Hey, Government Web Managers – Time to Look for a New Job

If I were you, government Web Manager, I’d be lobbying for a new job. Things have changed over the past 15 years, and I think it’s time for Web Managers to evolve accordingly.

In the mid-90s, when we first became “Web Managers,” the federal government still saw itself as “wholesale, not retail.” Its customers were intermediaries (state and local governments, nonprofits, and others) who used the funds we gave them to provide services Congress authorized. Most agency managers didn’t view citizens as their customers.

But that’s all changed now. The internet brought citizens to our front doors, and they demanded to see what we’re doing and make sure we’re really delivering the services they pay their taxes to fund.

Up to now, service delivery channels have been operated independently. In most agencies, call centers, publications, and websites were run by different organizations; and if there were any coordination at all, it was minimal.

Now, we understand that customers – particularly citizens who don’t understand, nor care to understand, how government is organized – expect to get the same answer no matter which channel they use to ask the question. Now, we know that customers often use multiple channels to accomplish their tasks. Now we know that channels have to be in synch.

In the past, agencies were only interested in pushing out information – broadcasting. No two-way street. Now, we use social media to listen to and talk with our customers.

But look at us. While all this change is occurring – while our goals are broadening – we’re still “Web Managers.” That title pins us to one delivery channel: websites. It labels us in terms of how we deliver services, instead of what we’re delivering. And it often gets in our way as we work with agency managers who think it means we’re techies, rather than the content and customer specialists we are.

Times have changed. Customer expectations have changed. We have to change, too. So, Web Managers, I think it’s time to lobby for a new job: Customer Service Officer. I’ve scratched outa little job descriptionto show you what I mean. Shift from managing one channel to managing customer services through multiple channels. Use the skills and goals you already have, in a broader arena.

Get smart about call centers and publications distribution. Fold in social media. Talk to the people who handle walk-in traffic and phone calls in the field offices and figure out what you can learn from them and how you can help them deliver services better. Work across agencies to look at government services from the customers’ point of view, integrating services and connecting the dots when it helps customer experience.

This isn’t a big stretch. You’ve been thinking about customer service for years. And Howto.gov can help you on your way.

It just doesn’t make sense to have content specialists for each channel. It makes more sense to have a single set of customer specialists who create content once and deliver it through all the channels customers want to use.

Yep. I think it’s time to look for a new job.

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Joe Flood

Running a call center, a publications shop, and a web site involve three very different sets of skills. You don’t find many people who can do all three (at least well). Also, content has to be tailored to its particular medium. What works in print will seem really wordy on the Web.

Candi Harrison

All good points, Joe. But I do believe you can separate the operations aspects of running delivery channels from the product development (content) functions. And I can name off the top of my head at least a dozen current federal government web managers who could handle creating content once and tailoring it for the various delivery channels, right now. In fact, many web managers already take web content and tailor it for email responses, FAQs, and social media. One day, someone may decide the delivery channel operations could be handled by contractors. But I believe that developing great content that ensures our customers can complete their tasks, no matter what channel they use, will always be inherently governmental. If I were still working, I’d be yipping up a storm (and those who know me know I can be relentless) to become a customer service officer. I honestly think that’s the future.

Alicia Mazzara

It also seems like as the function of a web manager changes, it might be good to move to a team of people who can support all these different activities. Of course, that’s going to mean that agencies must prioritize their web presence and want to engage with citizens, which isn’t always the case.

Joe Flood

My experience has been that you have “print people” and “web people” because there’s so much specialized knowledge in both fields. I don’t know any web managers who have other than cursory experience with InDesign, paper types, print workflows and working with commercial printers. I know a lot about web sites but, if I was creating a brochure, I would want an print expert helping me out. Unifying communications is an excellent idea but you still need communicators experienced in the different mediums. Maybe we’re saying the same thing here – that expert communicators should guide communications in government.