When your instructions are too simple

19Feb08

I recently purchased a bottle of Method stainless steel cleaner in the hopes of getting my appliances a little shinier. Foolish and naive, I followed the instructions on the bottle. I sprayed the cleaner on a soft cloth, wiped down the appliances, and was greeted with a streaky mess that looked ten times worse than before. I ended up having to use an alcohol-based cleaner just to restore the old, sort-of-clean look that I started with. After a brief web search, I learned that the Method instructions were totally oversimplified, and the real process involves 5-10 steps or more.

Clearly, it’s a good idea to make your documentation short and to the point. But be careful not to lead customers in the wrong direction or set impossible expectations. In other words, if you’re providing instructions that will probably only work in a limited number of cases, then make it clear what people should do if they don’t achieve the expected results. This could be as simple as pointing customers to some third-party resources where they can get more information about how to proceed. Otherwise, people may think the product simply doesn’t work.

In my case, I began by dismissing the Method cleaner as ineffective. It wasn’t until trying other cleaners that I saw how difficult the task was. And a helpful article online clarified that a product like Method is only one step in the process. You need to use alcohol, vinegar, and other things first to get the grime off. With this in mind, I would recommend that Method revise the instructions on the bottle. Sure, they can tell you to start by trying their product by itself. But if that doesn’t work (and for many people, it won’t), the instructions should direct you to a specific website to learn more about the full process for cleaning stainless steel — before you end up returning the product.



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