Everything You Need To Know About Creating Intelligent Help Content

Nibu Thomas Technical Writing, User Experience
Everything You Need to know About Creating Intelligent Help Content

Did you know that the average intelligence of each generation of humans rises by 3 points every decade? This means that in the last century, IQ has risen by 30 points! Well, if IQ is rising so quickly, what does that mean to how your help content is being consumed?

In this article, let’s look at the problems that help content must resolve, and if it is really resolving those issues. And if they are not, then how can these issues be resolved? I’m proposing that to meet the rising IQ of your audience, your content must also be intelligent.

How I Stumbled On The Flynn Effect?

There were several incidents that happened before the thought struck home

Just like all mothers around the world would agree, it is a tough task to feed kids at home with stuff that’s good for them.. My wife too cooked up stories to make my daughter eat. Once, when she wasn’t in the mood to eat an apple, my wife told her that if she ate apples, she’d get rosy cheeks. Like Snow White.

To our surprise, our daughter replied with “Mom, how long have you been eating apples? Where are your rosy cheeks?”

An answer like that in our time would have got us a rosy rear end. But it got me thinking. I remembered asking my mother too questions that she didn’t seem to have an answer for. She’d ask me where I got my questions from. “We never thought of these questions when we were your age” was what she said. I noticed a pattern. And I took the question to the wisest resource in the world. Google. I remember typing in “Are the children of each generation becoming smarter than the previous one?” And bingo. Someone actually had done some elaborate research into this phenomenon.

The Flynn Effect, conceptualized by James Flynn, states that the average IQ rises by 3 base points once every 10 years which leads to every generation being slightly smarter than the last. This is based on data collected from 30 different countries.

The image below clearly shows the staggering increase in the mean IQ over the last 100 years.

 

Everything You Need to know About Creating Intelligent Help Content

 

It’s funny when you realize that, the average IQ has risen so much that if our great grandparents were to take an IQ test today, they may be considered borderline retarded!

Do listen to Flynn’s TED Talk on the rising intelligence of each generation. 

Now that we’ve established every generation of people is much more intelligent than the last, let’s first look at what intelligence is.

What Is Intelligence?

A simple google search of the word intelligence gives you the most literal definition of the term i.e 

1)The ability to quickly and thoroughly acquire knowledge and skills

2)The ability to apply these and manipulate new situations to achieve their intended output

To put it very simply, intelligence can be seen as the ability to solve a problem

There could be numerous explanations of this term and there is a lot of subjectivity to each definition. But of all the ones I’ve come across, this one seemed fitting to me and relevant to everyday life. 

This definition seems to work with animals as well.

Taking a basic instance, animals display intelligence in the way they approach the problem of obtaining food for themselves and their young ones. And if you watch animals, there are several problems they solve, sometimes even without realizing it.

But, what does rising intelligence mean for creating help content? And before that, what problem are organizations trying to solve using Help content?

Common Problems Solved Through Content

The answer to this question can be quite vast, however, I’ve compiled a list of certain common goals for creating help content. Here are just a few of the lists I had in mind. For you to better relate to these points, let’s take an instance of comprehending a software application. 

  • Simplifying the complex: Enterprise applications such CRMs are an ocean of features and functionalities that needs to be simplified in order to effectively leverage them. Help Content has a strong role to play here.
  • Explaining a task: In our example, explaining a complex but most useful feature can be one of the aims of creating help content.
  • Explaining conceptual information: Here, I can imagine two situations, during the buy-in phase of implementing the software and to help users link each feature to their work.
  • Correcting user behavior: I would tie this to improving data quality and/or general optimum effective usage of the software.
  • Increasing feature discoverability: We put out a ton of features every release. But how many users are discovering these? Good Help content helps users stumble upon and understand other features during their content journey.
  • Pre-empting issues: A common practice to create and release quality troubleshooting content is to possibly reduce the need for support. A by-product of this effect is reducing support costs
  • Returning more product value:  Say for a CRM software, the value is your sales folks performing better at their tasks and being able to leverage the tool to generate more revenue for your company. 

These are some of the reasons that I could think about. I’m sure this list is not exhaustive. If you have other reasons, do mention them in the comments below.

Now that we’ve covered this bit, let’s quickly look at the common hurdles to attaining these milestones. 

Why is Today’s Help Falling Short?

Let’s take the journey of an application user looking for some help to their query. 

Bear in mind, that issues, just like the motives, can vary with each organization. The ones listed below are some of the common challenges with help content today. 

1) Location and Findability 

A common complaint by users would be that they are unable to locate the right content they require to solve their current query. This is because of help content being spread across multiple locations in a product or even offline. That’s not all, it also fails to be real-time and contextual i.e being available as and when the user needs it and for that particular instance.

2) Information Overload and Readability

Let’s say that you’ve located the content you need, the next questions that pop up in your mind is “What exactly should I read?” , “Do you need to go through all of it?” , “Is there a video of sorts to clearly explain what is the intent/ actionable conclusion of the content?”

The challenges begin with the lack of clarity and the engagement element in the help content which further leads to multiple navigations and quite frankly, confuses the consumer.

When you are looking at a very comprehensive piece of content, you tend to wonder whether or not you actually want to consume it. This is where the concept of content affordance needs to be introduced in your help content. This would be a familiar term if you are a designer but in recent times, it has been introduced to content as well.

Basically, affordance can be defined as an object/sign on the UI to trigger the user to consume the help content and gives a clear indication as to what has to be done with it.

Similarly, content affordances prompt the reader to go through it and provides clarity on the actionable outcomes.

3) Discoverability

Many fail to understand the difference between Discoverability and Findability of content. Findability is with regard to directing the user to the content when they are looking for it whereas Discoverability is when they find information even when they aren’t on the lookout for it.

For instance, during an update of any software, any knowledge delivered to the user regarding the latest features would cover the discoverability element while any user acquiring the needed assistance via the tool’s help guide would cover the findability of the content.

4) Creation of the content

We use multiple tools to create content. But how many of these tools keep the audience in mind? Many of our tools are focussed only on making the creation of content easy. For example, most tech writers are against using screenshots in their content. Why? Because of the extra work during each update, because of translation issues, and many more. But ask a reader which document do they prefer? I’ve done this several times and a majority of the time, they say it’s the one that has images. With images, they can quickly scan through a document. Plain text – not so much.

All of the above issues can have a drastic impact on the consumption of the content and ultimately, the return that you derive from it.

These few data points from a study conducted by Nielsen would paint a clear picture of the importance of pre-empting the above-mentioned issues:

Everything You Need to know About Creating Intelligent Help Content

And if the statistics above were depressing, it gets worse. Other studies show that more than 70% of training any training is  lost from the time it is delivered until the point of use. In the Whatfix world, we translate this to poor software adoption. A mere 15% of your users actually adopt your enterprise application in year 1. 

The Solution isn’t That Simple

No amount of content can make up for a good product with a smooth and easy flowing UI. However, even the best products today have a certain level of content produced to provide assistance in using the platform.

Even though building a better product is an ongoing and never-ending goal, until you hit that perfect state, you would need to extend the same effort in building intelligent and useful content. 

As products begin to grow, features get added. All this at a terrible cost to user experience. The more features you push into your system, the more each user would have to consume and digest. In most cases, this doesn’t happen in the intended manner which eventually leads to low usage of the newer features. 

So, is there a viable solution to your content problems? One solution could be to make sure that your content is intelligent. So, extending our definition of intelligence, intelligent content is content that solves issues.  

Best Practices While Building Intelligent Content For Your Users

The pointers mentioned below will guide you through creating the right kind of help content and will focus on the process to be followed in order to build the best output. I’ve covered these tips in a brief manner but if you are looking for a more in-depth insight into the topic, feel free to check out my webinar on creating intelligent content, conducted by STC US Chapter. 

Involve The Users/Consumers Of The Help Content

If after reading this article, all you have to do is to remember one thing, it’s this. I came across this great quote that sums up the number one issue with all kinds of help content. 

Everything You Need to know About Creating Intelligent Help Content

As I mentioned earlier, the first problem you encounter with today’s content is that it is static and aloof. And this results in disengagement. You ought to understand that the motive here is to not just trigger the action of reading but it should instigate an immediate response or reaction to their query. 

The function and the associated resources involved in content authoring are more focused on the creation and delivery of content than the usefulness of the information and the engagement quotient. 

Don’t rely only on text (Check out my webinar!). Since the brain can process visual & video content 60k times faster than text, it’s no shock that even when it comes to a website, 88% of the visitors stay on it longer due to the presence of video. 

So, don’t hesitate to stimulate this side of the user’s brain with more visual content!

Context Sensitivity Of Your Help Content

According to Forrester report, Over 65% of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good online service.

When time is off such value to your users, it’s imperative that you offer help content at the time they need it.

In layman’s terms, contextual help or context-sensitive help is when a query is resolved promptly and in the intended state of affairs. 

Ask yourself, “Why am I creating the piece of content”, “For whom?” and “What query needs to be solved?”. Once you have these answers, you’re good to go. 

Adopt LITFLOW While Building Help Content

The Father of HR and Learning, Josh Bersin, reported that one has less than 5 minutes for “formal learning” in a day. People just don’t have time to consume content, go back and try it out, find errors and repeat the process. 

This calls for a need to link help to your user’s everyday workflow. Hence, the advent of Learning In The Flow Of Work (LITFLOW).

The very first step to kick-starting your LITFLOW building journey is micro-sizing your content to save the readers time. For instance, A short 2-minute video can get you significant engagement provided it serves the purpose. 

What Josh also suggests is to include the element of Experience into your content mix. This would most certainly be followed for help content as well.

If you’re looking to adopt this practice or further understand the benefits, check out our blog on this concept titled “Your First Steps to Adopting Learning In The Flow Of Work”.

Automation Is Your Best Friend 

Another way to present the solution to the user is by automating the process/ step. I’m not saying that you don’t need to create content. But it all circles back to the user’s time and purpose. 

Let’s say you have a query for which you type in your search and just after you click enter, your system performs the necessary actions to complete your intended task. This, when supported with some content to support it, would be the perfect help offered to your users. 

Remember, the goal is to solve their problems in the quickest way and most relevant way possible! So, this methodology would be ideal as compared to “Click to know more” approach. 

De-Link Content From Product Development

If you’re in the technical writing space or contribute to the L&D function, you’re probably not a stranger to the concept of contextual help or contextual content. However, the pain of building help content using the same processes that they use to build the product is excruciating for us.

Even though many LMS software and other tools these days allow for easy upload of content, what’s really required is a tool that provides a platform to create and update content within the application itself, completing eliminating the need for strong coding knowledge. And the need to depend on the development process to make minor updates.

Another issue that may arise is when you decide to update the UI of the platform or the application you use in your organization releases a major updated changing the aesthetics of the product. 

Applications such as Salesforce CRM and Workday release updates 2-3 times a year. Imagine updating the content that many times to meet the user needs, not to mention creating help for any minor feature change or upgrade as well. 

It’s even more daunting when you have to create and maintain help in multiple formats.

Hence, what you need is the capability to build without the need for coding and an auto-update feature to your content authoring tool, LMS, or software training platform etc. 

Ability To Act On Insights 

You can’t improve what you can’t measure! 

Intelligent content talks to you in ways your user doesn’t and that’s in the form of in-depth analytics.

I believe that Technical communicators and content builders aren’t that different from doctors in this regard. Doctors don’t always speak to their patients. Instead, they have to examine their patients to discover the problem and accordingly treat them. 

The same goes for your help content. Start thinking about How many people get to the end of your content? Where are users getting stuck? Which step? What are those search phrases that don’t return results? 

Everything You Need to know About Creating Intelligent Help Content

The image above gives you a sense of the level of depth you would need to reach in order to perfectly tweak your content to align with your users. It’s an iterative process. Eventually, things move in a more fluid manner.

Bring Intelligence To You Help Content

Now that you have what you need, kickstart the transition to intelligent content. 

It’s not that daunting. Remember, it’s all about your users. That’s your starting point. 

If you’re looking to simplify the process, you might want to explore using a Digital Adoption Solution such as Whatfix

Whatfix combines integrated experiences and contextual, real-time help with insightful analytics to help Fortune companies reduce content creation cost by over 30%! 

To learn more about how we can help your organization build intelligent content, reach out to us to book a personalized demo. You will be impressed at how DAP solutions like Whatfix are changing the way content is being consumed!  

What are some other strategies that you use to create intelligent content? Tell me more using the comments below. 

Nibu Thomas

Nibu Thomas

Sr. Manager - Information Development at Whatfix
In his 20 plus years of having fun at work, Nibu Thomas has had the pleasure of being associated with organizations like Bosch, AOL, Infor and now Whatfix. He's passionate about all kinds of communication but is particularly biased towards the written form. He believes that if the content is not resolving an issue, it IS the issue. He currently manages Information Development at Whatfix.
Nibu Thomas

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