Ask any kid anywhere in the world what is his or her idea of a great meal. One of the most likely answers is binge eating at McDonalds!
On the outside, every McDonald’s outlet anywhere in the world looks the same. But on a closer look, you will find a customized menu to cater to local tastes. In India, they serve a super popular McAloo Tikki, which is unheard of in any other country!
The raw material procurement process is also suitably localised. Gone are the days when potatoes were imported to meet their global standards. Now every country has its own Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers.
Now, let’s extend this analogy to hosting online document content that is consumed by users all over the world. For a successful multi-national company, catering to their customers all over the world in a seamless yet personalised manner is of great importance. And to achieve this goal, a potent concept is being increasingly employed by companies, world over – Customized Content Delivery.

What is Customized Content Delivery?

Content simply means any documentation of relevance to the target user, that companies host on their web-sites. Be it advertisements to attract new customers or maintenance manuals for existing users.
Before globalisation became a buzz word, company web-sites hosted a single version for all its users – in English by default. But today, you can’t predict from which remote corner of the world your user will access your website.
Providing relevant and personalised web content to each user by judging their specific needs – that’s customized content delivery for you.
Recall Amazon showing every user a personalised list of Todays’ Deals, fine-tuned to their buying preferences? So in the peak Christmas season, an Australian buyer could get hot summer deals while a Swiss buyer will splurge on winter clothes on his recommended list!
Similarly in the technical writing space, let’s take the case of FAQs for mobile phone users. A first time mobile user needs to be told how to setup an account for the first time. Whereas a user replacing his handset with a new one needs more help on backing up his old data. Here we analyse the user’s history and come up with the most appropriate help content.

Segregation of User Segments for Personalised Technical Communication

Users of a product or a service are not a homogeneous lot. They vary in their locations, preferences, purchase history, usage expertise, etc. It’s important to present online content to each user in a way that he/she finds effective.
Technical documentation of any kind – research reports, sales pitch, installation manuals or trouble-shooting guides – generally have 2 kinds of content in them:

  • Static – common information that is relevant to all user segments. And that which doesn’t change often.
  • Dynamic – specialized information more relevant to some segments than the others. And that which keeps varying with time, product version.

The effectiveness and therefore the success of documentation depends on how the dynamic part of the document is personalised as per the user type and presented before him.
Users types are determined through a process called user segmentation where the company strategically identifies 3-4 key user categories and caters to them individually. Listed below are some common ways to segregate user segments:

  • Based on location – Geographic location of a user, which can be easily determined through their IP address, is the most important factor. Multi-language support for websites is based mainly on this. So when a user accesses an after-sales service manual, if his login is from China, he can be shown the manual in Chinese language by default.
  • Based on device type – whether the user is accessing the content using a phone, tab or PC/Laptop. The appropriate UI settings, fonts and sizes can be configured for the content to suit the device. Responsive HTML5 output uses screen layouts, skins, conditional tags and expressions to dynamically customize content. Whatfix, Robohelp, Framemaker, Madcap Flare already support this feature.
  • Based on user history – Past behaviour of the user, his purchase /browsing history provides ample clues on what are his priorities. This helps to segregate first time users from expert users.
  • Based on referral page for landing – From where has the user landed into your web-site, that could be an important clue as to what is the user’s intention.
  • Based on user preferences or profile – Several useful bits of information are already stored in user account settings, such as age, gender, company, etc.

Let’s take a couple of industry use cases and see how this solution can be put to practice.

Use Case #1: Targeting a user who isn’t a customer yet

Example Scenario – Online product promotion pitch for a home security solution
Variety of promotion material prepared – Picture posters, 1 min video demos in multiple languages, product configuration specs, Installation how-tos for apartments, bungalows, etc.
Here the prospective buyer is not a customer yet. So the company would not have detailed customer profiles in their CRM database. Thus customization is possible based on generic factors only. Some examples of custom content:
Based on device – Product Specs and how-to documents customized for mobile/laptop viewing. A touch-based interactive one for mobiles and detailed descriptive version for large screen devices.
Based on network coverage – Static posters / text for regions of poor network bandwidth. Media rich 360 degree videos for high network bandwidth areas.
Based on geographical location – If the user is on the US East Coast, show him the apartment solution spec. A west coast home is more likely going to be an independent house, so show him the bungalow solution. User location can be accurately mapped to the extent of a few meters if required!
Based on language setting – If the product is to be sold internationally, have promotion material prepared in appropriate regional languages. And switch to the appropriate language based on the user’s location or language setting on his device.
Only a minority of viewers would voluntarily offer information about themselves. In most other cases, anonymous analysis of user profiles is employed – IP address for geographic location, cookies to track behaviour inside the website, analytics to track referrals.
This revolutionary idea can be put to best advantage however, when the company knows about his customer in advance. Making personalised documentation available to their existing users would be a huge cause of customer satisfaction and would help save precious customer support effort.

Customized Content Delivery – A new revolution in Technical Documentation

Now let’s focus on how this technology can be used to enhance user experience for existing customers.
Most big companies have methods to capture existing customer information – product locations, user profile, online/offline usage, payments, supply chain, issues faced and so on – in a sophisticated CRM database.
For customized content delivery, we could align the process of user segmentation with the CRM data already available. So the user segments derived would be more focussed and specific to the business. The following example illustrated this point:

Use Case #2: Customizing technical support documentation for an existing customer

Example Scenario – System upgrade guide for a Telecom network solution. Dealing with migration from lower to higher versions. A Telecom OEM would be the company developing the customized upgrade/migration guide. And the network service providers being the customers.
Document prepared – Migration Manual. Automated, interactive step by step installer guide.
Here the user of the document is an existing user. Typically a network system administrator, employed with a telecom service provider. His job is to ensure the latest versions of the network software are running in all exchanges, mobile towers.
Since this is essentially B2B space, there is lot of information available about the customer in the CRM database.
The product is installed at distributed locations and each location may be running a different version of the product. For instance, semi-urban and rural areas might still be on 3G, whereas the urban centres may be on 4G networks. And the company might be planning a trial run of 5G networks at the same time! In such disparate conditions, every installed location requires a customized guide for system upgrade. Customization could be done as follows:
Based on base version – Upgrades are generally different with different base versions. For example upgrading from v2.3 to v3.0 might be vastly different from upgrading from v2.6 to v3.0. The migration guide shown to the network administrator would get automatically customized to the correct base version.
Based on load on the network – From the customer network statistics collected in the past, areas of heavy network congestion can be identified. And additional network reconfiguration steps need to be suggested in the installer guide for usage under heavy load conditions.

The underlying technology – CDN

content delivery network (CDN) is a network of web servers across the globe that cache and deliver web content to users, in a way that every user is catered to by a server closest to him. A CDN improves download speeds, reduces buffering and improves application performance by minimising the distance between the users and the servers hosting the content.
The company would be hosting –

  • A primary web server (known as the “Origin Server”) in its premises, and uploading all the contents onto this server.
  • Geographically spread out cache or edge servers (also known as Points of Presence or “PoP”), onto which the data from the origin server is automatically replicated.
Content Delivery Network

Illustration of the typical architecture of a Content Delivery Network

Users need not access the origin server directly, thus preventing a performance overload on it. It also ensures security of the origin server, as malicious requests would get filtered out at the cache servers.
Maintaining separate websites in multiple countries lead to high costs and decentralized, unsynchronized content. CDN can centralize control of the website content, making it easier to maintain, and reduce the cost of hosting in different countries, while continuing to serve content globally.
How to make customized content delivery work for technical documents?

  1. Segregate content in the technical documents into static and dynamic parts. The static parts are shown to all users at all times. The dynamic parts are shown to the relevant user segments.
  2. Always maintain a default set of document pages to show when a user doesn’t fall into segmented categories.
  3. Create user segments and define rules to allocate users into these segments.
  4. Keeping the segmentation simple is the key, should be based on max 3-4 major factors.
  5. Identify a suitable content management tool.
  6. Configure the content into CDN based distributed systems.
  7. Using data analytics and automation, apply customization rules at run time to display the personalised content to the user, as per his user segment.

Let’s summarise
The idea of static document content, for all users is almost dead. The key to effective customer outreach is content personalization. By delivering customized content to different user groups, companies can ensure high customer satisfaction and technical writers can eliminate repetitive effort that goes into duplicating content.

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