A great human strength is love of the community. A great human weakness is hatred of the stranger.
We do so love our tribes. I remember years ago sitting in a workshop with lots of other web professionals. There was a heated and passionate discussion about the differences between information architecture, user experience, customer experience, service design, content management, web design. And let’s not even go near software programming, branding, marketing and search engine optimization.
There are significant differences between these disciplines but it is the interconnections that matter far more today. If I have learned anything over the years it is that success on the web is a collaborative activity across silos and disciplines. The great web professionals that I have known are bridge builders. They don’t sit within the comfort zones of their discipline telling their peers how important they are, how important UX, content or web design is. Instead, they go out and build bridges.
First and foremost, they build bridges with their customers. Not an easy thing to do but if you don’t have a strong bridge between your organization and your customers then your web initiatives will never achieve maximum value.
Bridges need to be built with senior management. There is a major disconnect today between web professionals and senior managers. We cannot sit around moaning about it. We have to reach out and find ways to engage management. Find ways to show how a customer-centric approach is a win-win for everybody.
Successful web professionals build lots of bridges within the organization. If you are a non-technical web professional then it is absolutely essential to build bridges with IT professionals. I simply cannot remember a successful web environment where the techies and non-techies were not working well together. (But I could fill a book of horror stories of one group bitterly complaining about the other as they dissected yet another failed project.)
Support and marketing teams need to build a lot more bridges. Today, good support is the best marketing. Support is the new sales, as we see more and more potential customers looking up technical support content in order to help them make the purchase decision. Social media, websites, mobile apps: all touch points with the customer should be seamless and invisible. To do this we need constant conversations and continuous collaboration.
The silos and disciplines are in the minds of the professional tribes. The customer is the stranger, on the outside. But they don’t care whether they are using content or an app. They certainly don’t want to be jumping from one silo to another, getting confused and wasting time in the process.
Working together across silos is hard but it is undoubtedly the way of the future. We’re outside our comfort zones and we must also admit that our discipline is not the center of the universe. We need help. We are pieces of a jigsaw and through collaboration and bridge building we will fit together, unifying around the clear purpose of serving the customer.
The bridge builders will contribute to the creation of a simple, clear, holistic and easy to understand picture for the customer. Those with the silo mentality allow a situation to develop where the customer is presented with a jumbled set of jigsaw pieces. One thing is for certain: customers do not visit you in order to do jigsaw puzzles.
About the Author
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. His latest book is titled The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online.
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