MindTouch ( news, site) has breathed new life into the F1 button. True contextually aware help looks like it has arrived. Add a little marketing and sales automation in there and you may have the answer to reducing costs, increasing sales and truly understanding what your customers need.
Do You Hate the F1 Button?
I do. Never use it unless I'm utterly desperate and don't expect much. Press that little button on your keyboard and up comes a little modal (typically) window or webpage with a nice little table of contents, and maybe you find yourself looking at information that is relevant to what you want to know. That's a big maybe.
Never has Help really been the focus of many web apps or desktop apps. It's typically an afterthought. And once it's created and loaded into the application, it's never updated because that would mean updating the application itself, running it through Dev, QA and finally into production. That's a lot of work for what is often a little used piece of your app. Little used because it's useless.
Do You Hate Forums?
Almost worse than that little F1 button. Searching forums to find information is painful. Half the time it's never dated so you have no idea if the information is up to date or not. The other half you either find a million different answers to your question or you find your question asked a million times with no answer to be found. Slight exaggeration, but you get where I am coming from.
Do You Still Use These Because You Need Help?
Of course you do, as do I. But now we may have an answer to our F1 woes. It comes from MindTouch, a collaboration platform vendor who is focused on ensuring that the documentation we all need is available at the right time and in the right context.
According to Aaron Fulkerson, CEO of MindTouch -- and I assume the rest of the MindTouch team -- "forums suck" and QA isn't much better. It's a lot of noise and impossible to programmatically mine for intelligence. Fulkerson says that forums and QA are non-engaging ways to talk to customers. Yes, you still need them, but they shouldn't be your first line of support.
Web applications are becoming much more complex and the need for help is only getting stronger. All this social interaction plays into the need as well, co-authoring of content, sharing of content and let's throw in a little cross/up selling to boot.
F1 for the Cloud Computing Era
All your actual documentation is stored within MindTouch TCs Knowledge Base, so you can update it in real-time and never have to worry about updating the application it supports. When someone presses F1 ...
MindTouch - Context Specific Help
... or hovers over a help-enabled section of text, MindTouch is queried for the content that is then delivered to your application.
MindTouch Spotlight Help
Notice the related articles and the social aspects?
A Little Marketing Automation Thrown in
Good contextual help that can be updated in real-time based on the needs of the user can also be used to do a little marketing. As users interact with articles in your help system you are learning what their problems are, what things they are trying to do. So not only can you support them with the right help information you can also cross/up sell to them. This is sales and marketing automation in real-time.
You could also use MindTouch to add a little intelligence to your forums and bring in your sales and marketing there as well.
Now I could spend a little time here discussing the whole engaging with your customers thing, but let's face it, if you don't understand that you need to learn from what your customers do while on your website or within your application and provide them the right information when they need it and the tools to contribute/share that information, then you have missed the entire point of the word "engage" and I'm just writing to a word count.
Check it out for yourself: