I’m writing this in a theater that’s filling up with people. I’m here for my youngest daughter’s dance recital. She’s dancing in two groups, both at the very end of the first act. I’ve got a long time to wait.
That’s making me think about patience: how much I have, and what I’m willing to spend it on. This also goes back to my previous post, and I was thinking about patience there, too. In that case, your users don’t have much. And we can’t expect them to, because they’ve have a question or a problem that’s preventing them from doing their work. They don’t want a book at that point. They want a quick answer that’s more convenient than contacting customer support.
As Mark and Craig pointed out in the comments, that has little or nothing to do with FAQs specifically, and everything to do with providing relevant and concise information.
But blah blah minimalism blah…we know this, right? This isn’t a surprise. But two factors are really pushing for even more minimal minimalism: Agile development and user impatience.
Maybe users have always been impatient. I remember spending more time reading manuals, or at least flipping through them more often, then I do now. But I’m no longer a new user (even if I am), and I race through getting started guides looking for the key pieces of information.
And I get frustrated when I can’t immediately identify that info and have to wade through filler text.
Yes, I’m sure the product is awesome, but stop telling me and show me what it can do. And don’t congratulate me for making such a wise decision by purchasing your product. I’ll be able to judge the wisdom of that myself. If you want to show me a video, make sure it’s relevant and no more than 3 minutes long.
What’s the path of least resistance?
The real question is what’s easiest for the user: Looking up info in the docs, pushing buttons in the software until I get a good result, or contacting support?
The answer should be the help content (tooltips, help topics, usage videos, possibly even a PDF). That will make the customer support team happier, and is most cost-efficient for your company. Customer support agents are slightly less happy when they have to look up info in the docs for the customers and send them very polite RTFM responses. Support isn’t happy at all when that information doesn’t exist in the docs at all, but that’s when you acknowledge the problem and add that to your list of tasks.
A customer who fends for themselves is either going to become an expert very quickly, or they’ll decide that your product isn’t worth the trouble. Then you and your UI team need to have a long talk about usability.
(As an aside, one of my favorite bits of insight from the Write the Docs conference came from Alex Gaynor: “Documentation partners with design to create usability.” So heck yes usability is also your responsibility!)
Let me apply this concept to this post: Write for the impatient customer. Create content for the user who is on the edge of giving up out of frustration and (metaphorically) throwing your product against the wall.