Customer service is all about being helpful. To provide the best customer service, you first have to know who your customers are.

Who is your customer?

Your customer may be prospective students, current students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents – or all of the above. What are the words these customers are looking for? Parents might be looking for the word “free” on your website. Students might be looking for the word “fun.” Knowing who your customer is will help you tailor the content to their individual needs.

After you know who your customer is, find out the content they want. It might mean that you use an unscientific survey to poll your customers. You may follow-up regular phone conversations with “Did you find everything you needed on the website today? Is there anything we can improve?” The information you gatherwill help you when deciding the words to use on your website and the formatting you use to organize the content. Let’s look at an example.

Susie Q. Student is a freshman and straight A student at Loyola. She was the president of the student government association in high school. She commutes locally to attend classes at Loyola. She wants to get involved and make friends. So naturally, she goes to the website to find information about organizations she can join. When she lands on the Student Affairs website, she’s looking for information about student organizations. She sees words like co-curricular programs, residential life, dining, career development, counseling, health, and wellness. But there is nothing on this page that specifically indicates “students” or “organizations.” Susie is new to Loyola and she doesn’t know that co-curricular programs oversees student organizations at Loyola. But the thing is, she shouldn’t have to know that Loyola’s hierarchy to find information on the website. You want to use words that your customers use to describe content on your website so your customers can identify the topics they are seeking.

Understand your customer’s needs

To understand your customer’s needs you have to know what questions are they trying to answer? What are the answers to those questions? What are some of the words your customers use when asking questions? If you know the questions and the answers, why not just turn your entire website into one long Frequently Asked Questions page?

A frequently asked questions page is not as helpful as you may think because depending on how many questions you have (say we have 20), you are asking the user to sift through 20 questions to find one particular answer. That requires a lot of time, which our customers don’t have. And any extra time they do have, they are certainly not going to spend it on the Loyola website.

So instead, I ask that you consider creating pages based on the topic of information. On that page, you include all of the information the person needs on that topic. What we’ve found through user testing of the Loyola website, most of our students use the search to find information on the Loyola website. Faculty and staff tend to use the A-Z index to find information. Alumni and parents tend to use a mix of the search, the navigation on the website, and the A-Z index based on their skill level with a computer and their experience on Loyola’s website. If someone is searching your website, identifying the topics they are searching for and optimizing the content on your website for those topics is important. One way you can do that is including the terms your customers are searching for in the title of a page and in the content of your page and linking to that content elsewhere on your site. You also want to include these search terms in the names of photos and file attachments posted to the page addressing the relevant topic. When search engines spider through your site to find a relevant match for a search, they will turn up your page as a result.

Understand your customer’s level of commitment

If you want to use an analogy to better understand how your customers relate to your website, your website is a lot like a relationship. It takes time to develop a commitment. When you arrive on the Loyola homepage, there are a myriad of opportunities to explore more information on a variety of topics – everything from event information to academic information to information about how to pay tuition. Every customer is not interested in every topic, so there’s not too much information about any one topic, just a lot of options. But as you dig deeper into the layers of the site, more information on singular topics is served up.

By the time you’ve reached the fourth layer of content on the website (Loyola homepage > Student Records > Services > FERPA Guidelines), a lot of very specific information is presented on the web page because you as a customer are by this time very committed to taking the time to read the details on the page. As an example, if you were to take the detailed information on the FERPA guidlines page in Student Records and place it on the Loyola homepage, no one would read it. Even though it’s on the very first page on the Loyola website, it’s too much information that will overwhelm most users, who won’t be committed enough anyway to take time to read all of the information on the page. So the information ends up becoming totally erroneous just by the location of its placement on the website even though it’s on the most prominent page on the website.

When you’re considering the new content you’d like to add to your website, be sure to review the content that’s already there first. Take the time to eliminate any out-of-date information and check the links on your pages to make sure the links that were there when you originally posted the page are still active links that are pointing to the information you intended. There’s no faster way to divorce your customer than to offer links to pages that no longer exist. You’re trying to become a trusted source of information for your customer and if you offer broken links, the customer has a reason to question your reliability.

Cultivate your content

Now it’s time to put the content together. You want to organize the information based on the main topics or services your website offers. Use labels for topics that are short and to the point. And use words that your customers are using when asking questions, so they will more easily identify the information when they visit your website.

Loyola University New Orleans took all of the above items into consideration when it worked on re-designing the Loyola homepage in summer 2011. The original homepage used navigation with very flowerly language like Discover Loyola, Apply to Loyola, Life at Loyola, Explore Our Jesuit Identity, and Support Loyola. But the problem was, most of our customers didn’t know what those flowerly labels meant. If someone came to the Loyola website looking for information about student organizations, they didn’t expect to find it under Life at Loyola. We also found through user testing that the links in the left menu of the homepage for undergraduate programs, graduate programs, international education, evening programs, centers and institutes, and administration weren’t frequently used.

As a result, we re-designed the site to include more straight-forward language: About Loyola, Admissions, Academics, Student Life, Jesuit Identity, Alumni + Giving. We also added larger links to the academic colleges at the university. We tested the changes on a group of users (2 current students, 2 prospective students,2 faculty/staff, and 3 alumni). Each user was given a list of tasks they were trying to complete using the Loyola homepage. Some users had a lot of success and some users were frustrated by the formatting and organization of content offered on the web page they found.

In this short video* of our testing, you’ll see a student trying to answer a question about on-campus locations for church services at Loyola. She found the information right away by searching for the term “church services.” In the next task, she was asked to find information about the senior class gift at Loyola. At first, she wants to click on a highlight on the Loyola homepage, but then goes back to the search bar and finds the right result. But when she lands on the page that she was looking for, she is confused by the title of the page and the paragraphs of irrelevant and out of date information offered. The link she was looking for at the very bottom of the page, but she didn’t stay long enough to find it. The page was so unhelpful. She left and never returned. Beware, this could happen to your customers too.

*The video is only available to those who attended our training seminar.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Formatting

You do want to do the following:

  • Use intro text on your pages explaining the main topic of the page.
  • Use short sentences and short paragraphs
  • Use subheadings and bullet points to make your pages more easily scannable
  • Use bolded text when appropriate
  • Use contextual links to hyperlink users to related information.
  • Use photos when available
  • Use spotlights when relevant

You don’t want to do the following:

  • Don’t use long sentences and paragraphs that are not easily scannable
  • Don’t use inaccurate or out-of-date information
  • Don’t use color in your content when you don’t have a strategy for using it and you don’t implement that strategy consistently.
  • Don’t use frequently asked questions when the information could be provided more concisely using titles and subheadings to organize the content

Satisfying the customer

Always keep in mind that the goal in producing and maintaining content on your website is to build trust, educate, and be proactive about the future. If we keep this in mind while being helpful, we’re sure to create happy customers along the way.

Download the “Thinking About Your Website in Terms of Customer Service” presentation »

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