Everyone loves self-service content. It’s a fabulous way to build trust with your customers and to help them find answers to their questions in a timely manner.
What happens, though, if the answer they get is for a part of your product that you changed six months prior? Will that help or harm your customer relationship? Will it answer their question? Or leave them confused and contacting your support team?
Keeping your documentation updated is vital. You don’t want your customers to end up lost. You don’t want them looking at instructions that don’t match the software in front of them.
There are only so many hours in the day, though. How do you decide which content to update and when to update it? How do you prioritize? How can you speed up your updates when the time comes?
Below are a handful of strategies you can take to keep things up-to-date. You don’t need to follow every step, though I would recommend it!
1. Write your resources with updating in mind
One of the single best things you can do to make your documents easier to maintain is to be constantly vigilant against repetition.
Every task or concept that you cover in your self-service content should live in one place. If you need to talk about the same task or concept somewhere else, link to it, don’t repeat it. Any bit of repetition that sneaks through means that you have to make two updates when something changes, instead of one.
Another thing to keep an eye on is screenshots. Your self-service content should have a good mix of text and screenshots. This will give you benefits of both structured copy (which improves scanability), and targeted screenshots (which can quickly clarify tricky steps in a process). Plus, breaking up monolithic chunks of text with screenshots also makes your content helpful to a variety of learning styles.
Making screenshots easier to maintain all comes down to making sure your screenshots are super-focused on a single element of the UI. If you punctuate every article with screenshots of whole screens, it’s both difficult for your reader to tell what they should be looking at, and means you’re more likely to have to update all of your images. If, on the other hand, you keep each screenshot cropped in on the particular element you’re highlighting (with a helpful arrow, for good measure), you’re less likely to have to update any screenshots but those that are directly affected by the update at hand.
For videos: Avoid narration that says, “click the green button that reads ‘this specific text'” and instead be more general. Allow the video to show the specifics.
For a screencast, if you can replace a bit of video when your UI has changed rather than re-doing the entire screencast, it will save loads of time. Videos are always a huge challenge to keep updated, so the more you can do to optimize for it the better.
2. Make documentation part of the product process
The best time to update your documentation is when the product is changing.
Ideally, this means whenever you have a new or overhauled feature being released, you’ll release new documentation alongside it. You’ll do this rather than waiting until you have time, which could end up days, weeks, or even months after the product release! This way your documentation doesn’t become majorly out-of-sync with your product.
Documentation should be a necessary step in your product process, like testing. Something you check off before a release can happen. This will ensure that the highest priority areas are updated.
Tying documentation to your product process tends to only drive major updates though–articles for new features rather than updates for small tweaks. However, if making documentation part of your product process works, you can expand it a bit. Use strategies 3 and 4 below to have a good idea of what self-service content you have. Then for any release made to the product verify if your documentation needs an update. If it does, make those changes necessary at the same time the software changes are released. If you can’t update right away, keep a running list of what was impacted and schedule in those changes.
The trick here is to get into a good flow of thinking about your self-service content as part of the product. Changes to the product are going to mean that content is out-of-date. Just like you’d want to fix other materials when changes impact them (sales materials, marketing, screenshots within the app, etc) you’ll want to update your self-service resources as well.
3. Use your self-service documentation internally
Your support team should be using your documentation. This doesn’t mean that they need to be reading it to get answers. However, they’ll be sending links to customers and will hopefully be writing it as well. The more internal team members use your content, the more people you’ll have who are familiar with that content and will help you keep track of what needs updating.
They’ll know offhand which articles they use on a regular basis. They’ll be able to pinpoint high priority articles that need to be changed. They can identify when articles aren’t working or spot subtle changes made in your software that have rendered them less helpful.
The trick here is to actively use this information. Your team should be talking about your documentation and other self-service content. They should have a way to tag articles that could use an update or notify someone that a change is needed. You could keep a Trello board of content that needs to be updated, or an on-going Slack chat of updates pending. Whatever works for you.
4. Do regular audits
If you’re already doing all of the above, then the last and often easiest step to take is to audit your existing documentation. Try using something like our Health Check template to help with this.
In general, the idea will be to check up on your content on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis. Take a look at your top articles and your least visited. See if those traffic patterns are changing. Did you have an article that received a high amount of traffic six months ago and now receives almost nothing? Take a deep-dive and find out why.
Use those audits to spot content that just needs to be removed because it’s outdated.
You should also keep track of every article you have and when it was last updated. If your knowledge base software doesn’t give you that information (sorting based on update date is great for this) you can set up a quick spreadsheet for a bit more manual approach.
Have 4 columns minimum. 1 for the title, 1 for the URL, 1 for the date it was last updated, and 1 for the date last reviewed. That way your team can deliberately take 5-10 minutes every week to quickly review a handful of articles. From there, they’ll either check them off as still being fine, or add them to a list to be updated when you have more time.
So there you have it!
Are you ready to keep improving your customer relationships and building customer trust? Do you want to make sure your self-service documentation can answer your customer’s questions the first time, rather than confusing them and driving them to contact your support team instead? Remember to follow these 4 steps:
Write your resources with updating in mind
Make documentation part of the product process
Use your self-service documentation internally
Do regular audits
There are still never going to be enough hours in the day to keep everything 100% current. But you can shoot for the highest percentage possible. Do you have any other tips? Let us know!