Technical writing can sell products and improve a company’s image with customers. Nothing is more annoying to a customer—and few things are complained about more—than manuals and instructions that are hard to follow and generate more questions than answers.
Since founding Canright Communications 20 years ago, I have seen technical writing and documentation as a critical sales and marketing tool. Good manuals reduce customer complaints, returns, and support calls.
At the same time, many companies have products that are difficult to understand. Complex software systems need demos. Complex hardware products often must be seen and used in person. Yet marketing and sales people need to generate appointments from website and print materials. Good technical communications can help here as well.
Two recent Canright Communications projects show how.
Reducing Product Returns
With an international market for its concrete testing devices, James Instruments faces the challenge of conveying product information and instructions to customers around the world, many of whom do not speak much English. The company’s existing manuals were written in English by engineers.
To the person who designs and works with a product, its features are obvious and don’t need to be explained. A case in point is the cord that comes with James Instrument’sMini R-Meter, one of the company’s most popular products. If you’re on a construction site, and the unit’s AA batteries run down, you can use the cord to plug it into the on-site generator and continue use.
Unfortunately, the cord looks like a cell phone recharging unit. Workers on a job site who didn’t prepare the unit for use would plug in the cord to recharge the batteries. Needless to say, they were unsuccessful and believed the unit was defective. James Instruments started to get returns, which are expensive when they come from overseas customers, as most of them did.
Given our distance from the product, we suggested that James Instruments add a page to the manual that shows clear drawings of each piece of the meter and defines it in simple terms. This included showing the battery opening on the back, so there would be little question to anyone, no matter what language they spoke, that the unit operated on AA batteries:
Improving Product Explanations
We used a similarly visual approach for a new product by our client Assistive Medical Equipment (AME) as a way to explain how the product works. AME created the EZRock™ Patient Transfer System, which allows caregivers to safely transfer their patients from wheelchair to bed and vice versa, with no lifting and back strain.
The product is difficult to explain verbally, and potential customers generally ask how it works. We decided that the website should answer that question—and thereby help AME get in-person demos—by using the step-by-step approach we take to our technical documentation. We used few words and relied on illustrations to show how the product works: