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A child, an operation and a web page

Here’s a real story that I think illustrates well a point I’ve made in previous posts: creating content without involving all sorts of relevant people in an organization can have serious consequences.

The story
A child needs an operation. A slightly worried mother is ready to do all the paperwork required.

The child’s mother types in a query into Google and quickly gets to the page she’s looking for. Her insurance company have it all well set, she thinks, as she starts filling out a form to request an authorization number for the operation. She realises that, unlike with other forms, this one is easy to fill out: she understands what she’s being asked for and why, and she knows how to answer all the questions.

The very last step before submitting the form lets her pick which way she wants to be contacted: by phone, fax or e-mail. She likes this. Without hesitating, she picks the e-mail option because she’s a big fan of having everthing in writing.

Days fly by, but the e-mail never arrives. In the end she decides to call the insurance company, only to find out that she’s supposed to ask the surgeon for more reports, otherwise she won’t get the authorization number.

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She feels desperate and outraged. The operation is due in no time. How come they didn’t tell her before? She’d specified she wanted to receive the information through e-mail, why on earth hadn’t she received anything? The answer knocks her out:

“Oh, we don’t communicate with our customers through e-mail.”
“This is not what your website says!”
“I don’t know about that. All I know is that we don’t write e-mails, we only talk by phone to our customers.”

Now, the consequences in this particular case weren’t devastating. Everyone reacted well after that, the reports arrived in time, and the operation took place when it was due (and it went well, just in case you were wondering). But it’s easy to imagine how things could have gone very wrong. And it’s also easy to imagine all sorts of problems caused by this communication flaw.

In any case, let’s not forget that the woman did feel outraged because of the lack of coherence between what she’d read and what she was told. She now knows she cannot trust that company’s website.

Why would any company have a website their customers cannot trust?

The source of the problem
It’s obvious that the company in question have spent a lot of money on their website. It’s also quite clear to me that they did make an effort to make it as usable as possible. After all, the woman in our story had no problem whatsoever in finding and filling out the right form.

The problem is probably as simple, and as complex, as this: there’s a lack of communication and coordination between the website team and the rest of the company. Those who define the content are not working together with those who define the processes and the policies within the company.

Planning and creating efficient content is a complex issue. It’s a business issue. The sooner everybody understands this, the better.

You might want to read two previous posts that relate to this story:
Is your table big enough?
This is none of your business… or is it?

By the way, if you’ve had any experience that can help illustrate this point further, I’d love to hear about it!

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