By far the strongest impulses of organizations are to make life very easy and very profitable for themselves. That invariably leads to making life more complex and impoverished for their customers... It takes tremendous discipline to resist these urges.In higher education website management, with multiple independent websites operating under one organisational umbrella, this is possibly our biggest challenge. Our content management decisions are almost certainly not making "life... very profitable for [ourselves]" but they often are about making life easier. For us that is - the web publishing community - and not for the end user of the website.
I've been working on a project looking at the prospective postgraduate experience. Our students are expected to navigate a number of sites under the University umbrella in the course of getting the basic information they need to make a decision to apply. Playing the student role, it doesn't take very long to find examples of content management practice that are squarely focused on making life easier for members of the organisation.
Many of these niggles - like reading long PDF documents covering multiple topics rather than finding the critical information summarised in the right places, or linking to other related units' homepages rather than the specific relevant content - are pretty small and with a bit of perseverance the visitor gets over them.
But these small irritations build on each other and often build to an unsatisfactory user experience. As Steve Krug wrote about in his classic book 'Don't make me think' - sooner or later the user's reservoir of goodwill runs dry and the next minor irritation is the one that causes them to quit.
Understanding our users, the journeys they take on our website and their reasons for taking them, is key to enhancing their experience. Without this understanding we're unlikely to go that extra mile to make our website better in a million little ways that build to a great customer experience. We'll just continue doing what's easiest for us.
One last quote from Gerry's piece:
People involved with websites need to have a service heart. This is often frowned on by traditional managers. Empathy. Great web teams have empathy for their customers.
The price of doing business on the Web - article by Gerry McGovern
Free chapters from Steve Krug's book: Don't Make Me Think - previous blog post