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User assistance systems - what are they?

Almost all software products are sophisticated – and many are getting more and more complex. To guarantee customer retention and provide optimum support, users should be provided with situation-based knowledge and relevant information: instructions for the effective use of software, specialist and background knowledge and supporting assistance systems come in handy here. Users want to make use of all channels.

What are user assistance systems and how do they help in providing first-class assistance in product documentation?

A user assistance system is an information package, which can be made available to customers in various media and formats. The interface between man and machine takes centre stage particularly in the context of Industry 4.0. Although mainly software products are used to operate these interfaces, user assistance – support, guidance and information – is also important in this context. In German-speaking countries, the term “assistance system” is mostly used in the context of assistance functions in automobiles. However, it has a much broader meaning in English-speaking countries.

Here, the following systems also fall under this term:

  • Wizards
  • Manuals
  • Content delivery portals (information portals) with faceted search
  • Internet community. Example: webinars, how-to videos and other online offers
  • Forums that facilitate professional exchange
  • Augmented Reality applications

These systems make it possible to provide knowledge that is linked to software in a context-dependent manner: apart from specialist and application knowledge, users also receive further technical information and learning aids for the software. Moreover, they can access the knowledge of experts from the Development departments of the manufacturer or get tips from experienced users: the exclusive knowledge gained through active exchange of information in communities is valuable to users and a welcome source of information.

More efficiency in modern product documentation through assistance systems

A huge advantage for the users of these integrated assistance systems is that they need not leave their workstation to view the required information or tutorials; the system shows it to them at their workstations - ideally integrated into the software or the assistance system.

There are two levels of assistance systems

  • Primary assistance: elements on the software interface such as brief instructive texts.
  • Secondary assistance: functions that need to be carried out, for example calling up online help.

Handling instructions and process descriptions, which are easy to access and tailored precisely to address relevant problems, increase the depth of knowledge and streamline the workflows.

Communicative behaviour of the manufacturer is advantageous to users and the manufacturer alike: correct information from the manufacturer guarantees customer retention. Such close contact through communication, say on social media or in some other way, makes it possible to receive feedback. Accepting criticism with an open mind helps improve the products.