Listening to customers is not enough. You must listen to the right ones. Is the feedback you are getting for your website truly reflective of the needs of the majority of your customers? Too often, websites get feedback that reflects the 'squeaky wheel' syndrome. (The squeaky wheel gets oiled.) Are the customers who give feedback reflecting the top tasks of the average customer or do they have exceptional tasks and demands? Because if their tasks and demands are exceptional then changing your website to meet them may be the worst thing you could do. Management's job is to use limited resources to achieve maximum return. This is true whether we are talking about management in a government, non-profit or commercial environment. Even on a government website, management's job is not to serve everybody. That is not a good use of limited resources; of taxpayer's money. One of the major complaints about governments is that they don't use scarce resources wisely, and this complaint has never been truer than on many government websites. But this complaint is not just true of government websites. Many commercial websites attempt to do and be everything for everybody. The intentions are good but the results are not. Listening to customer feedback is of course usually a positive thing to do. But if what a particular customer wants does not reflect general customer demand then, in most circumstances, you should not respond to that wish. Here's why. Let's say you have five features in a web application or five pieces of content on your website. Customer B wants you to add a sixth feature or sixth piece of content. You face two problems. Firstly, you have limited resources. The time and money you could have spent improving and refining the five features/content now needs to be stretched in order to develop and manage the sixth piece. (I don't think I have ever come across a web feature or piece of content that couldn't be improved.) Secondly, you have added more complexity to the environment. The five features have now got to share space with the sixth. The sixth piece of content might now come first in the search results page, thus being more likely to be clicked on. There are always a small set of top tasks within an environment that have huge demand. Then, there is an almost limitless supply of exceptional tasks and demands from customers. If we pursue the exceptions we reduce the time we have to make the top tasks better and add complexity for the customers trying to find and complete these tasks. Just because one customer asks for something doesn't mean we should do it. We must decide if this is a top task that is emerging or that we might have missed. We must also calculate the cost to our resources and to our other customers' time and attention. Your website can be like a mirage, promising an endless space full of limitless possibilities. But if you keep filling it up you will turn it into a desert of complexity where everything seems to be in reach but nothing really is.

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.