The Web is supposed to replace manual service with self-service, but sometimes our number one task on a website is to find someone to talk to.Over the years, I have noticed that a key task, particularly on intranets, is to find people. This is somewhat ironic when you consider that the business case of a website is essentially to replace people with content and applications. The core business case of a website is self-service. Self-service says that it is cheaper to let customers serve themselves than it is to use staff to serve them. Many organizations have thus seen the Web as a great way to reduce costs. However, self-service is never about completely eliminating staff from a particular task. There will always be some staff input required in order to allow self-service to function properly. For example, even a coke machine at a railway station requires staff to refill the stock, remove the cash, and do regular maintenance. The question for the manager is: how much staff input is required in order to deliver maximum return? Let's look at sales in a business to business environment. I know of one organization that started allowing potential customers to easily chat with qualified engineers on the website. Sales quadrupled. A potential customer may have answered most of their questions on your website, but there might be a key question that remains unanswered. If they can have a quick chat with someone and get that question answered, you might make the sale or deliver the service. Otherwise, in this increasingly impatient world, the customer might pick up the phone, walk into your office or worse, hit the Back button and go to a competitor. Recently, we did a Customer Carewords project on getting a credit card. The number one task, not surprisingly, was to get a "low rate that stays low." As part of Customer Carewords, we also have what we call the Customer Centric Index. This tests the key factors that influence the experience a customer has on your website. The number one factor for customers in this particular poll was: Hard to contact a person In a perfect world, customers would go to your website and be able to complete their tasks quickly and easily. They would be happy with the convenience and speed of your site and you would be running a very efficient organization. But it's not a perfect world. No matter how simple you make the website, there will always be customers who need more help. And maybe it's okay to lose those customers because the cost of servicing them is greater than the value they deliver. However, the more complex the tasks on your website, the more likely that some human intervention is required in order to help maximize task completion. If 30 percent of your customers require just a little extra help, wouldn't that be worth the effort? Management on the Web is a balancing act between self-service and manual service. Through a process of continuous testing and observation, you must identify the point in completing a task where some human support would benefit the customer and the organization.

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.