Practicing what you preach


It’s been a little while since I posted here so what better way to get typing again than with a rant…

Of late I appear to be getting increasingly frustrated with organisations and people in the online field who would rather pontificate than act, would rather post messages on social media sites than show the results of their actions. Most of my frustrations come from watching posts on Twitter, which to be fair is not perhaps the most level-headed channel to understand people’s points of view…

But while we’re here, let’s pick out a few in particular:

1. Technology companies who claim to be “Customer Experience Management” gurus.

Increasingly I find that companies who have a software tool that helps website owners and marketing people measure people’s interactions on the web and other digital channels are starting to claim a sort of user experience high ground. By adding up how many people reach page X, click on Y link or view error page Z after typing A B and C into a form, they think this shows how to “fix” an online user experience. Yeah I’m looking at you, big analytics companies!

Your tools do not suggest solutions, they only find problems. And that’s if you can filter the wheat from the chaff (which takes humans to work out, btw). Starting with problems is not a bad place to start. However it does not lead you to a path of Customer Experience “Management”. It does show you how to stem Customer Experience Cock Ups. It will not make step changes in the way you serve customers.

If your version of the term “Management” means “reducing cock-ups” then I’m good with that, but don’t try to tell me this will make my business somehow revolutionary amongst my competitors. It may well make my business competent amongst my competitors. I suggest you go and read about the Kano model immediately and then come back to me with a more authentic value proposition.

2. Consultants who think by defining a label or new buzzword they have just the solution to a practical business problem.

Unfortunately perhaps, most businesses do not live in the world of management consultancy, theory text books or hypothetical debating chambers. Telling people that they need a content strategy or a user experience audit or better still “enhanced social engagement” will not actually improve their digital woes. Much less fix them.

By better defining a type of service, whether this be social media monitoring, content strategy or even interaction design you do not add any value to anything apart from perhaps your own marketing. “Doing it” is where the action is, not “talking about doing it”. If you can market yourself by showing how you have done a very similar thing in the past and demonstrate the measurable value created as a result, then more power to you. Disagreeing about whether copywriting for SEO is the same as content strategy or not is not getting you very far.

My experience is, the further up the hierarchy of a business you get, the more people worry about delivering their “number.” They care more about the bottom line, and that means they are paying people to *do stuff*. More than that they pay people to do stuff that makes sense to them and sounds like a practical and feasible solution to their issue as they perceive it.

As a consultant, then, your main focus should be on driving action, whether this is your own action or the actions of the company with whom you are consulting. Your main aim should not be publishing books about driving action. (That is, unless you are David Allen, because his books are *actually very good*)

When I look at the schedule for this forthcoming relatively high profile Content Strategy event, it makes me weep. Really, how will attending this event help me fix practical content issues in my business?

3. Sales people for technical organisations who, when asked a slightly more technical question say, “I’ll have to ask my techies to get back to you”

If you work for an Internet company that makes stuff for the web, no matter whether you’re the CEO or the janitor (more or less) I believe that you should be able to answer basic questions about your product and how it works. If you answer a question about simple HTML with a “Oh, I’m sorry I’m not the technical one here, I’m just the layman…” you do not win brownie points. It is just frustrating.

Similarly I’m no Java developer, but I’ve found it pays to know enough to be dangerous. The web is fast moving, multi-faceted and requires understanding of many skill sets from business and marketing to design and content to development and code. But in 2011 there’s not many excuses for not knowing your stuff.

To massively mix a metaphor, the Internet is made of markup and if you don’t know your onions then what kind of allotment are you cultivating?


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