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Follow the Rules of the Road for Helpful Do-It-Yourself Owners' Manuals

Feb 27, 2008
Because of potential lawsuits related to harm caused by misusing an offering, few will decide to avoid providing directions. For elaborate offerings, owners' manuals will be required.

In addition, some of your beneficiaries, customers, and users will want to refer to these directions and manuals whether or not they need the help. Rather than providing directions and manuals that become the butt of comedians' jokes, how can you turn on people to using do-it-yourself features?

Many newer vehicles now have global positioning satellite (GPS) systems that provide driving directions. You input your destination and the system spells out a route for you and displays a map.

Those systems do something even more helpful. When you miss a turn, you can quickly get revised directions.

This capability can help overcome a problem that most people have experienced. With preset directions, you may find yourself driving extra miles simply to arrive back at where you missed a turn.

After not following a direction, a GPS system may locate a new route that will eliminate most of the looping back to where you made a mistake. That iterative quality of GPS directions relieves a lot of frustration as well as saving needless backtracking.

Directions and manuals can be designed to operate in a similar way. As soon as you're stuck or seem to have made a mistake, your directions could be quickly adjusted to tell you what to do next.

That interaction would be a great help. Many people don't realize they've made a mistake until after doing a lot of work that then needs to be undone. The best way to provide these error-recovery messages would be to have the directions or the manual actively monitor the offering and what you are doing with it.

Not everyone prefers the same format for directions and instructions. Naturally, some people will want to have a written manual. They are used to that approach.

What are the lessons? Make that manual's index as complete as possible. Few people other than your proofreaders will examine the manual from cover to cover.

Most people will have a question or a problem with your offering at some point. When that happens, people want to turn immediately to the most helpful page.

One nice feature of some manuals is to have more than one indexing system. For instance, sections may be color coded at the edge of the page for their subject matters. Die cuts may help you find the first page of a section like the ones you use to put your thumb into a physical dictionary to find the first page for a letter of the alphabet.

Other manuals also employ symbols to identify locations. These symbols often match icons on the offering itself such as a stylized image of windshield wipers. Of course, the page that most people latch onto is the index where all of the most common problems are listed along with a cross-reference to where the relevant do-it-yourself details can be found.

With more and more offerings, it's also possible to include an electronic directory inside the offering that can be queried in a manner similar to employing an online search engine. That approach is of great value when you are using the offering in a different location from where you normally keep your directions and manuals.

Many times, it's just not convenient to carry around all of the relevant information because it's so bulky. How many people, for instance, carry around telephone directories in their vehicles?

Think of how many times you've been traveling and needed to contact a certain type of local business for which you don't have any names or telephone numbers. If there's a classified directory near a pay phone, you're all set. But if someone has torn out the page you need or there's no directory in sight, you have a lot of potential frustration and wasted time ahead of you as you work with directory assistance and begin making calls.

Another advantage of electronic directories is that you can inexpensively update and bookmark them. When you become aware of new issues or locate better information for ordinary problems and tasks, you can adjust your directory. Make those updates automatic (such as anti-virus programs do) to bookmarked pages, and you're making do-it-yourself more and more desirable.

But there are times when reading just doesn't make sense. For instance, it's a good idea to stop your vehicle before you read anything other than a road sign.

But you may not be able to safely stop when you need immediate information. That's when voice-based information systems can be a great resource.

A helpful version of such a resource works just like an electronic directory except that you speak to the resource and listen to the answers. Many credit card information lines now have this technology.

General Motors provides this kind of help in another way through its OnStar services. At the push of a button, OnStar allows you to be in voice communication with operators who can assist you with a variety of driving needs. Operators can remotely unlock your vehicle when you've left the keys inside or provide emergency advice and assistance after you've had an accident.

However you provide your information, connect together everything the do-it-yourselfer will need. Switching back and forth among six different information sources or sections in a manual isn't going to do the trick when your vehicle is broken down after dark in a scary location while your eight children in the back noisily demand their dinners.

Here are questions to make it easier for people to succeed in helping themselves with your offerings:

-How can you help beneficiaries, customers, and users save time by doing things for themselves rather than getting help in the usual ways?

-What features will make do-it-yourself solutions easier and more engaging?

-Who can help you design do-it-yourself features for offerings that are very simple to use?

-How many simple ways can you provide helpful directions, manuals, and assistance that fit the needs of a do-it-yourself moment?
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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