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Manufacturers are turning to the web to help their customers figure out complex products
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The SMARTManual product resides on the web host of the manufacturer or retailer. In the case of the Zappy scooter, the manual covers everything a paper manual would cover, starting with unfolding the scooter and charging the battery to troubleshooting. In the troubleshooting application, a series of queries leads a user to the particular problem, and close-up pictures and animations walk the user through the repair. Users can print the repair instructions so they can have them handy to work on their scooter. When they do so, the animations automatically print sequentially so the user can follow the instructions step by step. “We’re not assuming that the customer will have the Zappy on the desk next to their computer,” says Glatzer, former president of the Prodigy Network.
The SMARTManual program also tracks how consumers use the manual. Manufacturers can analyze that information to determine where customers have the most problems with the product, allowing them to address problem areas. The cost of producing a SMARTManual is under $20,000, Glatzer says.
How2TV offers a video demonstration of a user’s manual. The video is created in 30- or 40-second increments and allows users to skip to another topic if they are familiar already with the topic under discussion. “We try to focus it on the questions a customer would have,” Arcangeli says. “We ask the manufacturers to tell us the top 10 things that their customers would be concerned with.” The cost of such a video manual depends on the number of steps that How2TV must produce, but prices start at $10,000.
As for calls to the customer support center, LiveManuals already has results that web-based assistance can reduce call center calls. Last November, Zenith deployed a LiveManuals customer support feature for remote controls on its web site. At the same time, it changed its call center number from an 800 to a 900 number. Calls to the call center have dropped by 90%, Sims says. “We’ve seen a tremendous increase in web traffic,” he says. “People are willing to help themselves, and will do so when provided an easy-to-use solution.”
Sims cautions, however, that not all deployers of the technology will see similar results. “It’s not clear that other manufacturers are prepared to take the aggressive approach that Zenith took,” Sims says.
E-Sim writes and develops the guided tours and records the voice-overs at a production facility in Israel. A production facility in Bangalore, India, applies the graphics and converts everything to HTML. How2TV creates its products in the Los Angeles area. In fact, How2TV believes that its location in Los Angeles helps it create high-quality video. It can tap into a local pool of experienced cinematographers and video production specialists. And there is a large enough pool that How2TV does not need to hire such specialists permanently. It hosts a seminar it calls How2TV University three times a year and attracts about 75 to each. “One reason we are in LA is that finding people in the film industry is very easy,” Arcangelli says.
OneCare produces the manuals for its users or it licenses the software so the manufacturer itself can produce the manual. The manufacturer uploads the pictures, then provides the content. In addition, the manufacturer can make the smartmanual software available to its component suppliers, for instance, the battery provider in the case of the ZapWorld manual, and the suppliers can update the information.
While OneCare, How2TV and e-Sim have the market to themselves today, that probably will not last, industry participants say. Says Glatzer: “Within 36 months, every manufacturer across every industry will have a significant form of product support like what we’re doing.” That surely will draw more companies into the market.
Video manuals can do marketing duty as well
How2TV and LiveManuals have also made use of their production capabilities to produce promotional materials. In December, for instance, Yamaha Electronics debuted a How2TV video promoting its new RXV1 audio receiver. In the first month, 6,000 customers viewed the video-and that monthly number has held since then.
Yamaha was cautious, didn’t make the video accessible from a lot of places on its web site and has done little promotion, so executives are pleased with the results, says Thomas Graham, vice president of marketing for Yamaha.
Henio R. Arcangeli Jr., president of How2TV, says 25% of customers who viewed the video took additional action-clicked a store locator button, requested more information or requested a catalog-and only 1% pressed the help button.
Graham says Yamaha can’t tell if the video has generated sales. But he says the promotion was priced low enough that there was not a huge risk in deploying it. Yamaha paid $10,000 for the video and 10 cents per download, meaning Yamaha pays $600 a month promote the receiver this way. “Compared to direct marketing and e-mail, it’s pretty inexpensive,” Graham says.
One thing that Yamaha has learned from the video is that it must be kept short. The RXV1 video is two and a half minutes long, with the first half of the video recounting some of Yamaha’s background. Most viewers bail out halfway through, Graham says.