Can user guides be published entirely online in 2022?Research ·
The advent of digital instruction manuals is changing the rules of the manufacturing industry.
As a customer, imagine a world where each product has its online user manual with instructions and suggestions on how to use the product, ideas from other customers, images, and video tutorials. Whenever you need help using the product, you can just open the digital user manual and find all the information you need. You could stop looking for that paper manual that you had stored somewhere, you could stop searching for amatorial videos on youtube, and you could stop wasting hours of your precious time.
As a company, it is in your interest to offer your customers the best experience ever. This will increase your customer retention rate as customers will be more incentivized to repurchase from your company. But also your acquisition rate will increase because when customers are happy about a product they are using, they will share their satisfaction with friends, colleagues, family, etc.
I bet you are already thinking about how to introduce an online manual for your products. I am sure that in this article you will find answers to a lot of your questions. For example, can user manuals be published entirely online? Is there a legal backing for publishing entirely online, and does this apply to every product in the market today?
This is not just a matter of customer convenience and efficiency – for some products it’s a legal requirement, too. What about product groups that fall under CE marking, like machines, medical devices, or toys? Unfortunately, the legislation is still incomplete. The possibilities for creating an online manual for any product depend on several factors.
To solve some of the question points about online manuals, this guide examines the legal basis that allows manufacturers to post instructions digitally.
Legal Considerations for Creating Online Manuals
Let us give you a little background. The EU has several directives and regulations concerning the publication of technical requirements. While the directives and regulations may have different objectives, they all have one thing in common: they are concerned with the safe design and operation of machinery.
Since the legislation is still evolving, it is not easy to navigate. Here you can find some legal considerations for creating online manuals.
First, you need to take into account that there are several pieces of legislation that regulate this issue: The EU Electronic Commerce Directive 2000/31/EC (ECD), the EU E-Commerce Directive 2002/58/EC (ECD), the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and national laws.
Second, you need to consider that there are two different legal requirements regarding the medium of your manual: the first requirement concerns the medium itself (paper or electronic) and the second one is related to the publication format (PDF, Word, etc.).
Third, keep in mind that there are no specific requirements on how a manual should be published online when it comes to online manuals. The only requirement is that it must be accessible in an accessible way for everyone, including those with disabilities.
The EU has already taken a big step in digitalizing safety information. In 2016, the New Legislative Framework was introduced, which simplified and modernized legislation. Before this, all EU countries had their own product safety laws, and now the New Legislative Framework combines into one law. As a result, only a few products still require a printed manual—the rest can be provided digitally.
The EU member states use the Blue Guide to interpret and implement the requirements of the New Legislative Framework. The Blue Guide states that instructions unless specified otherwise may also be delivered in a different format with the product rather than in print. However, printed safety information must still be provided along with the product.
The European Commission’s draft of the eCommerce Directive’s revision aims to harmonize and standardize the laws across Europe. It addresses the EU’s circular economy objectives, clarifies some legal implications of Brexit, acknowledges the regulatory responsibilities for “end users,” and enunciates which safety information must be provided with a product.
To figure out what you can do legally, you need to map out all the legal requirements for each product. For starters, make sure that your products are compliant with all applicable international and national laws and regulations. This will inform your decision on what should go into the printed documentation.
What are the advantages of an online manual?
Manufacturers know that the end-user needs information in a convenient manner. When customers face a problem, they typically don’t think about channels or journeys. They simply want to find the information they need as fast as possible. An online manual makes for the perfect resource because it can be accessed from anywhere and at any time.
For companies, an obvious benefit of an online manual is that it doesn’t come with the same logistical challenges as a printed version, so many manufacturers are moving their manuals online. In addition to that, by introducing an online user manual, your company can also reduce the environmental impact and enhance cost efficiency thanks to a decrease in paper and ink consumption.
But, when considering how to provide your end-users with access to the information they want and need, you’ll need to consider all potential benefits and drawbacks before deciding.
Other benefits of digital manuals include:
The online manual can be easily accessed.
First, the online manual can be read from any device with an Internet connection. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a cell phone or a tablet, or even a desktop computer at home or work—the online manual is easy to find.
The online user manual has the advantage of being updated in real-time.
The second advantage of online user manuals is that they can be updated in real-time. When a company has an update to the instructions, they can change the web-based document immediately. This helps ensure that all users have access to the most up-to-date information.
It’s also easy for multiple authors in different places worldwide to collaborate on updating the manual at once. They do not have to gather together in one place or take turns making edits and uploading them. Anyone who has access can make updates anytime from anywhere with internet access, which makes things much simpler for teams that are not located together physically but are working together on a project digitally.
A user manual that lives on the web will probably have images.
Digital user manuals are full of multimedia accompanying the written text, from diagrams to screenshots, images, videos, etc. That’s why a web-based user manual can be so much better than an offline version.
Multimedia content can be used in different ways:
- Video, audio, and interactive components can be used to engage users more than traditional print-based guides do.
- Images and screenshots show how your product works, making it easy for people to understand how to use it effectively.
- Interactive images that allow users to click around make the user experience even more fun and interactive!
Web-based user manuals are often more complete than their print counterparts.
In addition to all the above benefits, a web page is not constrained by the amount of information that can be printed on a single sheet of paper. As a result, many online manuals include audio or video clips in addition to text and images. Animations can be used to demonstrate how to carry out certain steps of an instructional process. It is easier for new customers to understand it better and use it to its full extent when the manual contains all the relevant information and demonstrative multimedia content.
Digital manuals are environmentally friendly.
When using printed user manuals, companies consume a lot of paper, which translates to more felling of trees, increased carbon dioxide production, and global warming. Digital manuals can be a step towards ecological conservation thanks to reduced paper and ink consumption.
An online manual requires less effort to read and navigate.
This is a huge plus for customers who need to quickly get up to speed on using a product or service. Online manuals are easily navigable with quick links and shortcuts. In addition, online manuals can sometimes contain content you won’t find in printed versions, such as links to other resources that expand on some of the topics mentioned within the manual.
Online solutions are the future of user manuals. The next generations might not even be aware that printed manuals existed.
Introducing online user manuals can be extremely beneficial for companies offering physical products. Also, you should consider that as you implement and keep improving your online manual, customers' satisfaction will increase together with the benefits you will experience as a company.
Now that you have learned that online user manuals are the right choice for your products, keep in mind that there are some regulations to check to make sure that you can implement your digital manuals without incurring legal sanctions. Ultimately, instruction manuals are meant for information that relates to safe usage of the product, and any misrepresentation can lead to bitter consumer experiences, accidents, and lawsuits.
If have already started thinking about what your digital user manual will look like, Layerise solution could be a good idea for you!
Layerise is a virtual product assistant that helps to solve the conundrum between going digital or using paper manuals for a product or not. By using our platform, companies can enhance their post-sales experience and provide relevant information about product usage, warranty, and maintenance conveniently. We would be happy to help you improve your post-sales experience. If you are interested to learn more, contact us today!
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