How NAB Fixed Its Awful In-House Documentation

User documentation is an unsexy task we often try and dodge, but it can make an enormous difference. National Australia Bank (NAB) found that improving and consolidating its documentation for frontline bank workers cut duplication by 40 per cent and meant it could shut down an entire internal call centre.

Picture: inbgnMatt

Speaking at the Oracle CloudWorld event in Melbourne, NAB’s manager for knowledge management Anthony Micomonaco described how NAB had consolidated its previous set of seven distinct product information databases — covering everything from opening accounts to ordering replacement cheque books — into a single system.

The main incentive for doing that was that the existing staff documentation was thick with legalese and very unfriendly. “The information we were giving people in the front line was heavily regulated and expressed in legal terms, and then we told them ‘Smile while you deliver that’,” Micomonaco said. That meant some queries were repeatedly directed to senior process managers — a costly exercise — while an internal call centre designed to help staff routinely had to deal with 20,000 queries a month.

Fixing that meant changing the approach to creating the documentation. “We wanted to try something different: building from the experience that needs to happen in the call centre and in the storefront, and work backwards. That meant there was no change management in the front line,” Micomonaco said.

“We built the premise on delivery, not efficiency in the back office. How do we improve customer trust?”

The documentation was broken down into individual modules (stored in Oracle Service Cloud) which could be recombined as needed. Much of this was rewritten by staff from the internal call centre, since they were aware of the kinds of queries that often arose.

A second crucial strategy was allowing natural language search, rather than asking people to navigate through a hierarchy of documents. “Because natural language was aligned to the user experience, we didn’t have to teach our customers to speak ‘bank speak’, and we didn’t jave to teach our staff to speak it either,” Micomonaco said.

The build was quite rapid. “We built all relevant content in three months,” Micomonaco said — something that was possibly partly because the choice of a cloud-based solution cut back on software installation hassles. “If we weren’t using a cloud tool, we would have been running a technology stream as well.”

“Organically, usage started to increase. We worked on a little bit of promotion and the calls dropped from 20000 to 6000 in a month There was very little done apart from eventually telling staff that support area would go. There was no directive to migrate. Within 10 weeks, that whole hidden function disappeared.”

The key lesson? Starting from the needs of people who use the documentation is crucial. “My role is about consumption and delivery — consumption is the more relevant part,” Micomonaco said. “We can deliver as much as we like — if people don’t use it, we haven’t delivered.”

“You can’t make people read content; you have to make it consumable. You want people in the front line and in self-service channels to come back and use it.”

Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Oracle.

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