An Article by Gerry McGovern
Listening to customers and making sure your website is usable are important to website success. It is much more important, however, to have a website that delivers real value both to the organization and the reader. Going for value can sometimes mean going against customer feedback and usability best practice.
When asked, Amazon.com customers seemingly didn't want one-click ordering. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, felt otherwise. From his experience, he knew that people hated purchase processes. I read about this a couple of years ago and it really made me think. Here was someone who did not listen to his customers wishes, gave them something which they said they didn't want, which after a while they really got to like.
Listening to your customers doesn't mean following your customers. Management is about making the right decisions. Sometimes the customers don't know what they want. You need to be able to have the ability to analyze feedback and make a reasoned decision that reflects a clear strategy and set of objectives.
The United Kingdom Department for Transport was commended in a recent usability study for saving GBP130,000 by relocating its employee newsletter to the intranet. The report entitled "Ten Best Government and Public Sector Intranet Designs" is by the Nielsen Norman Group.
Why do you have a staff newsletter in the first place? To inform staff. Why do you want to inform staff? So that they will become more productive, and so that they will become more loyal because they feel the organization cares enough about them to keep them up-to-date on key issues.
The core objective of the intranet should not be to save costs, but rather to create value. It should be focused on making staff more productive and loyal. Placing the print newsletter on the intranet is not necessarily achieving any of these objectives.
I have come across internal communications departments that see the intranet as an easy and cheap way to get stuff out. If they get it up on the intranet, then their job is done. In proper communication, your job is not done until people have read, understood and acted upon what you have published.
If putting a newsletter only on the Web was such a good idea, then why haven't all the commercial newspapers and magazines saved costs and dropped their print editions and published only on the Web? Because it is blatantly obvious to them that the majority of people still like to read a lot of content in print.
I stayed in this cool hotel a while back called the "W." The W is a usability nightmare. There's very little familiar about it, as it goes deliberately against the grain of standard hotel design. For example, they give you white pencils and black paper. The W hotel chain is doing extremely well.
Usability sometimes misses the point. If you're trying to sell me red shoes, I don't care how user-friendly your website is, I'm just not interested in buying. If you're charging me 30 percent more than your competitor, all your fancy usability is pretty much irrelevant. If I think this product is cool and I must have it, I will gladly suffer an unusually designed website just to get my hands on it.
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.