Quick question: When you use Microsoft Word, do you use the built-in styles to add formatting and layout options to your documents? Or do you simply open a new document and start typing away, clicking the bold or bullet list buttons to change the way your text appears?
In the 30+ years it has been around, I'll bet that only a small percentage of users realize that you can use the styles to format the look and layout of your documents (and an even smaller group know how to set it all up correctly). This is a perfect example of how and why documentation is critical to successful customer adoption. MS Word continues to be useful to customers because it works even if you don't use the complex features it has (like styles), but your own software product may not be so lucky.
Plant the seeds for customer adoption early
Documentation helps avoid the dreaded "monthly churn" for SaaS companies because it encourages software adoption right from the start. Which means that your onboarding process must be comprehensive enough to start customers off on the path the right way. By understanding what your customer's desired outcome for using your product is, you'll be able to encourage their adoption by providing them with documentation that supports it.
Give your customers documents that are not only functional, but that also help them achieve their desired outcomes. Start with the user manual, but don't forget the customized training for workflows or customer situations that apply to them.
Produce a variety of training material
Adoption can be a natural process for your customers when you give them training materials that are easy to digest. The days of the long printed workbook or 3-hour training video are long gone, so use the same principles of readability you'd use in your marketing assets to engage customers. They'll appreciate the different type of content that you publish and will be more likely to understand it and your products. That's things like short-form videos, screencasts, infographics, and more.
Convert customers into power users
As customers become more familiar with you and your products, they'll want to dive deeper into the functionality it offers. Your documentation can help "suggest" those complex features to them, slowly turning them into power users on their schedule. After all, you built the functionality into the software for a reason, so why not help them use it?
Make your documents available for free
It makes sense to provide documentation to customers, but it also makes sense to offer it to prospects and leads too. According to Gartner, many buyers are more than half way through their buying decision before actually speaking to a vendor. That means many of your potential customers are looking at your products before you can engage them directly.
Give away your product documents for free through your blog, as a free download, as a one-pager at live events like conferences and trade shows, and on your social media accounts.
Sure, as a former technical writer who used to spend her days writing and creating user manuals and help files, I'm a big fan of documentation. But as I work more with customer education pros and customer success teams, I'm discovering how it's an integral part of customer adoption and how it creates a more positive customer experience. Documentation can have a direct impact on a company's bottom line as it helps foster a deeper relationship between a customer and a product, creating power users and brand advocates. Who knew?