Posted by: communicationcloud | June 21, 2010

What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?

I’ve been asked quite a bit about my transition from Technical Communications to Customer Experience – what’s the relevance of my skills from my previous role to my new one, what are the surprises, challenges … and so on. People who work in tech comms seem to be surprised by the change; people who work in the customer experience don’t immediately see the relevance of my previous roles. So here goes with some thoughts on this…

Then and now

I used to be Head of Technical Communications, heading up a team of technical authors in a software company. My role now – in the same software company – is Customer Experience Programme Manager, ensuring that customers have a fantastic experience of dealing with us.

The two roles are surprisingly close. Here are some similarities…

1. Definining and implementing strategy

As Head of Technical Communications my role was to make sure we were really good at understanding what our users needed and then make sure everything was in place to provide it … and then find ways to confirm that we were providing the right stuff. That involved understanding our user-base and business goals, working with various teams of people around the business to get people and processes in place, and then measuring and analysing results.

This is not too far away from what I’m doing now. Replace “users” with “customers”, and the job is pretty similar, with the exception that I’m now dealing less with just what users need, and more with what makes them feel that extra bit more warm and fuzzy inside – the element of customer delight.

2. Working across boundaries

In my technical communications role, I did a lot of work on getting technical authors fully integrated into development teams. I also brought together support, technical communications and marketing parts of the organisation so that we could offer users a support portal that presented in a single place content written by all these parts of the organisation.

In my current role, I work across the potential silos of a matrix organisation, getting together people from customer-facing roles in product support, sales and credit control, and working with those parts of the organisation – either separately or together to make improvements.

2a. Organisational fit

Closely related to the above point, is that technical communications is one of those parts of a business that often struggles with finding an appropriate place in an organisation – is it development? support? marketing? …

Customer experience is similar – is it part of the marketing / sales / customer service, or something completely different?

3. Implementing change

In my tech comms roles I’ve tended to play the role of a fixer rather than a maintainer of the status quo… this means I’m very used to rolling out changes that affect various parts of the organisation.
Introducing change is inherent in my current role – I find things that need improving and work with people to improve them – so my previous experience here is very much in use.

4. Measuring the “unmeasurable”

The success of technical communications is notoriously difficult to measure for success and ROI. It’s not directly about bringing in revenue; rather it’s about preventing costs (e.g. handling support calls) and  creating value that contributes to revenue in the long term by underpinning the company’s brand aspirations. It’s difficult to measure whether you’ve answered people’s questions; it’s even more difficult to map that to revenue. And yet, much of the business only understands value in terms of revenue or direct cost reductions, so there are challenges of communicating value to the business.

Customer experience is like this too – we create great customer experiences because we want to be so good that people recommend us and keep on coming back. It’s difficult to directly tie customer experience initiatives to revenue difference, though. What’s more, measuring happiness is not entirely straightforward. As it happens, there’s cost reduction too – e.g. by making it easier for people to find answers to their questions online – which is what many people want – we also reduce calls to our customer service teams.

5. Information

Tech comms is concerned with making sure people have the information they need, when they need it. Whether it’s a manual, web content, forum or embedded UA, the content needs to be relevant, correct, up to date, findable …

In my new role, information is just as important – the website search and information architecture have to support customers; the website needs to to work alongside other contacts with the business: email, telephone, invoices …

Challenges and surprises

Even with all these similarities, it’s been a real learning experience, and I’m recording many of the lessons in this blog. I’ll also try and collect some more general thoughts on what the main challenges and surprises are in another post in the near future…



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  2. A belated congrats on the new role. I agree, a TA background will provide you with many transferrable skills and more importantly, insights.

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