What your new website won’t do for you
It’s easy to think that your shiny new website is going to meet all of your digital needs
Websites are great aren’t they? They’re purpose-built multitaskers. They can:
- tell people who you are and what you do
- give them access to your online services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- promote your brand
- let people know how to get in touch with you
- give you a place to make announcements and share your successes
So it’s easy to see why you might think that your shiny, new, mobile-friendly website is going to meet most, or all, of your digital needs.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Although websites are important, there are things that they’re not be able to do. Here are a few of them.
Stop people phoning you
Moving services online can mean efficiency savings and lower transaction costs. But this isn’t an ‘if you build it, they will definitely come’ type of situation. Having a new website doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who use your services will stop calling you when they want to get in touch with you.
Before you start encouraging them to move from phone to online, it’s important to understand why they choose to call you. Is it because they’ve had frustrating experiences with your website in the past? Do they want to speak to a human being because it reassures them that their task will actually get done? How confident are they using the internet? Do they need to speak to you about a sensitive issue?
Moving from one channel to another can be a huge undertaking, like our work with the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy to replace their spreadsheet reporting tool with a digital service. Or it can be on a much smaller scale.
Whatever your focus, if you’re not sure why the people who use your services are getting in touch with you in a particular way, you need to find out.
What you can do
Find out how, why and in what situations people are getting in touch with you. This will give you a good idea of their motivations, problems and concerns. You’ll get insights into what goes through people’s minds when they’re thinking about contacting you. And also whether they use different channels depending on their circumstances, skills or tasks.
Doing this means your channel shift approach will be based on evidence, which reduces the risk of settling on a way of dealing with your issues that won’t meet your goals effectively. And it’ll help save you time, money and energy in the long run.
Other things that researching can do is:
- highlight people’s accessibility needs
- help you make sure that you’re not excluding already marginalised groups
- help you work out what proportion of the people who use your services need assisted digital support
People who need this type of support can’t use a digital service on their own. Either because they’re offline, or online but not confident with, or skilled at, using computers and the internet.
Once you’ve done your research, you can use it to help develop a channel shift strategy.
Improve your publishing process
Publishing content in your organisation may move at the speed of tectonic plates. Or have a Masterchef kitchen’s worth of cooks involved. It might be that no-one follows the process. Or that there is no process, more of a Wild West approach.
Whatever your publishing issues are, your website isn’t going to be able to sort out what happens before your content goes live.
What you can do
You can develop a content strategy. As well as covering who makes the main decisions about what you do (and don’t) publish, and when, where and why, content strategies also detail roles and responsibilities and content creation processes. Content Design London’s example content strategy shows what this kind of document can look like.
Having a content strategy will put your organisation in a much better position to be able to produce consistently high-quality, user-centred content. The type that’s helpful for the people who use your services, shows what a standup organisation you are, and contributes to you meeting your business goals.
Change your organisation’s culture
If your organisation doesn’t already consider what your audience actually needs from the content you publish, your website can’t change that.
This isn’t about abandoning your business goals and unquestioningly providing everything that the people who use your products and services ask for. It’s more about finding out what they need, and using that as the foundation for content creation.
If you ignore this, it can lead to lengthy, poorly structured and jargon-packed content that’s based on flawed assumptions. Content that doesn’t inform the people who use your services and websites, or guide them through the actions they need to take. All of which can lead to complaints, frustration on both sides, unnecessary phone calls and a lack of trust. And, ultimately, the need for a new website or service overhaul. No-one wants that.
What you can do
Education, education, education!
You need to uphold the standards outlined in your content strategy. And also use training, campaigns, workshops and guidance to help everyone produce content that people actually understand.
When it comes to readability guidelines and style guides, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Existing ones can be a good place to start. Content Design London’s readability guide is really useful, GOV.UK’s style guide is helpful too, and Mailchimp’s is often held up as a solid example.
Make you more ‘digital’
‘Digital’ is often used as shorthand for ‘stuff on the internet’, ‘fancy new tech’ or ‘apps’. But it’s so much more than that. The Co-op’s definition of digital is spot on: “…applying the culture, practices, processes and technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.”
For example, people want to be able to do what they need to online with the minimum amount of effort. They want to be able to unsubscribe from updates and mailing lists in one click, and get in touch using their preferred channels, instead of being funnelled down routes they have no interest in. (I’m looking at you, businesses that only have sorry-looking ‘contact us’ forms, or terrible support chatbots, on your websites.)
So digital’s not just about putting paper forms on websites or ‘updated IT’. One of the things that was highlighted in the work we did with 5 charities, was that digital is a mindset. One that is, or should be, focused on the people you support.
What you can do
Don’t just let your services develop organically, or assume that what’s worked before will definitely work again. Digital needs to be baked into everything you do. It means focusing on making content and services simple, clear and genuinely useful. So develop a digital strategy and invest in design as well as technology.
As well as the end-to-end user journey, you need to think ‘front to back’ – how your organisation and staff are set up to deliver services. Dealing with this right at the start will save you time, money and energy in the future. The GOV.UK Service Standard and Sarah Drummond’s Full Stack Service Design model address all the main things you need to consider.
In their book, Good Services, Lou Downe is clear that it’s not just your website that needs your attention:
“Service failure is hidden in wrongly worded questions, broken links and poorly trained staff; in emails not sent, phone lines that have been closed or inaccessible PDFs. In short, it’s hidden in the small, everyday failures of our services to meet the very basic needs our users have – to be able to do the thing they’ve set out to do.”