Building the Business Case for Technical Communicators by Leveraging Talent, Skills and Passion

An Interview with Corey Ganser

Spend time with Corey Ganser, and you’re likely to start thinking “why can’t all customer support people be like Corey?”  He just gets it. And it’s the passion that drives everything he does at MindTouch. Corey is enthusiastic talking about how customer support should be and how his company excels at providing such exceptional help service products to popular companies we know, such as HP, PayPal, Toyota, Mozilla, Autodesk, even Microsoft, to name a few. At LavaCon, Corey shared his insights on how technical communicators must demonstrate to managers that they are a strategic component and valuable asset to the company: in marketing, revenue, documentation, and technical support.

Corey’s passion for helping people understand new technologies and complex matters led him to present at LavaCon this year. He’s also taught education on the side in his local community. His experiences led easily into customer help support. At MindTouch, Corey continues to assist in breaking down the most complex information into the simplest form for his audience to easily understand.

Early in our interview, Corey focused on how documentation is often perceived as an afterthought, and he pointed out that documentation picks up the deficiencies of a product. He explained that, under this perception, documentation enhances a product and that end-users hardly notice that it is a form of polish for the product. His issue with documentation as product polish is that it doesn’t necessarily help the user find the information they are truly seeking. “Are users able to get their answers right away?” he asked. Users may get frustrated with self-help documentation and resort to calling customer support to find their answers, which may be costly and time-consuming for the company to support.

Merging Traditional Department Roles

Corey sees technical communicators as playing an integral role in melding together marketing, documentation, and customer service into a unified system. He supports the notion that marketing, documentation, and customer service are actually one in the same. While each “department” in larger organizations does a specific set of tasks, he usually sees walls being built between departments, and each (important for developing, supporting, and marketing a product) hardly talks to the others. He notes that MindTouch is small enough that employees serve multiple roles and departments are merged together and information is freely available between the various departments.

As a result of blending, employees in these departments can work far more effectively by assisting one another with support, documentation, and marketing. For example, if a customer were to contact customer support and found a work-around for a product issue, customer support would have the ability to assist with updating documentation alongside the technical communicators who wrote the original help document. In turn, online documentation can also be a focal point for marketing new products to future customers.

Analytics and the Technical Communicators’ View of Content Strategy

He delved further into his understanding of content strategy and how it relates to demonstrating technical communicators’ value to upper management and gaining a larger role in the product development and support cycle.

Corey believes the core of content strategy is understanding the users’ needs and how documentation can best serve those needs. Part of the strategy he advocates is making the online help system an effective self-service tool for the user. He suggests that as technical communicators, we need to “understand what level users are willing to accept self-help” and ask the questions, “are users able to get their answer right away?” or are they engaging with an agent or chat with someone on the computer?

The other side of the story is to use analytics inside the help documents to review how users access the help files. “We should reduce barriers and build support into the documentation and lead users to find the right answer,” Corey says. Questions that technical communicators should be ask with online help documentation include “Is the documentation successful?”

The goal of analytics is not to specifically rate how well the technical communicator writes the documentation, but to prove how important the documentation is to the user and how it can be used to tie into the strategic value of a business. Most importantly–is the documentation written for a specific topic being read by the customer who uses that specific product?

This approach of using analytic data not only shows how the documentation is used by the customer, but can be utilized to detect whether users may have issues with a product before it becomes a large technical support problem. Companies can then reach out to their clients quickly and respond to questions in a timely manner. Additionally the analytics can be used to target their marketing efforts for other products to clients. For example, the company could offer a new and updated product to encourage clients to migrate to a newer system that has features they couldn’t find in older versions of the product. Corey reminds us that analytics helps identify new revenue opportunities because it gives the company a chance to find out what the user is looking for in their help files.

Importance of Content Planning

In addition to needs analysis and content analytics, Corey suggests that project managers need to include a content plan alongside the technology plan, financial plan, and product development plan. He points out that the content plan does need time to fully realize its value, and may need at least six months to a year worth of analytic data to “determine if the documentation is valuable and whether the information is useful” to present the successful business case for project managers.

Backed by the data, “technical communicators can sit at the big table with the managers,” Corey says, and prove themselves as valuable resources for the company. He notes that many technical communicators now have to wear multiple department hats in an organization and demonstrate they can understand support, sales, and product development. “Technical communicators should avoid hiding around in corners only writing documentation,” Corey emphasizes. Quantify the value of wearing multiple hats, and a technical communicator can show that their time, money, and energy are effectively being spent to benefit the company’s bottom line.

Corey concluded by recommending that technical communicators let managers know how their positions add value to the company in various aspects. “People need to re-define their contribution to a company as a technical communicator. For example they get caught up with buzzwords and they need to think strategically and think as a content strategist and think about how users can interact with the company who produces the product.”

 

Corey has been working at MindTouch for over five years as the Product Marketing Specialist. His experience with sales, marketing, and customer support are important aspects that technical communicators can learn from. He earned a degree in Entrepreneurship from the University of St. Thomas and has been in the field of business and IT for over 10 years.

Corey presented at LavaCon about content strategy, titled, “Who Cares About Your Content?” His session summary can be found at http://techwhirl.com/conferences/lavacon/lavacon-session-summary-corey-ganser-on-who-cares-about-your-content/

Twitter: @coreygans
Business Site: http://www.mindtouch.com/

Roger is relatively new to the technical communication field; however, he works extremely hard to network and develop professional relationships among colleagues. He also posts articles regarding technical communication on his blog at WriteTechie.com. If you are interested in hiring Roger, feel free to view his resume on LinkedIn.

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