Category Archives: Website

Effective Web Self-Service Forms

Wes Trochil recently talked about the effectiveness of self-service web pages. He cites a Gartner study that found that 65% of self-service interactions result in a call to the customer service agent.

I agree with him that this statistic is dumbfounding, and I had just such an experience myself earlier today.

I found myself searching for a new health care provider.  I pulled the membership card out of my wallet and opened a web browser. I typed in the web address and landed on the company home page.  The navigation was straightforward and easy to follow.  Within a few seconds I found what I was looking for the “Find a Provider” directory.  So far, so good.

Then I landed on the search page and encountered my first problem.  The search form began with a required field labeled “Select Your Plan”.  The drop down list menu offered several options.  However, I didn’t recognize any of them as My Plan.  I had no idea what My Plan was.  I paused to study the membership card in my hand.  No plan name was listed.  I flipped the card over to study the fine print on the back, but again, nothing helpful.

Since the pick list only offered a few choices, I guessed at one and continued to enter the other seqarch criteria:  Zip Code, Type of Provider, etc. 

Six required values later, I stumbled upon my next hurdle.  “Select Your Network”.  I’m again presented with a drop down list of values which mean absolutely nothing to me.  So again, I studied both sides of my membership card, but found nothing useful to help me continue my self-service web search.  

I abandon the website and picked up the telephone.  The customer service representative asked me my name and plan number and quickly provided me with the answers for those two required fields that prevented me from completing my web search successfully.

So natural, I found myself wondering – Why didn’t the web self-service form ask me for identifying information that I could reasonably provide or find myself?  Or why didn’t they print the name of the plan or network on the membership card? 

This story illustrates several lessons.  First, is the importance of web usability testing with your members when designing new member self service pages.  If you already have several existing pages and no budget for usability testing, you  still have several options to test your forms.  Role play scenarios in the shoes of an average member to see how friendly your pages really are.  Recruit volunteer leaders or fans from your Facebook page to test the form for you.  Or consider adding a simple feedback email link to the form itself for all web users to provide feedback directly.  Lastly, meet with those folks who are on the front lines when dealing with members-your receptionist and your customer service representatives.  Ask them to list (or track for a short time to determine) the top 10 most common questions they are asked on customer service calls.  Then focus in on those that can be addressed by improving an online self service form.

For extra credit:  Check how your forms render in various web browsers (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, etc). Ask yourself which of these forms your members are likely to use on a mobile device and again, check how they display on various devices (iPhone, Andriod, Blackberry).  Check your web stats too to see what percentage of pageviews on occuring on mobile devices and in various browsers.   

The CMS Circle of Life

A question on a recent survey from .org Source and AssociationCIO got me thinking about the impact of Content Management Systems (CMS) on the content generation process used by associations. The question is:

How do other departments provide content for the site?

  1. Input directly using a content management system
  2. Send web content/wording to the website editor/managing department
  3. Provide information to the website editor/managing department for them to write web content
  4. Other (Please Specify):

If you haven’t already taken this survey, check it out  before it closes.  While I wait for the results, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most of us wish our answer to the above question is option 1, but its more likely 2 or 3. 

During the needs assessment stage of web redesign projects, I’ve seen staff vocalize frustrations with the bottleneck though the web editor to publish new information to the association website. If the web editor takes any time off, inevitably, there is a crisis that requires new content that must be published to the site immediately.  Sound familiar?

Enter the CMS sales team. Hallelujah! The entire staff gets psyched about the easy to use tools and the ability to create new items for the website themselves. Management gets excited about the concept of style sheets and workflows to support a cohesive editorial control, style, and brand image. CMS – the answer to all of our woes!

The contract is signed and implementation begins. Business processes are outlined and configured with the desired approvals in place. Everyone is trained. And when the new site is ready, workflow notifications are turned on.

Then–approval workflows are turned off. At least that is my experience. And conversations with peers indicate that this is not uncommon. 

Within a short amount of time, the association has a new site with a refreshed looks, but the old habits return. Staff revert to the centralized, bottleneck process to post content to the new site. I find myself wondering why this occurs.  Could it be that:

  • Staff designated as” approvers” balk at the flurry of emails the workflow system generates and insist that it is turned off.
  • Editors fail to approve content they didn’t know was pending (because notifications have been turned off) until the web administrator is instructed to override the approval process to publish the new content.
  • Staff who complain about the bottleneck in the earlier system complain that creating new web pages  is “not my job” and instead send PDF files to the web editor to publish for them.
  • Staff originally trained as “content contributors” leave the association and replacement staff are not trained on the CMS system.

Fast forward 3 years and the association may find itself conducting another assessment wondering if they should explore new technology solutions to cure their organizational pain points. Oh -the circle of life.

This is not a technology issue but an issue with organization culture and change management.  Are the problems outlined above the reasons that we fail to impact change in our business processes? If not, what others would you add to the list? Have you seen this pattern in associations you’ve worked with? How about any success stories? I’d love to hear examples from associations who are taking advantage of CMS functionality using distributed content generation and approval workflows. How did you break the cycle?

Making it Official

For almost a year now, I’ve been calling myself an accidential consultant.  I didn’t have aspirations of being self employed, but an opportunity lead me down this path.   After much thought, I decided to finally make it official. 

My father-in-law retired last year and began his consultancy, so the basic “Shonerd Consulting” is already taken in this family tree.  This forced me to be a bit more creative.  I’ve settled on Half Moon Consulting as a wink and a nod to my maiden name and filed the appropriate paperwork with the state.

That brings me to this point of launching this site and this blog where I plan to share insights, experiences, and observations  about technology issues in the association industry.  I have interests in association management systems, websites, social media technologies, online marketing, and other general technology issues. 

Please chime in to these posts adding your thoughts and ideas and feel free to contact me with feedback and suggestions.  Enjoy!