I think I'm a pretty tech savvy kind of guy. It's not that I am an early adopter, the kind of person who just has to have the latest toys. I'm too frugal for that. But anything technical I own PCs, PDAs, or MP3 players I work mercilessly. I guess that makes me more of more of slave driver than savvy, but the bottom line is that anything I pick up I handle without fear, anything that is except for one: the cell phone.
A PC, for example, whether it's a Dell or an HP, operates the same way. Each cell phone I have owned, however, works very differently from its predecessor. When I buy or try a new computer program I put the manual on the shelf, and start playing and experimenting with the program, learning from my successes and mistakes and enjoying the challenge. And with cell phones? Even before I look for the ON button (which is different on every phone), I read that manual cover to cover. I guess the cell phone is for me like a VCR clock is for my parents.
Several times I have found the cell's manual useless, and called Support or gone into the store to get a little tutorial. In the end I am enlightened, but this scenario begs some questions. What if I had not taken the initiative to get myself educated? How satisfied would I be with the product? How likely would I be to get a cell phone from the same manufacturer or carrier? Those are theoretical costs, the what if's. What about the actual costs? Support departments are a necessity, but they should be taxed as little as possible. If I had been able to decipher the manual then I would not have called. You need feedback from and communication with your customer, and you want your Support department to receive calls, but not to be inundated with them. If I go to the store, then whoever is explaining the cell to me is not selling to someone else. How many times have you walked into a store with the intent to buy something not shop around, but walk in and out with a purchase only to leave empty-handed because you could not find a salesperson and did not have the time to wait? If your documentation cannot do its job, then your employees are prevented from doing theirs.
So then what is a manual's role? A manual's role is not just to explain a company's product, but to represent the company. I don't have any friends who work at Nokia, Motorolla, or Ericsson, so my only connection with these companies are their products and manuals. This is their first and perhaps only opportunity to explain the product and brand themselves; to do what it takes to make me a happy and loyal customer. Your manual is your chance to get your customers excited about your product and your company, by showing them why and showing them how. When your employees represent you, you have certain expectations of them. Why should your documentation be any different?