Consumers perceive assembly instructions as a reflection of product quality. Great product instructions can increase star ratings, prevent safety problems, and reduce returns and calls to support.
Poor instructions create customer frustration and cause a shocking percentage of product returns. We’ve also seen the worst-case scenario, where unclear instructions result in incorrect assembly and safety issues.
"Was excited to use it, but the assembly took longer than expected. Instructions are very unclear; pictures are blurry. Had to telephone support several times and I still have not received any help from them." — Product review before BILT instructions
Instructions can make or break the customer experience — and your profitability.
At BILT, we know instructions better than anyone else in the world because it’s all we do. We create BILT 3D Interactive Instructions for anything that needs assembly, installation, maintenance, or programming — but only after we complete an in-depth ten-point assembly analysis. Typically, we find between 12-30 major improvements in the instructions for each product.
We’re sharing the most common problems we find in paper instructions so you can ensure the post-purchase customer experience is as good as your product.
1. Bad English: Instructions should be clear and easy to read. Despite an abundance of free writing tools on the web, instructions are commonly plagued with misspellings, missing words, and clunky English. Don’t leave it up to a factory translator to create your instructions. Even native speakers should use a tool like Grammarly to check instruction text.
2. Steps that no longer apply: Oftentimes a factory adapts old instructions to a new or updated product. Product improvements may eliminate assembly steps, but if you forget to remove them from the instructions, your improvements can be costly in terms of calls to customer support. All changes to your instructions should be reviewed internally by the team that owns the profit and loss on the product.
3. Search and replace gone wrong: It’s tempting to perform a blanket “search and replace” to quickly update a model number throughout an instruction set, but this often results in scrambled text that doesn’t make sense. Again, edit the full instruction set after each product update.
4. Magnifying glass required: Illustrations that are too small frustrate customers. Ensure your diagrams are large enough for consumers to quickly and easily identify each part. Be generous and include an extra sheet of paper if that’s what it takes to make your instructions readable.
5. Exploded view only: Diagrams are no substitute for step-by-step instructions. In cases where there is just an exploded view of parts and not a step-by-step breakdown, customers must fill in the blanks with guesswork. Your customers expect a full explanation of how parts fit together and the order of assembly.
6. Labels first: Determine your labeling system for parts before going to production. At a minimum, customers expect parts to be clearly marked and identified. They expect the text to match the labels. Shorter labels are generally better than long ones. Bonus points if your labeling system makes sense to customers and not just your factory and engineers.
7. Diagrams don't match the text or the product: Customers are easily confused by diagrams that don't match the text or the product in front of them. It diminishes their confidence that the box included all the right parts. Even worse, inconsistencies introduce an element of mistrust because customers believe mistakes can indicate larger communication issues between product engineers and the factory. Even if it costs money or time, edit existing diagrams and captions to reflect every model iteration.
Accurate instructions provide customers with confidence they can accomplish the job — and that your product is worth the effort. Remember, this could be the first time they have ever interacted with your brand.
"This product is amazing. Installation is so easy. Love it"
Review of the Assure Lock SL by Yale Residential
Most mistakes happen because the tech writer did not actually assemble the product and doesn't know the pain points. Our best piece of advice comes down to one mantra: Always have a real person assemble the final product.
“It almost feels as if they have never put the product together to make sure that it’s a workable product for the consumer.” — Product review before BILT instructions
Assembling the final product and following this checklist will help you catch all the mistakes above, as well as other factory issues that you can impact before it’s too late. We recently received a product sample with screws that were so poorly made, they disintegrated during our assembly analysis. The brand would’ve had no idea of the problem until it was far too late. We knew the hardware didn’t hold up to the client’s high standards so we notified them immediately. Fortunately, the client was able to prevent hundreds of thousands of dollars in returns.
The BILT Experience
When a manufacturer or brand decides to give their customers the BILT experience, they send us a product sample, basic CAD files, and the existing paper and video instructions.
Our BILT Instruction Designers create 3D instructions as they perform an in-depth 10-point assembly analysis on each product. Then each instruction set undergoes several rounds of BILT quality assurance testing.
"Very nice table. Simple assembly for most, especially if you download the BILT app. I used the app on my tablet and it speaks the step-by-step instructions to you."
5-star review on the 4-Piece Table Tennis Set by MD Sports
Once the instructions go live on the BILT app, we continue to clarify and improve them based on end-user feedback and real assembly data. Updates go live instantly so our clients always have the safest, most accurate instructions available for their products.
Your product instructions are an opportunity to build your brand. Customers are most likely to discuss their new purchase within 8 to 24 hours of opening the package, so make sure your assembly process is worthy of your products.
"This was the best do it yourself project that I have ever assembled. The 3D project App was amazing. It actually took all of the stress and doubt that usually comes along with a job like this away and made me feel confident that I could build this myself. The quality of the pavilion itself is very good and I am extremely impressed. The pavilion has turned my backyard into a completely different environment, I keep looking outside and can’t believe how beautiful it is. Thanks for selling such an amazing product. I will definitely recommend this to all of my friends."
5-star review on the Brookdale 12x10 Gazebo with Electric by Backyard Discovery
→ Also read Major National Brand Improves Star Ratings & Slashes Support Costs by 30% — Case Study