Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
Real-life barriers to self-help systems
An article in the Chicago Tribune talks about the success, and failures, of self-service checkout facilities at grocery stores and other retail locations. So what might this have to do with onscreen Help and documentation? Well, at a surface level, it's clear that documentation in general, and technical support in particular, have been moving towards a "do it yourself" model for several years now. This article provides some insight into the motivations behind the approach as well as the challenges that the concept faces. In my experience, the results discussed in this article are similar to those seen in the realms of onscreen documentation and web-based support, and in some cases echo customer sentiment almost exactly. Here are some examples:
The primary motivation for the approach is not to improve the customer's experience. Instead, it's a way for the corporation to save money and improve efficiency. The self-check kiosks are not only smaller (so that more of them fit in a store) they're also less expensive to operate. They cost more to install (that is, they require more infrastructure and technology) but because their transactional cost is lower, that additional investment is quickly earned back.
The "efficiency" that the kiosks offer is measured solely from the perspective of the business; they're slower for the customer to use, and they require a certain degree of customer proficiency and expertise for successful task completion.
The popularity of the systems vary according to gender and age demographics. Men are more likely to prefer the self-service approach, while women and older customers prefer interacting with another person. One person suggested that using the self-service approach you have to "hope it works" and that you'll know, or be able to discover, everything necessary to finish the job.
Sound at all familiar?