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4 Benefits of Creating Digital User Manuals for Customers and Internal Use

Delany M Jan 16, 2020

As the tongue-in-cheek adage warns, build something foolproof, and nature will cheerfully build a bigger fool. As companies scramble to keep their liability as minimized as possible, broader markets and more aggressive distribution opportunities are ratcheting up potential risk by sheer consumer volume. When each unit shipped represents an uptick, however slight, in potential headline-crashing misuse or breakage, preemptive instruction becomes vital.

With only so much room in and on the packaging, how can a company possibly deliver comprehensive instructions and cautions to their customers? This is a particularly concerning issue when problems arise. With information in hand, potential damages can be avoided or remedied, many without requiring the resources a recall (voluntary or otherwise) would demand.

Printing Deadlines Miss User Experience

Before a product hits shelves or starts shipping direct to consumer, the packaging and inserts need to be confirmed. That means that, even if robust beta testing is performed, there's an outsized chance the first wave of customers will notice something detrimental or unclear. Clarifying these issues can benefit an entire product lifecycle:

  • When a correction is made that reliably reaches the customer, their use of the product changes for the better. This takes pressure off of reverse logistics / returns and benefits your company and product perception along the way. In short, more information means less breakage, warranty turn-ins, and replacement labor.
  • It allows your company to highlight future complementary products. For example, a new specialized machinery grease for a mechanical product, or new attachments for a base product. This encourages cross-sales through a passive, consumer-driven experience.
  • It can prevent a "cascade effect" if a liability issue arises. Unless every sale is made through your website directly, it can be challenging to locate every single consumer of your product. With a digital instruction manual, the onus can be placed on the consumer at the outset - keep this website bookmarked, and put in your email address for updates - so that you can proactively reach an entire customer base if a recall or replacement need arises.

It Ensures Nothing is "Lost in Translation"

A digital "living" instruction or product manual can be adjusted, supplemented, and altered in ways a physical booklet simply can't. If your customer service phone number changes in a move, or a .com catchall domain email address changes in a merger, booklets for long-running products become instantly obsolete. This leads to buyer frustration and a diminished consumer perception of your brand. Likewise, if you choose to expand distribution to another company, the cost to change your printing process or insert new booklets in thousands of product boxes starts to chip away at the bottom line. In contrast, getting a product booklet rendered in a different language and putting a translation button on the informational webpage is low-cost and easier by orders of magnitude.

This option also opens up accessibility for product use and information: properly formatted, screen readers, contrast settings, and other accessibility functions can be used by a blind or visually impaired consumer. Not only will this cast your company in an inclusive spotlight, it will also help you stay ahead of regulations that may require this accessibility in the future.

Product Demonstrations Won't Fit in the Box

Unless your company is tucking a tablet into every box, chances are that your in-box user manuals are currently in a paper format. That means that your customers are forced to rely on the instructional interpretations of your technical writer - and if something doesn't resonate, you could be looking at a return. Digital user manuals allow easy incorporation of instructional videos, both embedded or as URLs that can be shared on social media or by other means and platforms. This not only gives a valuable tool directly to your customer, it also gives your customer service team an instant resource for troubleshooting. Ensure that closed-captions accompany your product videos and you'll also be reinforcing that inclusive marketing that began with making your manual accessible to screen readers.

Because your customers are already using a digital device like a computer, laptop, or smartphone, they're already in a position to access and watch your videos. Direct your consumers to a social media channel to watch your video(s), and you'll be passively increasing your views and follower counts with every product sale. Make your instructional videos interesting, informative, or thought-provoking enough and your humble user manual might even go viral and net some free advertising!

The Potential for Eco-Friendly Cost Reduction

Ethical practices are a skilled point of differentiation in a crowded market, and there's an excellent opportunity for a win-win scenario with digital user manual creation. If you incorporate a simple URL on your packaging itself, you can potentially remove your user booklets entirely, or replace them with a single sheet of basic information. To the customer, this step can be framed as "cutting down on waste" or "saving trees," but to your company's bottom line, it also represents a substantial reduction of printing cost. You'll be able to enjoy consumer accolades of eco-friendly production while reaping the cost-saving benefits internally.

Creating a digital user manual tells your customers: we care about your product experience, and we want to make sure you can easily find the information you need. Booklets become lost, destroyed, or outdated, but online versions remain easy to locate through moves, secondhand sales, and more.

A modern approach to information protects both your relationship with your consumers and your product integrity at every stage of its lifecycle, giving you complete creative control of future incarnations. Your company and your products grow and change with each success - so make sure your product manuals do too.

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