Integrating Documentation and User Experience
“We have really taken the documentation on demand thing to heart. We try to get the documents into the system right at the moment they are needed.”
Many companies don’t create documentation at all. Others create a documentation page on their site and hope that somebody might use it. But other companies are more proactive. They use their documentation site as a primary communication channel with their customers. That is the approach Basekit, based in London, England, is taking. Their deliberate and focused approach to using documentation to help their customers has produced significant business results including a 5-star product review from MacWorld magazine.
Basekit is a web-based SASS company that simplifies the way the world makes websites. Instead of just letting users create sites based on a few templates, Basekit lets its customers create truly unique layouts.
Basekit was one of the winners of Seedcamp 2008 (the European version of Y Combinator). The company attracted investment from leading London VCs in early 2009 and launched a first Beta in November 2009. With over 20,000 registered users BaseKit is already one of the biggest players in the professional web design space.
Gordon Plant, Head of User Experience, has been with Basekit almost from the beginning. Gordon and Basekit are doing some pretty interesting things with ScreenSteps Live and customer support in general. The results have been happy customers and continued growth for the company. We interviewed Gordon to find out how Basekit has incorporated ScreenSteps Live into their customer support process.
The Documentation Gods answer Gordon’s prayers
When Basekit was getting started Gordon knew that he wanted to deliver help documentation both inside and outside the Basekit application. At first he was laying out help pages in HTML but quickly learned that this approach wasn’t going to scale. Gordon was feeling frustrated:
I was just at the point that I was pulling my hair out because I really couldn’t keep doing all this and turning it all into HTML. One of my colleagues, by chance, stumbled onto ScreenSteps and said, “Well, how about this?” I looked at it and that was the answer to my prayers. It was exactly what I was looking for.
“What do we document?”
Gordon didn’t just purchase a product. He bought into the ScreenSteps approach to documentation.
I really got inspired by what Blue Mango said about “on demand” documentation because, other than a few basic things, we realized that we really didn’t know what we wanted to document.
What we started doing was every time we got a user question we would see whether we could write a document to answer that question. We’ve now expanded that process. For example, we now have online chats. Very often, in the time it takes a support agent to answer a question online, I will create a new document in ScreenSteps.
We have really taken the documentation on demand thing to heart. We try to get the documents into the system right at the moment they are needed.
How can Gordon create documents so quickly? Because ScreenSteps gives him just the tools he needs and nothing more.
Something that can seem quite trivial, such as the ability to draw a box around an image, becomes really important when you have to do it hundreds of times. This is a major advantage of ScreenSteps. I can capture images, draw boxes, add numbers and author text very, very quickly. I can create full documents and publish them in one application in very little time.
Getting the documentation to his users
Gordon doesn’t view the Basekit documentation as a passive resource. It is one of the primary ways that Basekit communicates with its customers. They do this through a variety of channels and integrations. The key to is to get the documentation into the hands of customers exactly where and when they need it.
To start out with, Basekit uses the ScreenSteps Live API to integrate their ScreenSteps Live help documents into the Basekit application. This allows them to add contextual help buttons that display the ScreenSteps Live lessons right inside the Basekit interface. If the documentation needs to be updated Gordon doesn’t have to ask the developers to redeploy an update to the Basekit application. Gordon updates the lesson in ScreenSteps Live and those changes are automatically reflected inside of the Basekit application.
Basekit also uses Zendesk for their customer help desk. They use the ScreenSteps Live integration with Zendesk to create a better support experience for their customers.
We independently identified Zendesk as the best help desk tool but we wanted a more powerful and flexible knowledge base which was what ScreenSteps Live offered us. We were pondering the relationship between ScreenSteps Live and Zendesk when we saw the article on how to integrate Zendesk and ScreenSteps Live. That was exactly what we wanted to do.
We are very happy with that integration because it is absolutely seamless from the point of view of customers. We get to use two products that we really like. The whole solution that is created with Zendesk and ScreenSteps Live really is greater than the sum of the parts.
Using documentation in online chat
Basekit has also recently increased their use of online chat. This is another channel where the Baskeit support staff makes extensive use of the ScreenSteps Live documentation. Basekit uses Olark for their chat service. Online chat is a fantastic method for communicating with customers but support agents can quickly get inundated with support requests. The Basekit team uses the ScreenSteps Live Support Client to quickly point online chatters to documentation that answers their questions.
ScreenSteps Live is helping us to answer support requests more quickly. As we scale up we are getting a lot more interaction via chat. An awful lot of chat questions are coming from both our website and our web app. In-app questions tend to be support related. On the web people are asking “Does it do this? Can it do that?” So these are feature questions and of course we have those features documented. We use the ScreenSteps Live Support Client to cut and paste a url into the chat window and people are immediately linked to the documentation.
There are two advantages to this. One is that the user gets the exact details that they need without us having to spend the time writing out lengthy answers. The other is that within the chat window we can see if the user clicked on the link. If someone clicks on the link that means we’ve got probably 30 seconds or a minute before they will come back. So if a support agent is running multiple chat conversations, which they often are, they can leave that one for a moment while the user looks at the ScreenSteps Live lesson. And very often the user will come back and say, “Hey that’s great, thanks,” and end the conversation happy. That’s a good result for the user and for us.
Getting the full view of the customer
Gordon spends several hours a week in ScreenSteps and ScreenSteps Live. A lot of this work is based on data that they analyze from the Basekit application.
We track the usage of all of the help in our app. We do an analysis once a month of what people searched for and what documents they used most in the app. And then we go back and look to see if there is anything we can do to improve the help. We can also see if people are searching for things that we aren’t providing help for. It prompts us to go away and make new documents.
This helps Gordon improve all aspects of his work.
The reason I cover so many roles is that as the user interface designer I really want to know what people are looking at and what people are finding difficult. So I have the view that I get from tracking help usage, I have the view that I get from customers talking to me and also the feedback we get from usability studies. We’re trying to get an all around picture of what we need to do to improve our users’ experience. Sometimes the solution is a UI change, sometimes it is better documentation, or sometimes it is a different feature. You need a broad view of the problem.
The Work is Paying Off
Basekit’s efforts are paying off. In December of 2010 Basekit received a 5 star MacWorld review. What did MacWorld list as the Pros in its summary?
“Attractive templates; interface fairly intuitive; good online help”
Gordon was really surprised to see documentation mentioned as one of main factors in the 5-star review:
As the person responsible for writing all of the help, I would have been thrilled if they had even acknowledge it was there. But to have it mentioned as one of the factors behind the 5-star rating was particularly pleasing.
Basekit isn’t just sitting around either. They are in the process of releasing Basekit in multiple languages. For each new language they set up a new Zendesk/ScreenSteps Live integration to offer native language support to their customers.
Should your company develop it’s own documentation solution?
ScreenSteps Live has worked very well for Gordon and Basekit. It has allowed them to deliver clear, useful documentation to their end users and integrate with their existing products and systems without requiring large amounts of developer time or effort.
Gordon had a bit of advice for anyone thinking of developing their own documentation solution as opposed to using a product like ScreenSteps Live:
Just don’t do it. The amount of effort and hassle you are going to go through can’t possibly be worth it. It’s true that if you create your own solution you are going to get the ability to tweek all sorts of little things. But ScreenSteps is a really good solution and can be adapted quite easily. By building your own you would just be wasting a lot of time reinventing the wheel. And with some of the features like screen capture and annotation the time it would take to go back and replicate all that stuff as well as ScreenSteps does would be crazy.
I would say to anyone doing that, it’s easy to misunderstand the documentation task. It’s easy to think that it’s akin to page layout or web design or something like that. But it’s really not at all. It’s a completely separate workflow and it needs a specialist tool. Just as no one would go and reinvent their own word processor I don’t think it would make a lot of sense to go and reinvent your own help documentation system.