How to Create Effective Step-By-Step Guides For Your SaaS Product
Step-by-step guides are the base of your documentation and a must-have if you want to enable product growth.
Proper documentation can go a long way when outsourcing processes, hiring new employees, and onboarding customers to use your product as intended.
This article will cover the key elements of a good product guide and the tools that can help you implement them.
- A step-by-step guide is a resource designed so any employee or customer can follow through and execute the required tasks. It outlines and describes every step to fulfill a process successfully.
- Creating step-by-step tutorials is necessary for any scaling business. It benefits knowledge sharing (giving users quick access to information), diminishes human errors, and reduces operating costs.
- A good step-by-step guide must be easy for anyone to understand, should define clear chronological steps to finish the process, and need to include additional formats such as videos and visuals to complement the guide.
- There are four steps to document and use your processes:
- Speaking with your team to identify the processes that must be documented and create a rough draft.
- Research your target audience and build an accurate persona of the person who will read the guide (whether it’s for employees or customers).
- Outline and write your guide. Adding as many details as possible.
- Add checklists to your guides and list every task in chronological order.
- Here are some tips for creating step-by-step instructions:
- Create interactive walkthroughs where each new step is triggered by the user completing the previous step.
- Embed your step-by-step guides in your resource center so that users can come back to them anytime they need them.
- Structure your guides and create walkthroughs, so users can read only some of the article to find the information they’re searching for.
- Use AI to generate and embed videos into in-app guides by simply typing in text. The integration between Synthesia and Userpilot makes this possible!
- Implement localization and offer guidance in multiple languages to make it easier for non-native English speakers to understand and replicate your instructions.
- Collect feedback from your learners and improve your guides based on user insights.
- Regularly update your instructions and keep your documentation up to date.
- Here are three tools you can use to make step-by-step guides less time-consuming:
- Userpilot is a customer success tool that can help you guide your users with UI patterns such as modals, tooltips, interactive walkthroughs, and so on. Plus, you can build your knowledge base and personalize its content based on user segments.
- Scribe is an app that can record your screen when performing a task and instantly create a guide with screenshots and detailed instructions.
- Loom is the go-to app for async communication and recording video tutorials that you can use to complement your process documentation (as well as collaborate with your teammates).
What are step-by-step guides in SaaS?
In SaaS, a step-by-step guide is a resource meant to outline and describe every step to fulfill a process. And it’s designed so any employee or customer can follow through and execute the required tasks successfully.
For digital adoption, documentation is key to keeping users engaged with your product and breaking down complex tasks into simple process documents.
How do step-by-step guides benefit your business?
Documenting your process is beneficial and necessary for any business that wants to scale.
Its key benefits include:
Improved knowledge sharing
According to McKinsey, employees spend 20% of their workweek searching for information about a task.
With the right documentation, this information can be quickly accessible by your team every time they need it. Plus, it makes it easier to onboard new employees without much friction.
And finally, your customers won’t have to wait for hours to get an answer to their simple queries. They’ll instantly resolve their issues on their own thanks to self-serve guides.
Human error prevention
By creating and distributing how-to guides that outline the key business processes, you can prevent a big chunk of errors caused by improper procedures.
Your customer support agents are only human and they can make mistakes frequently too. Think about new employees who don’t know the in and outs of the product very well yet or the exhausted agent who was contacted by another customer at the end of the long workday.
With steady documentation in place, all your agents have to do is direct your customers toward those resources.
Lower operating costs
With efficient knowledge sharing and diminished human errors, your operating costs will inevitably reduce as a result of decreased errors and tasks getting done more efficiently.
Key features and elements of effective step-by-step guides
Now, what makes a good guide in the first place? Here’s what you should look for:
Easy-to-understand language and instructions
Accessibility is essential for a step-by-step guide. An important part of accessibility is writing clearly and concisely. The general rule is: if there’s room to cut a word, do so. Say it in the easiest way possible.
A good guide must be able to take a task that seems complex and divide it into multiple simple steps that anyone can grasp. And have a clear idea of what success looks like and which mistakes to avoid.
Clearly defined chronological steps
Now, dividing a process into steps isn’t enough if it doesn’t follow a logical order. That’s why you must number each step of the task in a chronological flow.
A great tip is to use checklists to organize the steps in the right order and make them easier to follow.
Visual content and examples
Although the text is the main medium to document your processes, effective step-by-step guides should also include visual and video resources to better explain the process.
These can be used for teaching how to navigate the interface of your product, clarify concepts, ease the learning curve, or complement your current resources.
Loom’s video tutorials are a great example, as they’re very short videos that explain specific tasks to the user and can be found right inside the app (no need to leave).
How to document any process with step-by-step guides
Despite following the best practices, you might still need guidance on how to get started with your documentation. Here’s our four-step process to do it:
1. Identify what processes you’re documenting
First, you need to know what exactly you’re trying to document.
Take a look at what your team is doing repeatedly and ask them about which processes are worth documenting.
Then, create a rough draft of the task, including the following:
- The name of the task
- The goal
- Definition of “done”
This draft will help you set the scope of work for each task and give you a basic idea of how it looks.
2. Define user personas and understand your target audience
You can’t explain something without knowing who you’re speaking to.
That’s why you need to define your target audience with a user persona.
Whether the guide is meant for employees or customers, you should focus on the important aspects, such as jobs to be done, pain points, responsibilities, motivations, etc.
And to build your persona effectively, you must gather your data from interviews, customer feedback, and microsurveys. A fictional persona will be useless.
Take this product marketing manager persona as an example:
3. Outline each step of the process and write the content
With the processes and your target audience’s profile at hand, you can get started with the creation process.
First, make an outline of the resource you’re making.
If it’s an SOP, create headers for each step of the process and add notes about what the task entails and what not to do.
Once you have a decent outline in place, start the writing session and explain each process with a deeper level of detail. Make sure to break down the information with bullet points, GIFs, infographics, or video tutorials to make it easier to digest.
And at the end, it’s a good idea to conduct at least one round of editing to ensure that the writing is clear, concise, and doesn’t distract the user with unnecessary information.
4. Use progress bars and checklists to indicate progress
Once your resource is finished, you can repurpose it into different formats—especially checklists.
For new customers, for example, you want users to reach the activation point and realize the value of your product as fast as possible.
To help with this, you can repurpose an SOP into onboarding checklists to guide customers through the core features of your product and make a complex process look easier with tinier steps.
Pro tip: A UX design best practice is to add a progress bar and dummy tasks (steps already crossed out) to make the user feel like they’ve made progress. It works because—according to the Zeigarnik effect—our brain remembers unfinished tasks, giving us a higher motivation to finish something we already started.
Tips for creating effective step-by-step guides
Once you start publishing and using guides in your company, there’re still a few tips that could make the difference between a guide that’s being read and one that’s being followed.
Employ interactive walkthroughs where users learn by doing
Product walkthroughs are interactive in-app experiences, usually consisting of sequences of tooltips and driven actions, that take the user through the steps they need to take in order to complete key tasks within the product.
The exciting thing is each new step is triggered by the user completing the previous step. There’s no arbitrary dumping of information on the user before they need it.
From the user’s perspective, this feels like a friendly, one-on-one chat.
Embed your step-by-step guides in your resource center
Make your guides visible and easily accessible so that your users can always revisit them.
To do so, create an in-app resource center user and embed all of your self-serve resources into it.
Besides guides, you can also add a feedback widget to your knowledge base to enable passive feedback, and give them access to live chat and educational webinars in case guides aren’t enough to help them.
Maintain a well-structured guide that’s simple to navigate
It’s easy to publish a lot of guides and forget about organizing them.
The result is a messy resource center that’s hard for users to navigate.
For this, it’s important to organize your resources and create a structure for your guides (especially if they’re long).
You can do this in many ways, such as adding a table of content inside your guide or grouping multiple guides to make an entire walkthrough.
Asana, for example, does this pretty well by adding all of the mentioned tips and making it easy for the user to navigate and quickly jump to the information they’re looking for without having to read the entire guide.
Use AI to generate and embed videos into in-app guides
We’re in an age where you leverage artificial intelligence to create interactive video guides by simply typing text.
With an AI video creation tool like Synthesia, you can generate video tutorials and quickly repurpose product guides into videos.
Plus, if you want to bring it to the next level, Synthesia integrates with Userpilot (a customer success tool), allowing you to embed automated video tutorials inside your UI patterns (tooltips, checklists, etc.) to educate customers.
Offer guidance in multiple languages
As an international SaaS company, you probably have clients from all around the world.
So why not create product guides for them in their local languages and make it easier for them to read and understand the instructions?
Translating every piece of information into multiple languages may sound like a draining process, but localization is definitely worth the effort. Besides, there are a lot of tools that can help you automate this and scale!
With a tool like Userpilot, you can auto-translate your knowledge base content into more than 32 languages. Moreover, you can even translate your in-app experiences into multiple languages!
Collect feedback from your learners and improve your guides
The most overlooked practice is to get feedback from the people reading your documentation. Such feedback can give you deeper insights into how to create better guides in the future and make life easier for your users.
Measure the effectiveness of your guides by collecting data from learners. You can use this data to identify guides that need improvement because learners rated them unhelpful. Then, using your experts’ insights, you can revisit and enhance these guides.
Regularly update your instructions
Keep your documentation updated as workflows, features, and guidelines change. Instead of struggling with outdated instructions, readers can follow the new ones and get their jobs done without friction.
Tools for creating step-by-step guides
Creating, repurposing, and organizing resources can be very time-consuming.
Thankfully, there are some useful tools you can use to ease this process (and aren’t called Microsoft Word):
Userpilot is a customer success tool for building in-app guides using several UI patterns inside your product, such as checklists, tooltips, modals, etc.
It’s useful when you want to repurpose a user guide into a checklist or an interactive walkthrough—so users can receive the training they need right inside the app without having to check an additional tab.
Not only that, but it also allows you to create an in-app knowledge base and show personalized content based on the user segment. Plus giving you the option to translate your resources into more than 32 languages automatically.
If you need a tool for creating the actual resources, Scribe is the tool you’re looking for.
With Scribe, you can record your screen while performing a task, and once you’re finished, it will lay out all the steps with annotated screenshots, good writing, and click marks.
For dedicated tasks, you can easily ask someone from your team to do the recording and send you the Scribe draft, so you only need to edit it and add the details, customize it for branding, link other resources, and so on.
The guides can be shared with a link or exported to other formats.
Loom is a go-to app for creating video tutorials and complementing your guides quickly.
The tool can simultaneously record your screen and camera, making it easy to make a walkthrough for any process, give feedback on the go, collaborate, and improve the onboarding experience.
Plus, Loom also allows you to organize your videos, add comments, and edit them as you finish recording—so there is no need to use video editing tools for basic formats.
There’s no doubt that documenting your processes is necessary if you want your business to run smoothly.
So if you’re interested in leveraging interactive step-by-step guides in your company, request a Userpilot demo to get the most out of your buck.