Business Value of Technical Communication

by Gurpreet Singh

Business value and self-esteem are the two major factors of growth/decline of any industry/profession. Technical Writers have described the value of technical communication through the viewpoint of the End User or through their self-esteem. Howver, they often forget that there still exists a business side to technical documentation. In  this article, Gurpreet Singh explains the focus on the business value proposition of technical communication.

Let us view the whole thing in terms of monetary value addition to the company and their clients (end users). Companies have different departments and each department has different viewpoint, different needs and hence they see things differently from each other.

I will take customer support department to illustrate the real value in terms of hard, cold cash, a technical communicator brings in for a company and for their clients (external customer for us). I will call the company Customer1, and their client (end users) as Customer2. I will *try* to project the business value of a technical communicator through a troubleshooting guide, as seen by Customer1 and Customer2.

Let us view a simple case of a trouble-shooting guide. The same guide that provides answers to the queries of Customer2 and hence provides value to them. Wait! They provide value to all the parties involved and not just the external customer.

Let us go in a little bit of details here. Suppose that Customer1 is a company that provides extremely complicated software platform to customer2 and this software platform comes with free customer support. Now when the user base of Customer1 grows, the number of support queries also grows.

Due to this growth, the number of support personnel also grows. This expansion costs Customer1 money in terms of salaries, training, retirement benefits and other benefits give to the employees of Customer1.

Moreover, a major part of the queries coming to Customer1 from Customer2 are of exactly similar nature. This is because the Customer2 is actually made up of few hundreds or perhaps few thousand end users and which through a query whenever they pass a little bump in the software platform.

Going by the industry standards, a customer support personnel on an average will get a CTC of $ 50,000/annum. That is the money the company i.e. Customer1 will spend on him/her for 160*12= 1920 billable hours, which comes to around $26 per hour. Lets us suppose that a query, whether be it email or phone, takes approximately 15 minutes to get solved. A person-hour will solve four queries, which means that the approximate cost of solving a customer query will be 26/4= $ 6.5.

Now a technical communicator comes in to the scene to create a trouble-shooting guide for the complex software that will contain the most commonly asked question regarding the software. The troubleshooting guide, when completed will contain few hundred common queries and their solutions. I have heard, from many, that a well-written trouble-shooting guide can provide a reduction of 30-50% in the support related queries.

Let us assume that Customer1 gets about 1,000 support calls everyday. This is not hard to imagine if few hundred thousand people are using Customer1 products. The daily cost of providing support to these 1,000 queries will come at a cool tag of $6,500/day. Extrapolated, this becomes $26,000/month and $ 31,2000 per year.

A simple 30% reduction in the support calls would bring the support cost down by $93,600/annum!

If Customer1 gets more than 1000 queries a day, or the average CTC of a support person is more than $50,000/annum, or if it takes more than 15 minutes to answer each query, or if the reduction is more than 30%, then the money saved would be much more.

Remember, money saved is money earned. If you are reducing company-running cost, you are providing value for your service, which is the motto of any person working for a company.

That was the monetary benefit gained by Customer1. We have not talked about Customer2 yet. This troubleshooting guide will also provide value in terms of hard, cold cash to the Customer2.

Let us assume that the average turnaround time of getting an answer to a developers query at Customer2 is 15 minutes. This can be a call to customer support department of Customer1 or a small chat with his senior.

Assuming that Customer2 spends  $80,000/annum on his employees, this comes to about $42/hour or about $10 per 15 minutes of work (cost per query). Let us also assume that a Customer2 generates 100 such queries each day. This is not difficult to imagine if few thousand developers are working in Customer2 on the software platform developed by Customer1.

Therefore, for 100 such queries each day, Customer2 is spending $1,000/day, or $22,000/month, or $26,4000/annum. A fifteen minutes turnaround time is very difficult to achieve, even in best companies in the world. Therefore, this figure might be much bigger than this.

By having a troubleshooting guide, developers can just search the guide to solve the query on their own. This may take a little over 5-7 minutes instead of earlier time lag of 15 minutes that will bring a cool 60% reduction in the non-billable time. This means a net saving of $15,8400/annum for the Customer2.

If Customer2 generates more than 100 queries a day, or the average CTC of an employee of Customer2 is more than $80,000/annum, or if it takes more than 15 minutes to resolve a query, or if the reduction is more than 60%, then the money saved would be much more than this.

We discussed just one of the deliverables a technical communicator works on. If we discuss training material,  marketing collateral, proposals, and other significant material technical communicator develops, and about the total cost of ownership, we can easily understand and let them understand the value of technical communication and technical communicators.