How to Get Your Users to Read the Manual

Frustrated Tech Support?

Photo credit: Jazbeck (Flickr)

Research shows that your customers really do read the manual. And yet, your tech support staff are pulling their hair out answering the same stupid questions. Oh, wait—there are no stupid questions, just stupid users. Right?

Well, no. It could be another problem: your user guide. It’s possible that your customers can’t find your user guide, can’t stand using your user guide, or can’t understand your user guide. Let’s take a look at why that might be. I’ll also give you some very usable fixes for each issue.

Your User Guide is AWOL

If your customers really aren’t reading the manual, chances are you’ve misplaced it—as in, placed it in the wrong location. Do a quick audit to see if your user guides are easy for customers to find. Are they embedded in the software? Are they online and easy to find on your website? If you do a Google search, is the user guide listed at the top of the search results? Even if your product isn’t software, your user guide should be easy to find online as a pdf.

You should also make sure you’ve published to the best format. A printed manual works fine for hardware products, but it’s pointless for most software applications. Online help is great for most software, but it’s painful to use on a mobile app. If it’s in the wrong format, it’s possible no one will find it.

Your User Guide Is Awkward

It’s also possible that your customers know about your user guide but refuse to read it. Or they read it, but end up more confused (and frustrated) than before. These users opened the manual, started to use it, then got frustrated and tossed it away.

There are all kinds of reasons why customers give up on the user guide. If your engineers or developers cobbled it together from design docs, it’s probably incomplete and confusing. Often, user guides are badly organized and the information is buried within the manual. Sometimes the images are confusing or hard to read.

Or, you could simply have an ugly manual. Ugly, poorly designed user guides broadcast incompetence and tell your users that the instructions will be as bad as the design. On the other hand, attractive and well-designed instructions inspire confidence and professionalism, and your customers are more likely to expect they’ll find what they need.

You may have awkward instructions, but there’s hope for your content! Test your user guide’s usability. Ask test subjects to perform several tasks by following the user guide’s instructions. See how well they do and take lots of notes. End the test by asking the subjects how they felt about the user guide and about their experiences. Get their suggestions for improvement.

Your User Guide Is Awesome!

If Tech Support is constantly fielding the same issues, you probably have a user guide issue. Try these changes and see how they affect your Tech Support calls. You should see a difference, and your Tech Support costs could even drop as well!