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Train Your Agency Web Team – Regularly

I just returned from a great two-day training session with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service web team, in Indianapolis. Kudos to Debra Harris for organizing it. She’s a real emerging leader in the web community. I was doing the training, but that isn’t what made these two days great (well, gosh, maybe I had something to do with it…;-)). What made these two days so exciting is that – for the first time – most of the people who have been, and will be, working on the DFAS website came together. They merged from several different geographic locations and spent time learning together, working together, and building that sense of “team” that is so essential to delivering quality customer service through the web. It’s the first time since I retired from HUD that I’ve worked with a single agency, and it reminded how absolutely critical it is to train your agency web team.

Every agency relies on a broad group of employees (50, 100, 200, or more) to develop and maintain the content of the agency website(s). That group changes regularly as employees come and go. Some work on the site full-time. Most work on the site part-time, in addition to other duties. Many of these folks are thrown into web duties – they didn’t ask for it, and they likely have no prior knowledge or training in plain language and usability and top tasks and metrics and other critical areas. Many of them don’t even get credit for their web duties in their annual performance ratings – and they should!

Most agency web teams are spread throughout the agency, in different offices and – often – in different locations; and all too often, they feel like they’re operating in a vacuum. They need to feel part of a whole. They need to understand what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to relate to one another and where they’re headed. They won’t get that through osmosis. You’ve got to get them together and train them. Not just once, but often. It’s that old adage: you get what you pay for. Or, in this case, your customers get what you pay for.

Yes – you can communicate by email and conference calls. But there is no substitute for face time…time to get to know one another, learn together, build trust, hash out problems, laugh, argue, and get (re)energized to carry out critical customer service duties, as a single unit. That’s what I saw happening at DFAS. That’s what needs to happen at all agencies. It’s important. No…it’s essential.

I know from personal experience that there’s real value in getting someone from outside the agency to do at least part of the training. Outsiders are perceived as being neutral, which can be useful when you need to change behaviors. And then there’s that strange phenomenon where people believe an outsider over an insider. Go figure. But it’s true.

Agency web team training can be relatively inexpensive: the cost of a trainer and travel for participants to a central location that can be chosen for its low travel costs (it doesn’t have to be done in expensive Washington DC!). You can use a training room in an agency field office or in a GSA-managed federal building somewhere.

Here’s a thought. Wouldn’t it be great if Web Manager University were to offer an option for agency-specific training programs? WMU has faculty who are well-versed in the best practices and goals promoted by the Federal Web Managers Council and the GSA Center for Customer Service Excellence. Send a trainer/trainers to the agency. Work with the agency to develop a program that meets its needs and that will build that team spirit. It’s a logical extension of the great training services WMU already provides, and it could address a need that currently is unmet in many agencies. Further, it would be a great way to reach out to that next tier of web communicators and invite them to get involved in the broader web customer service community.

However you do it, train your agency web team. Regularly. They need it. They deserve it. Your customers deserve it.

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Totally agree w/ this even though counter-intuitive – And then there’s that strange phenomenon where people believe an outsider over an insider. Go figure. But it’s true.

Sounds like a great training.

Any common themes you are seeing in terms of key issues folks are interested in/ struggling with on agency web sites?

Candi Harrison

Steve – good question about themes. Here’s my take. Beyond the top tier of web managers – the agency web manager and maybe a few top-level team members – there’s a big drop-off in knowledge in the web community. In fact, many people in that second tier – particularly the people who do not work full-time on the website – don’t even realize there is a web community. I think there’s a real need to raise awareness about how important it is to train everyone who contributes to the website on some basics like plain language, usability, top tasks, metrics, and laws and regulations. In my experience, this tier is not yet into social media (that’s typically being handled by a few people in Public Affairs) or open government (also being handled at the top levels, for now at least). So we need to keep at the basics. By the way – I promote Govloop in every class I teach. Great resource for those who can’t come to DC for training.

Alycia Piazza

Yes, we’ve been hearing there’s a need out there for agency-specific training. The Web Manager University team has explored this with a couple agencies as a pilot over the past year. Our goal is to provide some type of customized training to agencies — to make it easier for entire teams to attend our in person trainings, either in Washington, DC or at that agency’s location. We are continuing this development and hope to roll out a formal program soon. In the meantime we welcome any suggestions from the GovLoop community about how we can deliver effective training for people who work on the Web and customer service.