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Consistency, Customer Service, and the Community

Consistency is one of the building blocks of great customer service. Look at McDonalds. No matter where in the world you are, if you walk into a McDonalds, you know how it will look and what you’ll find and how it all works. You can complete your task quickly because you know exactly what to expect, from one McDonalds to another. It’s easy. It’s familiar. It’s predictable. Customers love easy and familiar and predictable.

How does McDonalds create that consistency? Well, part of McDonald’s success is its consistent design. You’ve got the golden arches, the big windows, the counter in the back, the seating in the front, maybe some playground equipment outside. Consistent design counts. And yes – I am an advocate for a consistent website design across government.

But that’s not what I’m focusing on today. Today, I’m thinking about people…the people who manage and operate the 31,000 McDonalds around the world. McDonalds ensures consistency because it has service standards and it trains its people to carry them out.

The U.S. government has an estimated 24,000+ websites. If you figure that each one of those websites has at least one federal employee in charge (even if it’s managing a contractor who actually operates the site) and most have many people who write and manage the content for the site, that’s a heck of a lot of people charged with delivering great customer service through government websites. I wonder – how many of them have been trained? How many of them know where to look or who to ask for help? How many of them are reinventing the wheel, or – worse – serving poorly?

How many of them are up to speed on the ever-changing requirements and best practices for federal government websites? How many of them not only know the principles of plain writing but can actually do it? How many of them know the principles of customer service and how to deliver it well?

And what about the turnover among all those feds who are working on government websites? People leave, move up, move on…new people come in…are they getting trained? Or do they start from scratch?

McDonalds’ service is consistent because the bosses require training and evaluation. If you don’t perform up to standards, you’re out. We don’t have those requirements in the federal government – yet. But that doesn’t have to stop us. The government web management community has caused change and improved customer service for 15 years through the power of critical mass. The more we come together and adopt common best practices, the more we create that consistency our customers love. We don’t have to wait for our bosses to tell us to do these things. We just have to find our colleagues and bring them into the fold.

So, what can you do? Reach out!

  • Look at your own agency. Do you know everyone who contributes content to your site? If not, find out. I don’t mean just those people who have a position description that says, “will work on the website.” I mean all those hundreds of people who do it part-time or routinely, under that catch-all phrase, “other duties as assigned.” Network with them – offer support.
  • Have a brown bag lunch and go through webcontent.gov together. Talk about specific sections that could help improve your site.
  • Encourage anyone who contributes web content regularly to join the government Web Content Managers Forum. It’s free, and it is a great source for updates and best practices. You don’t have to have the title “web manager” to join.
  • Encourage everyone to sign up for Web Manager University courses. Not only do you learn, you also get to network. You don’t have to be a web manager to attend. Many of the offerings are webinars (no travel required), and some are free.
  • If you’re in Washington DC, reach out to all the people in your field offices who work on web content. I often hear from field web managers and contributors that they feel isolated and don’t get the word on changes and best practices.
  • Establish an orientation program for new web managers and web contributors. Offer it regularly so all those who are new to their web duties get up to speed quickly.
  • Organize an agency-wide web conference or a series of conference calls. Include all those key content contributors. Cover the regulations, rules, and responsibilities for great customer service.
  • Find out who manages other websites at your agency. Encourage them to join the Forum, attend WMU courses, and visit webcontent.gov. Network with them regularly.
  • Seek out web managers and contributors from agencies who are not participating in the community. Send an email to the web manager through the “contact us” link. Engage them in community discussions and activities.

Here’s the thing. Citizens tend to judge all of government by their experience with any part of government. That goes for our websites, too. If they have a bad experience with one of our websites, we all get the blame. So we need to do all we can to make all government websites the best they can be.

Consistency is critical for great customer service. It takes a community to make it happen.

Related Posts
Train Your Web Team Regularly
When Web Managers Gather, It’s Good for You and Me
Reach Out to Web Managers in the Field

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Stephen Peteritas

Yeah I completely agree creating a uniform sense of knowing what I’m getting every time is crucial to customer service. Setting expectations is so important I’m almost more frustrated when I get great customer service one time followed by terrible customer service the next rather than just below average customer service all the time… at least when I go to the below average place I know what I’m getting.

Tarryn Reddy

I agree consistency can also create greater transparency in the government. Clear and concise content will allow citizens to feel more connected to government activities.

Stephen Peteritas

@Bill I would say be innovative every time… half way joking. Not saying not to be different but it is possible to be different yet be that same different every time, no?

Kristy Dalton

Candi, thanks for the reminder and motivation to promote a continuous learning/training environment for web authors. I love that the fed-supported webcontent.gov (now HowTo.gov) also allows local government participation and sharing of resources as well.