Forgive me for reminiscing a bit… It’s hard to believe that it was 17 years ago this month that I became HUD’s first web manager. I was handed a brand new communication tool (one that was totally under the radar of most executives) and pretty much told to figure it out. So I did. With the help of a bunch of visionaries at HUD and at other agencies, who – like me – were eager to be pioneers in serving online. We quickly figured out that this “web” thing would revolutionize the way government interacts with its customers; so we focused on citizens, used common sense, and took risks to do the right thing for the people we serve. What a ride!
Early on, I was asked, “how do you manage a government website?’ So I started a list of “DOs.” I’ve tweaked this list many times, over the years, incorporating changing priorities, new technologies, and an increasingly sophisticated audience. But the basic principles have stayed pretty much the same. Here’s my, “web management 101.”
1. Listen to your customers. There’s a reason this is number one – it’s the most important thing you do. Make time for it. Identify your customers and listen to what they have to say so you understand their wants and needs. Get out of your office and talk to customers in person. Read webmanager email. Watch and learn from usability testing. Go to public meetings and presentations – listen to what people are asking. Analyze your stats. Read letters to the editor in newspapers and blogs and Facebook pages and Twitter postings. Listen for trends. Listen for ideas. Listen for frustration. Never lose touch with your customers, no matter how far you rise in your organization.
2. Talk like your customers talk. When you write or edit content or create videos or publish Tweets or Facebook updates, use words, phrases, and descriptions that your customers use and understand. Speak their language – don’t make them learn yours. Make it easy for them.
3. Focus on your customers’ top tasks. Highlight and pay attention to the things THEY WANT TO DO AND KNOW. Respect them. Help them do what they want to do, when they want to do it. Eliminate all that other junk they don’t care about. It gets in their way.
4. Connect the dots. Work with other agencies (federal, state, and local) to consolidate and link your customers’ top tasks. Find out what other agencies have to offer on the topic. Merge, consolidate, eliminate duplication, link, create logical sequences, and anticipate next steps and questions. Do the work. Don’t force your customers to figure it out. Serve.
5. Make it easy for your customers to find what they want. Oh, so many wonderful ways to do this now. Use them. Wisely. Search engine optimization. Social media – Twitter is a terrific resource to let your customers know where to find what they want (and Twitter forces you to be concise!). Make your services mobile. But circle back to number 3 – focus on top tasks. Just because you CAN make a mobile app doesn’t mean you should. Make sure it’s something your customers want/need.
6. Measure and improve. Use data to find out what’s working and what isn’t. Fix what isn’t. Usability testing is the best way to do this, but also look at statistics (How many start the task? How many complete the task? Why do they fall out?) and customer satisfaction surveys and other measurement methods. Spend more time analyzing data and improving your site than you do collecting data. Improvement is the goal here – not data.
7. Organize around “customer service.” Make sure you have everyone in the customer service food chain involved in producing your website. That means: key agency officials (including customer service officers and plain language officers), key program managers, key communicators (including web managers, new media managers, and public affairs officials), key technology experts, key contractors and/or contract managers, and key field officials (because those folks in the field offices are out there on the front lines of customer service). Involve people in charge of all service delivery channels. Define roles, responsibilities, relationships, and rules; and make sure you review how it’s all working, regularly.
8. Follow all the rules. No excuses. GSA has a superb website called “Howto.gov” that has it all, for federal government websites. State and local governments have their own rules. Those rules are there for a reason. They protect your customers and make sure they get great service. Know the rules. Follow them.
9. Have a plan. Things change so fast in the world of customer service that it can make your head spin. Don’t let yourself get into a reactive mode. Have a plan. Know where you want to go. Fix problems. Adapt. And let everyone know (inside and out) where you’re going and what you’ve accomplished. Celebrate successes. Update your plan frequently, so you can embrace change and not get caught by it.
10. Help each other. If you don’t remember anything else, remember this: the public judges all of us by their experience with any of us. Believe me – it’s true. You’re only as good as everyone else is. So stifle those competitive urges. Use that energy to collaborate to make government the best. Work across your agency to make sure all service delivery channels operate seamlessly. Join the government Web Managers Forum. Share successes and lessons learned. Go to conferences (the big annual conference is coming up – have YOU registered?). Share, learn, adopt. Be a mentor to a new web manager or a promising wannabe. GovLoop is sponsoring a wonderful mentoring program – volunteer. Get to know your colleagues, and help them be successful. We serve best when we serve together.
Managing a government website isn’t rocket science. Put customers first, use common sense, and show a little gumption to do right things; and you’re halfway there. Take these 10 actions – over and over, better and better – and you’ll serve the public well.
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