Sunday, October 30, 2011

Serving the Real Needs of Clients

by JO MARSICANO

Ever do your dishes by hand? It only involves three steps. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Each dish needs two things done, then you go to the next dish and do the same two things. The result is a set of nicely clean dishes. Putting each dish through the same 2-step cycle ensures this outcome.

Providing the best service to clients also requires just a few simple steps:

1 – Say what needs to be said
2 – Do what needs to be done
3 – Repeat

The result is quality website content and, hopefully, a well-satisfied client.

Say what needs to be said
State the few key realities about the content in front of you. “This page could be shortened,”“That photo doesn’t align with the message on the page,” “This bulleted list will read better leading off with verbs rather than nouns,” and so on. As an outsider, you’re visiting in someone else’s living room. At the same time, they have hired you to tell them how to improve things. So you must not let your temptation to “just be nice” interfere with your advocacy.

The discipline of creating good content requires an insistent voice. Speaking up is necessary, even as deadlines loom and unexpected events happen. Quality content does not – cannot – happen by chance. Effective web content is created by an intentional, focused effort with someone on hand to be that voice. Of course, good timing and a diplomatic approach carry your arguments further. But the willingness to tell the client what needs to be said will pay off – for them and their users.

Do what needs to be done
Drill down into the specific and unique tasks of your client project. You must do them with dedication and rigor. It might mean diving into a content management system to fill in missing pieces of meta data. Or submerging yourself in photo selection, or a meticulous pre-launch beta review. Of course, strategic considerations are woven into these tasks, but the tasks (which can take hours, days, or weeks) have to be done. This is the time to put down your megaphone and pick up your keyboard.

This is not to say that tactics should overshadow strategy – that’s an error most organizations make. But for the content specialist, the wonderful high-altitude thinking of content strategy must be brought down to earth and implemented - in real web projects often comprised of infinite tasks.

In her poem, “To Be Of Use,” Marge Piercy writes, “I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart, who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience, who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, who do what has to be done, again and again.”

A good content specialist grabs onto and delves down into tasks, achieving them with as much productivity and efficiency as possible. Task fulfillment makes the strategy come to life.

Repeat
The best kind of plan is repeatable. You need not create new steps. Simply repeat the two essential steps over and over again. Whether it’s a website of 5 pages or 500. A 2-week project or 12-month project. A site for a one-person shop or a large institution. Say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done - and then go back and do it again.

Upcoming post: The Maintenance Cost of Every Web Page

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