10 Ways to Elevate Your Product Manual  And Drive Enduring Customer Success

March 13, 2023
Carolyn Parent

What makes product documentation stand out? Experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute share their insights 

Around 30,000 new products are launched each year — and that means brands are investing vast amounts of time and money publishing and distributing countless product manuals, many of which ultimately go unread.

Nobody understands how much of a missed opportunity that is better than the experts behind the Good Housekeeping Institute, who for more than 123 years has been meticulously researching and recognizing the best new products in categories ranging from cleaning gadgets to kitchen gear, and from fitness equipment to family cars. 

As part of the evaluation process for several of the Good Housekeeping Awards’ programs, Good Housekeeping leverages Conveyer’s AI-powered solution to digitize product manuals from candidates, making it far easier to quickly assess a product and get to grips with its full range of features. Using digital documentation also empowers the Good Housekeeping team to more effectively compare, assess, and fact-check manuals and other critical documentation, helping to ensure the products they recommend support users across the entire customer lifecycle.

We asked the Good Housekeeping Institute experts to share their thoughts on what makes digital documentation stand out, based on their experience in evaluating numerous products across a wide range of categories. Just as with paper manuals, accuracy and clarity are table-stakes, of course — but to dazzle today’s consumers, it’s also vital to use smart design and new technologies to make digital solutions more accessible, engaging, and dynamic.  

Brands that get this right have a chance not just to impress the Good Housekeeping Institute team, but also to build more powerful and enduring relationships with customers, driving innovation and unlocking important new revenue streams. Below are 10 key insights brands can use to elevate their digital documentation to drive enduring customer success.

1. Forget PDFs — deliver a digital-first solution

The PDF version of your paper manual might look fine on a big desktop screen, but on a tablet or smartphone the tiny text becomes hard to read or navigate. The goal should be to create intuitive digital experiences that users can access easily via touchscreen mobile devices, enabling them to access information wherever and whenever they need it.

🔎“What we need are ways to filter all the info in product manuals so that the most practical and helpful items float to the top, or easier ways to search the vast amount of info contained in manuals to find exactly what you need,” says Good Housekeeping Home Improvement & Outdoor Director Dan DiClerico.

Creating digital-first solutions also lets brands offer far more dynamic and useful content, including how-to videos, animated diagrams, or even augmented-reality tools to help users quickly achieve their goals. 

2. Bake QR codes into the user experience

Instant access is the name of the game for digital documentation, and scannable QR codes — now favored by three-quarters of U.S. consumers — are a great way to steer users to the information they need. To make your brand stand out, the key is to integrate codes into the user experience: not an afterthought, but an intuitive way for users to access the salient information they need. 

⭐️“To me, product information is an important way for a manufacturer to represent themselves to consumers and leave a great impression,” says Good Housekeeping Home Care & Cleaning Lab Executive Director Carolyn Forté. “It needs just as much attention as the website.” 

Creative code placement and eye-catching visual design can surface customized QR codes at different stages of the user journey. A code placed on external packaging might convey sales messages; another inside the box might link to warranty information or a quickstart guide; and others on the product itself might help users unlock advanced features or access aftermarket support and community resources. 

3. Deliver a stellar onboarding experience 

Traditional product documentation is designed to be exhaustive, but new users are easily deterred by overly detailed documentation. In fact, a third of consumers are unlikely to buy products if the instructions are complex or hard to understand. 

Digital solutions can help brands make a great first impression, with custom QR codes linking to a simple quick-start guide to help new users to quickly begin experiencing your product. Once you’ve gotten a new user hooked, additional QR codes and links within your quickstart guide can help them to discover new features and find additional reasons to love your product. 

🍳“When it comes to kitchen appliances, it’s extremely helpful to have a quick-start guide,” says Kitchen Appliances & Innovation Lab Director Nicole Papantoniou. “We also look for cooking tips and charts to help customers use their new product easily and to its maximum capacity. User guides that offer all these factors score higher in our testing.” 

4. Speak your customers’ language 

Nearly 74 percent of consumers are more willing to make repeat purchases from brands that offer post-sale support in their preferred language — but with hundreds of different languages spoken in the United States alone, there’s no practical way to offer paper documentation in every language spoken by your users.

Digital tools make this easier: once a customer indicates their preferred language, you can make customized resources available seamlessly. The days of having to distribute bulky small-print paper manuals repeating the same information in multiple languages are gone: digital solutions let brands connect every user with the exact information they need, in the format and language that suits them best.

Make sure any translations are carefully proofread and completely accurate, though.

“I’ve come across a lot of user manuals that are filled with grammatical errors, to the point where instructions are nonsensical,” DiClerico warns. “These manuals were clearly written by non-native speakers. It reflects poorly on the overall quality and reliability of the product.”

5. Provide over-the-air documentation updates 

There’s nothing worse than a manual that contains inaccurate or outdated information — but printing new editions of paper manuals is a costly business, and doesn’t help customers who already received previous versions. 

Brands should use digitization as an opportunity to elevate that experience, and ensure that both new and existing customers always have access to the most up-to-date documentation. Recalls, bug fixes, and newly developed best practices can be shared seamlessly and at negligible cost, giving customers a better experience and boosting brand loyalty over the entire lifetime of the product.

⚠️“If a product is recalled due to a safety or performance flaw, the consumer needs to be notified quickly and directly. There are many dangerous products out there, simply because homeowners and consumers aren’t aware of the issue,” says DiClerico. 

6. Make your customers feel heard

Feeling heard and understood is consumers’ top priority when seeking customer support, so it’s essential that brands use digitization to cultivate real engagement, rather than simply replicating the passive paper-manual experience via digital channels.

Targeted discovery tools that quickly surface salient, bite-sized content instead of simply linking to PDFs or long blocks of generic text can help customers to feel a brand truly understands their journey. Digital solutions can also connect users with human support agents, or peer-to-peer support via user forums and other community features, to provide a more interactive and engaging experience. 

7. Support your customers’ evolving needs 

A paper manual is a one-time connection with your customer, but digital documentation can evolve alongside the user to support their changing needs — from help getting started, to support unlocking advanced features, to warranty information and troubleshooting guides, and eventually options for replacing or upgrading their product.  

Remember, three-quarters of consumers prefer to solve problems for themselves. Give your users self-serve tools designed to meet them where they are — then use that continuing relationship to drive lasting brand loyalty and unlock new upsell and revenue opportunities over time.  

ℹ️The key is to tailor the information you’re presenting to a customer’s immediate needs, Forté says. “Remember, a great manual enhances the consumer’s experience by providing helpful information, while a poor one can leave consumers frustrated."

8. Support field technicians, not just customers 

Product information isn’t there just to support customers — it needs to help technicians to fix problems fast, without the need for multiple visits. Research shows that a high first-time fix rate is associated with far higher customer retention, driving bottom-line benefits for brands.  

To help technicians, equip devices with QR codes linking to model-specific documentation, and consider adding online tools to rapidly identify and order the correct replacement parts for a given product. 

9. Turn engagement data into a superpower

With digital tools, every query becomes a data point — so make sure you’re capturing that data to shape your product roadmap, identify and solve common customer pain points, and elevate the user experience.

According to Accenture, companies see 10X higher revenue growth when they use customer support data to drive product development. Documentation engagement metrics are a critical resource as brands work to improve both their products and the customer experience.

10. Create a personalized customer experience

Paper manuals deliver a uniform experience to every customer — but digital resources can be personalized and enriched based on your evolving understanding of a customer’s specific use-cases, needs, and preferences.

👥“Manuals and documentation that connect with consumers and personalize their experience with an appliance leave a good impression, and make them feel the company appreciates the purchase and is with and behind them,” Forté explains.

That’s a big opportunity: according to Gartner, brands lose 38% of customers due to messaging that isn’t tailored to the user’s individual journey. Digital product instructions are a stepping-stone to a deeper relationship, allowing brands to organically surface personalized upsell opportunities and other add-ons tailored to a customer’s immediate needs. 

The modern post-sales customer channel

Product manuals have long been treated as an afterthought — a necessity, but not a significant driver of brand value. In the digital era, that’s changing: today, well-managed digital information is a critical asset for both users and brands. 

At Conveyer, we’re working with leaders like Good Housekeeping to create dynamic online experiences that drive customer success and help brands to elevate post-sales customer interactions. Get in touch with the Conveyer team today to find out more.