20 year content strategy veteran, Sharon Burton. Sharon Burton consults about content strategy, content business issues, social media and managing post-sales customer experience issues.

Customer experience and product instructions (part 6)

Customer experience and product instructions (part 6)

In previous articles, I’ve talked about some business/customer experience basics, like what is customer experience and customer churn, and the value of customers and the pyramid of customer experience. I’ve covered the Customer Experience pyramid and the Content pyramid, the cost of customer support centers as they impact the Customer Experience, and the expense of product returns and how it impacts the customer experience.

In this article, I cover my thoughts about customer touchpoints and how they impact the Customer Experience.

Customer Touchpoints

Mapping the customer touchpoints your customers have with your company can typically expose the places where they are getting stuck or you can help the experience. These touchpoint maps are often big diagrams – and they should be – and then can burrow into each touchpoint.

I’m thinking about customer touchpoints and product instructions. I’m also thinking about attended and unattended touchpoints. I’m defining these touchpoints as follows:

  • Attended: We can monitor what the customer is doing/how they are interacting with us and have the opportunity to guide that touchpoint experience. Attended touchpoints let us guide the customer through the touchpoint and help to get a pleasant experience for the customer. This is typically through a sales call or a support call. We or the customer reaches out and makes that person to person connection.
  • Unattended: We can’t monitor to know what the customer is doing and we have no way to guide that touchpoint experience should it go poorly. Unattended touchpoints are places where we have no control over the customer experience to a great extent. We don’t know how or what the customer is doing with the experience – how it’s managed, how they feel, if we are meeting their needs.

In unattended touchpoints, we often throw something over the wall and hope for the best. We may have some insight into what will help the customer but we have little control over those experiences.

Unattended touchpoints should scare you.

Unattended touchpoints

I think that customers typically have many more unattended touchpoints than attended. Many product instructions – perhaps most? – are unattended touchpoints. Others are as well, but I’m interested in product instructions.

Recently an experience similar to the one charted out below happened to me. But this is a common enough scenario that I thought it was worth mapping out. Click the image to see it bigger.

Customer experience flowchart

This is a scenario mapped out with the attended and unattended touchpoints identified. It is not a customer journey, so please don’t think that’s what I’m trying to show. That’s another post later in this series.

About half of this specific customer experience happens before the customer moves into the attended touchpoint. And he didn’t go there because he wanted to – he went there because he had no choice if he wanted to get that information. The unattended touchpoints didn’t meet his needs or match his goals.

Even if we met Tom’s goals and needs, look at what we put him through before he ever reaches an attended touchpoint. He wanted to help himself and solve his problem, but the unattended touchpoints didn’t let him do that.

These unattended touchpoints are also cheaper ways for our customer to solve his or her own issues. Calling support is the most expensive way we can support the customer to find out the syntax for that field. (We could send a technician to his house to answer that question, which technically would cost more but you get my point.)

Fixing these touchpoints

Product instructions are not the only unattended touchpoints but they seem to be completely ignored by Customer Experience professionals. Customer experience professionals do look at other unattended touchpoints, such as the bill they send out. They ask important questions, such as:

  • Is the bill clear, in that the customer can see the charges at a glance?
  • Are the line item charges using words that non-experts can understand?
  • Do we clearly display a contact number?
  • Does the bill look easy to understand, in that the layout is pleasant?
  • Is the Due Date clear and easy to see?
  • If English is not the preferred language for the customer, do we provide a way for them to see the bill in another language?

And so on.

A lot of Customer Experience effort goes into making the bill clear because clear bills get paid faster and fewer people call for clarification. It reduces calls, which reduces call center costs.

Product instructions are typically unattended touchpoints

Most product instructions are unattended touchpoints. Think of the Getting Started guide that ships in the product box or the locally installed online help with the software. We don’t know if these help the customer. In fact, most companies ignore the product instructions as part of the customer experience, even when the product online help is hosted on a server and Google Analytics could start providing insights.

This is a mistake. I have solid evidence that people use the product instructions, certainly to install and when they run into problems. Customer experience professionals are not paying attention until the customer calls support. But looking at the touchpoint chart above, we see calling support is far into the experience.

If you are a Customer Experience professional, I strongly recommend you find the technical communications group and start talking to them. If you are a tech comm professional, I strongly suggest you find the people in your company who are doing Customer Experience and start talking to them.

If you are uncertain what you should do to improve the customer experience with product instructions, you should bring in a consultant to help.

We have to improve the unattended customer touchpoints. All of them count for our customers.

By Sharon Burton


  1. James Jordan

    Another Gem, well said,
    there is an area to consider that follows on from this scenario, this being that as Tom’s problem was not resolved by the ‘help desk’ the perceived value of the failing product drops the ‘trust’ in the product capability diminishes, as a result is Tom likely to buy another product from (X,)I would have my doubts.

  2. Good comments on an important subject. Did you note above that you tell users to click the image to make it bigger? Did you test that yourself? When I did that, it gets bigger, and when I finished, I closed it, and I was thrown out of your article. A better customer experience would have been to open the bigger image in a separate window. Or to include text telling users to click Back in the browser.


  1. Customer experience and product instructions (part 8) | Sharon Burton, consultant - […] customer support centers as they impact the Customer Experience, the expense of product returns, customer touchpoints and the customer […]
  2. Customer experience and product instructions (part 7) | Sharon Burton, consultant - […] support centers as they impact the Customer Experience, and the expense of product returns, and customer touchpoints and how they impact the Customer…

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