harder than keeping them engaged in the first place.
Customers are not the only ones who suffer, tech companies feel the pain internally when they live in a content jungle. Your company may suffer from one or more of these painful symptoms:
Inefficiency and duplication of effort. While employees and teams have the best intentions, without good coordination and communication, they fall into the bad habit of duplicating efforts and creating similar content in different formats. Take the real-life example of a company Donna works with that had three completely different Getting Started content sets on three different platforms, developed by three different teams. The company had great intentions: everyone wanted to help new customers get off to a great start. However, the end result was internal inefficiency and confusion for customers given the different Getting Started content used different terminology. Who has the time to duplicate what other teams are building?
Wasted investment in overlapping tools. It’s natural in the early days when a company is growing fast to secure the tools people need in the moment to get the job done. However, over time this can lead to a tangled jungle of overlapping systems, and a higher than necessary IT bill. Lauren and Donna both see companies with multiple LMS systems, multiple video creation and editing platforms, numerous survey and feedback tools, and dozens of content creation tools. And not because the needs of the internal teams are vastly different, but because they didn’t coordinate their tool selection efforts. As a result, companies pay for more systems than they need to. In addition, they lose the opportunity to easily track the customer digital journey and the impact of the content on their product usage and renewal likelihood.
Maintenance burden. Maintaining overlapping tools and content creates a maintenance burden on teams that are already stretched. A tangled jungle of overlapping systems often needs custom integrations and/or complex extract-transform-load processes in order to stitch customer data together across disparate systems, and to make sense of who is consuming what content. New product releases add a ripple effect on existing content, requiring updates to keep the content current. When that content is owned by authors across the company, who may or may not have a well-oiled content maintenance process or the time to do the updates, contently quickly becomes stale and out of date. When Donna talked to a customer of a company she works with, they shared, “Support is fabulous, and I use them a lot, not just to deal with what’s broken and needs fixing, but as my main learning tool.” They declared that while they prefer to be self-serving, the online content they found is usually out of date, so they go straight to the help desk. While this might be helpful for this customer, what are the costs for the company?
Does this sound familiar? Don’t despair! You’re not alone. In the “everyone is an author” era, where well-intentioned people and teams are doing whatever it takes to help customers succeed, this is the norm rather than the exception. The good news is that by following the logical steps we outline in Part 2, you can start to tame your content jungle. And the sooner you start, the better off you and your customers will be.