An article by Gerry McGovern.
A website should be measured based on the value it creates. What results do you want to get from your website? A 100 percent self-service website may simply not deliver the results you need. The right mix of self service and human support may in fact deliver the best value.Even vending machines require refilling and maintenance. McDonalds could not be run without its staff. The Web is often compared to a library. Well, where would a library be without its librarians?
Many organizations see support as a cost that needs to be reduced at every opportunity. They view a website as a way to manage with less people. Reducing costs is, of course, a legitimate exercise. However, we should not lose sight of the ultimate objective, which is to create value.
If we are a business, we create value by increasing sales and/or productivity and thus making more profit. If we are a government, we create more value by better serving citizens. If we are a university, we create more value by attracting better qualified students.
The objective of your website should be to create more value. Let's say you have an objective of making more sales. I know of certain websites that have a lot of people visiting but not many buying. If these websites could convert more 'lookers' into 'bookers', then they would be creating more value.
One way to create more lookers into bookers is to offer some 'live help'. If someone is going through a purchase process, or filling out a form, being able to get instant support could be the difference between success and failure.
In 2003, Utah.gov was named the best state government web portal in America by the Center for Digital Government. "Our goal is to use technology to make state government services more efficient and accessible," said Governor Mike Leavitt. "This award shows we're making real progress in our efforts to move more government services online instead of in line."
Utah sees its website as a way to deliver better services while at the same time saving money through greater efficiency.
A key feature of Utah.gov is its '24/7 Live Help' service. I tested it on a Saturday morning in Ireland. Within seconds I had a friendly reply. I asked if lots of Utah citizens availed of such a service. I was told that it was very popular.
Large websites are very complex places. They can contain far more information than an average library. No matter how well they are designed, they are going to be confusing to a lot of people. Offering some human support can help people do what they need to do more quickly. That's value creation.
I see a lot of intranets that are starved of funds. Senior management rarely use the intranet and therefore don't place any real value on it. The intranet can increase productivity by getting the right content to the right person more quickly. To achieve such productivity increases will require a substantial initial investment and ongoing management and support.
Unfortunately, many websites are like libraries with all the books on the floor, the lights turned out, and no librarians in attendance. There's a difference between self service that delivers value and being left to fend for yourself.
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994. He has also authored several authoritative books
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