Backchannel content development


“SquabSafe, Inc.” develops security systems that enable remote monitoring of homes. The technical communication group at SquabSafe writes content that becomes PDF guides and online help.

The problem

The PDF guides and help files contain some content that is useful to both end users and the technical support team, but overall, the official SquabSafe content does not include realistic examples or configuration scenarios that customers request when calling support. Also, the PDF and help formats are hard to search, which makes it difficult for the support team to find information during calls.

To make it easier to find information, the support team copies and pastes content from the guides and help into their own online support system. Support staffers then augment that information with real-life examples based on the calls they receive. They have also begun to write new content, often duplicating (and contradicting) information in the official documentation.

There is no mechanism to move content created by technical support into the official product content.


The solution

The root cause of this problem is that the formal content development process at SquabSafe is producing information that is not useful to the content consumers (in this case, the technical support staff). The technical communication group is hemmed in by a time-consuming review process and a lack of knowledge about the real-world examples that technical support needs. The technical support group ignores the official content because it doesn’t meet their needs; the technical communication group resents the fact that the technical support group is producing rogue content without any quality control.

This situation, in which two (or more) teams duplicate information in order to address different requirements, is quite common. Correcting it requires much better alignment between the teams:

  • Eliminate duplicate content creation. Writing the same content twice is a waste of resources. The technical support group will take on responsibility for examples and configuration scenarios, and will store them in their article database. The technical communication group will write core product information, and will incorporate changes and updates provided by the technical support team.
  • Improve findability of technical content. The official technical content needs to provide excellent information retrieval options (search, indexing, findability, links, and the like). Content consumers (including the technical support staff) need the ability to filter according to product lines, product versions, support staff access levels, and so on.
  • Provide an efficient review and commenting system. Because the support staffers spend a great deal of time talking to end users, they develop a deeper understanding of how customers are really using the product line. The support team will have the ability to review content under development and the official published information will have a commenting system, so that readers can provide feedback.

Solution to align tech comm and tech support teams

The business case

Internal customers, especially call center staff, spend a lot of time looking for information in technical content, which they need to pass on to customers. Improving the search experience and efficiency will result in cost savings in the call center. Assume that you have the following situation:

  • Number of call center employees: 50
  • Time spent for a single search in the current system (searching for content, opening PDF files, and searching again): 10 minutes
  • Time spent in the new system (web search with HTML results): 30 seconds
Table 1. Cost estimate for creating HTML version of technical content
Item Cost
New authoring/publishing system that supports single-sourcing and collaborative review $100,000
Web site design, including desktop and mobile $15,000
Set up automated process to create HTML from source files $15,000
Configure search $10,000
Training on new tools and technologies $8,000
Content conversion $100,000
TOTAL $248,000
The calculations look something like this:

Table 2. Improving search efficiency for call center
Current system New system
Time required per search 10 minutes 0.5 minutes
Number of searches per employee, per day 10 10
Total time required per employee, per day 100 minutes 5 minutes
Time saved, per employee, per day 95 minutes
Time saved for all call center employees, per day 4,750 minutes (79 hours)
Cost savings per day (assumes $25 per hour for call center employee) $1,975
Cost savings per year (200 working days) $395,000

Even without calculating the time regained by avoiding content duplication, SquabSafe can easily justify the new system.


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