Product Support Through Installation Instructions

SEMA Member News—March/April 2013

Product Support Through Installation Instructions

By Todd Ryden

By the time a new product ships, most companies have a substantial investment at stake and plan (or hope) for a return on the investment in the near future. As a manufacturer, you invest a lot of time and money into bringing new products to market. There’s the concept for a great new hot-rod product itself followed by research and design time, prototypes, testing and, eventually, the manufacturing. Immediately following that process is the marketing side of the equation, where expenses can really add up. There are packaging costs, promotion and introduction, catalogs, literature and advertising dollars. By the time a new product ships, most companies have a substantial investment at stake and plan (or hope) for a return on the investment in the near future.

One area that many times is overlooked in the flurry it takes to get products out the door and into the hands of hot rodders is product support. In this discussion, we’re primarily talking about instructions on how to install and use your product.

It’s a given that your team knows how to install and use the product, since they’re intimately aware of the product’s operation and goals. However, the guys in their garages or installation shops may not know how to best install or set up the product as intended. It is up to the manufacturer to communicate this important information about its products.

Even if you think that the majority of hot rodders skip right past any instructions included in a package and start wrenching with zeal, that’s a poor excuse not to include a detailed set of instructions. In fact, our industry is often guilty of not providing installation tips and processes with our products—perhaps because so many of the manufacturers in the industry were hot rodders from the start.

Today, consumers who are installing parts on their cars on the weekends may not be mechanics nor even have a lot of experience working under the hood or around their cars. We have to remember that we want enthusiasts to work on their cars, to enjoy the process of improving the looks, handling and power of their vehicles. Manufacturers are the experts in what they do, so it is important to pass on the knowledge of how to install a product the correct way. Our customers own cars to have fun and enjoy working on them, and that is a huge part of the satisfaction that comes with enjoying a vehicle.

The benefits of a quality set of instructions don’t simply help the end user. There are several advantages that your company will receive as well, including a lower volume of tech calls and e-mails as well as the possible elimination of negative forum chatter. Also, warranty rates and returns will almost certainly drop when customers understand how to install and use your products.

One of the most important values for a company is a happy customer experience. When a customer installs a product easily and it delivers the value and performance expected, that equates to positive word-of-mouth advertising for your company. Word-of-mouth promotion within the hot-rod community is a huge plus for any company’s marketing—and it is nearly free!

Chances are that you may never hear about supplying an outstanding guide to installing and using your product from your customers. However, if you don’t supply thorough and correct instructions, you’ll definitely hear about it.

The goal in our hobby is to have fun with our cars and trucks. We want enthusiasts to enjoy the process of improving their hot rods and even learn from the experience of bolting on performance parts so that they can help their buddies with their next upgrades.

The following are a few guidelines to help prepare a set of installation instructions or tips:

  • Keep your writing clear and simple. If you don’t have the expertise to write instructions yourself, hire a professional. Don’t let the engineering department write instructions.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the installer—in his or her own garage with limited tools. Not everyone has a lift, an air compressor and a welder.
  • Start at the beginning of the process and list the detailed steps through completion. If you know of areas where mistakes are commonly made, point them out, including a “troubleshooting” section at the end of the instructions.
  • Provide a list of recommended tools or supplies that may be required.
  • Graphics and photos are key to explanations. If you don’t own a digital camera, buy one and learn to use it—or hire a pro.
  • Wiring schematics with clearly marked colors and connections are welcome—and often necessary—for electronic components.
  • Consider securing important instructions or warning labels to the product with a wire tie. If they’re lost in shipping, you could frustrate and lose a customer.