Documentation in CRM


Documentation is a vital part of CRM. In addition to the formal documents your IT people will use, there are the references to guide your people in how to use the system.

Don’t neglect this important part of your documentation. From cheat sheets outlining how to do common operations, to user manuals covering the entire system, documentation reduces friction and makes sure your people can do their jobs easily and correctly.

The lowest level of documentation is the cheat sheet. This is one or a few pages outlining the basic commands to get the fundamental jobs done.

A good example of how not to do a cheat sheet is the man pages for Unix and Linux. These are invaluable to experienced users but they’re just about useless for novices. They are extremely compact and written in a notation that it takes some training to understand. You should not have to worry about compactness and you want your cheat sheets to be easy for anyone to understand.

Also unlike the man pages, cheat sheets aren’t intended to be complete. They cover only a few of the most important jobs, preferably on a single sheet of paper. Concentrate on the topics your employees are most likely to ask about.

One step up from the cheat sheets are the FAQ files. These strive to answer all the commonly asked questions about the system and tell users how to do more complicated and less common jobs. These should be written in clear, simple English, not in computerese. They should start with a list of the questions so the users can quickly find the subject they are interested in.

Unlike cheat sheets which should be distributed on sheets of paper, workers can keep by their computers, FAQ files are kept on line and should be easily accessible to everyone. It should take just a few seconds for the user to go to the cheat sheet and not much longer to find an answer to a question.

Generally FAQ files are structured as questions and answers. The questions are usually in the form of “how do I …” and the answers are as long as they need to be.

Don’t try to cram too much information into a single answer. Instead split the topic up into related questions. Also, don’t be afraid to repeat information in different answers. You don’t want the users to have to scroll back to another question to understand the answer.

Finally there is the user manual. Unlike the cheat sheets and FAQ files, this is designed to be complete. Ideally it contains all the information you need to operate the system, laid out in an easy-to-access form.

Writing a good user manual is a job for a professional technical writer and you’ll probably have to hire one to get it done. Sometimes the vendor’s documentation will suffice, but often not because it is aimed at the IT staff and doesn’t include the configurations you have included in your system.

None of this is of any use if it isn’t kept up to date. As the system changes, your documentation needs to change as well.