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PHOTO: Jamin Gray

When I consult with clients on developing a digital policy program, we almost always start by looking inward. We talk about their strategic goals, whether their current content strategy supports those goals, whether they’re exposing the business to unnecessary risks, whether their employees have the skills and resources they need, whether their IT infrastructure is sufficient, what security protocols are in place, how they maintain compliance with a hairball of laws and regulations, etc.

But all of those things, while extremely important, focus on how the organization wants its digital channels to operate. At some point, they’re going to have to step back and look at things from the perspective of the customer. That’s where they’ll find the opportunities. When organizations focus only on the risks, they often create policies that ignore customer wants and needs … or make it harder for customers to do business.

Digital policies have a dual goal: minimizing risk while maximizing opportunity. But the two objectives aren’t always addressed simultaneously, and customers are usually the ones left standing in the cold.

Opportunity: The Customer’s Role in Digital Policies

Customers come to a website to accomplish a task, whether it’s doing research for a major purchase or checking up on the Kardashians’ latest antics. If the content and design of the organization’s digital channels aren’t aligned with those tasks, the customers will have a bad user experience.

State government sites provide a good example. Frequently, states use their websites to showcase the state as a wonderful place to live, work, and visit. But the users — the residents who actually live there and pay taxes — just want to find out how to renew their car tags or get a business license.

Compare Tennessee’s website to Florida’s, for example. Which would make it easier to accomplish a task, like obtaining a business license? 

screenshot of Tennessee state website
Tennessee's state website

Florida state website
Florida state website

These are the things organizations miss when they don’t incorporate customers’ needs into their digital policies, and it applies to any organization with a digital presence, whether it’s a government agency, a non-profit, or a business.

Related Article: The Demographic Your Digital Policies Can't Ignore

Listening to the Voice of the Customer

The first step is to take a hard look at your digital activities (and the policies behind them) to understand whether they’re serving your organization’s entire ecosystem … or just the organization. If your current digital policies focus primarily on protecting your organization from risk, you might need to do a bit of retooling to include the voice of the customer.

What does your audience want from your digital channels? What are the main tasks they’re trying to accomplish?

Why do people visit your website? Large, multinational organizations may be able to come up with page after page of reasons, but, for most organizations, customers are trying to accomplish a handful of essential tasks: making a purchase, finding a movie to watch, logging in, changing a password, etc. If they can’t do those core tasks easily, any bells and whistles you’ve added don’t really matter.

It’s not uncommon for organizations undertaking this task to discover an inverse relationship between the content that’s most prominent on their website and the things customers care about the most. That’s a sure sign that it’s time to start facing outward rather than inward.

So how do you find out what customers want from your digital channels? Well, you start by not making assumptions. You need data, and it’s not that hard to get:

  • Ask the people who have direct contact with your customers, such as help desk and customer service agents. If they’re consistently getting the same questions or complaints, that’s important information.
  • Step up your social listening game. What are people saying about you on social media Are they posting complaints or compliments? What are they?
  • What about your own digital channels? Do customers engage with you? Are they just being social, or are they seeking help? Do you respond in a timely matter?
  • What are the first things you notice when you visit a competitor’s site? Is it more customer-focused than yours? Are customer tasks easier to accomplish? If so, which elements should you implement on your own site?

There are plenty of places to get customer feedback — if you really want it.

Your organization needs a digital policy that specifies what you will do in terms of seeking out and listening to the voice of the customer.

Is anyone tracking this information? Is anyone analyzing it to spot trends and draw conclusions?

Tracking your customers’ wants and needs, then not doing anything with that information, is worse than not listening at all. I’m not suggesting that your organization has to comply with every request or suggestion. In fact, doing so could cause your organization to waste resources reacting to temporary trends. But, when combined with the right data, the voice of the customer can offer valuable insights that will help you focus your resources on the right initiatives.

Your organization needs a digital policy that outlines how the collected customer feedback will be handled, processed, analyzed and resolved.

Do your developers and content creators have a “wait list”? If so, how many of the projects clogging up the pipeline have nothing to do with the most important tasks for your customers?

Much of the content on a business’s website is there to serve organizational needs. Executive bios can be an important part of establishing credibility, especially within certain industries. New product launches can make headlines and create customer excitement. Blog posts and other content help drive traffic to the site, feeding the sales funnel. And then there are regulatory requirements, like privacy and accessibility statements.

But none of those things help your customers do business with you. It’s all too easy for those customer tasks to get lost in the self-absorbed stew of compliance, marketing, PR, etc.

So how do you decide which projects are worked on, and when? The answer will differ from one organization to another, but formalizing the decision process ensures that it doesn’t become a matter of who has the most weight to throw around.

Your organization needs a digital policy that lists the criteria by which new project requests will be prioritized, scheduled and completed.

Related Article: Transforming Listening Into Action: Fortifying Voice of the Customer Programs

Conclusion: Spend as Much Time Looking Through the Window as You Do Staring in the Mirror

It makes sense to start a digital policy development process by looking inward. That’s where you’ll find waste, inefficiencies, and risks big enough to rock the organization.

Your instinct will be to plug the holes first, and I actually agree with that approach. But you can’t stay in that mode forever. Digital policies are about reducing risks and maximizing opportunities, and you’re not going to find opportunities if you spend all of your time and energy scrutinizing your internal processes. In fact, you could end up losing opportunities by developing digital policies that actually make it harder for customers to do business with you!

So you eventually have to take the next step and look outward, focusing on your customers and what they expect from your digital channels. Sure, you’ll probably have to tweak some policies and maybe even write some new ones. But that’s a small investment to make if it allows you to take advantage of opportunities that will move your business forward.