A website shows the true face of the organization as never before. A website is increasingly the place where customers get that vital first impression.Spend a few minutes on the websites of most large organizations and you will learn a lot. You will learn how they really are, how they really view you, the customer.
You will learn if they are self-centered or customer-centered. Is the website structured so as to solve your problems fast, or is it based on some internal organization structure? Is the language second person and focused on the benefits to you? Or do headings and sentences constantly start with the name of the organization?
Organizations are like nations, and you, the customer, are a foreigner. You might be treated like a welcome tourist, or like an unwanted alien, but you are always an outsider.
The strong forces of nationalism and regionalism run through organizations like giant power lines. Departments become rivals. They seek to justify their existence and promote what they do, not as a service to other staff or to the customer, but rather as an end in itself.
The customer can be a real nuisance. I once dealt with a group of technical writers for a support section of a large website. Customers found it very difficult to get the content they needed. The basic consensus of the technical writers was that the customers weren't searching hard enough.
The technical writers could find the content really quickly. That's because they understood the labyrinthine structure that was used to organize the product groups. In fact, this structure was logical if looked at from the point of view of the organization.
The structure that works well to organize internal activities is rarely the structure that will make life easy for the customer. Complexity never really goes away. It just gets shifted around.
Staff in a particular section get to know and be comfortable with a particular structure. It becomes easy for them. For them to create a structure that is customer-focused requires a lot of work and effort. It's like this: making life simple for the customer usually means making life more complex for the producer.
What's new, you're probably thinking? For centuries, organizations (particularly governments) have forced customers to adapt to often excruciating bureaucracies. What is new is that the Web changes the game.
The Web creates a direct link between the organization and the customer. The best organizations are learning about the huge benefits this direct link has. If they strip away unnecessary bureaucracy, confusing jargon, and time-wasting processes, they establish a major competitive advantage.
And how do they do that? By putting the customer at the very center of the structure-of everything they think and do-not at the edge, as has been traditionally the case.
The Dell philosophy is to put the customer at the center. My experience with Dell has not always been positive. However, by and large, I've found that they do an excellent job of putting me at the center when I'm dealing with them.
"From the start our entire business-from design to manufacturing to sales-was oriented around listening to the customer, responding to the customer, and delivering what the customer wanted," Michael Dell writes in Direct From Dell.
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.