Can we all get along?

Over the past year, the FT Works design team has worked with half a dozen clients whose support-related websites lived on separate islands, it seems. Depending on the situation, there could be a dedicated site for forums, another for searching the knowledgebase, yet another for documentation, along with any number of password-protected sites allowing users to interact with support and access product dashboards. More often than not, each website had a different look-and-feel, despite valiant attempts to affix the appropriate corporate logo on them, sometimes provide navigation from one to the other, or even (rarely) offer single sign-on functionality. In other words, we started with a chaotic experience for users.

Why inflict such pain on customers? It’s usually a combination of three challenges:

  • Ownership silos: Marketing owns the community but Support owns the support portal and Engineering owns the dashboards.
  • Audience segmenting issues: The support portal and the product dashboards are for customers, of course, but communities are shared by prospects and customers.
  • Tools mismash: The best tool for the community may not be the support-tracking system, and in any case each organization may push to use its favorite.

Consider the much better integrated alternative, below: in which the same functionality is available in an organized, pre-planned manner (I put the support portal in the middle because we, Support, are the center of the universe!). Each piece of functionality can stand on its own, and can be explored separately, but they all come together in one coherent experience for the user. And of course you can imagine many more overlapping circles, for instance one with training offerings.

How do we get from chaos to integration?

  • Recognize that users could care less about silos. For organizational purposes, we may need to assign various pieces to different teams, but all teams need to pull in the same direction. Create a user website council or find another way for the various teams to have a voice in the decision process and to embrace a common discipline.
  • Define personas and use them to architect the site. It’s normal to have to cater for various audiences but you need an overall plan to serve all the audiences and all the websites before you dive into the details.
  • Use a structured design approach. Starting with disparate pieces and trying to make them play well together makes for a messy, pieced-together user experience, Structured design delivers order and ease of use, even when, as is usually the case, there are multiple tools and multiple owners involved in the site.

Have you brought order to your website chaos? Tell us about it in the comments.

(And if you could use a helping hand, do reach out.)

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