Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Clearmark Plain Language Awards Are Important to Customer Service

I’ve said this hundreds of times:  if we don’t communicate effectively, we don’t serve effectively.  It’s as simple – and as difficult- as that.  If customers can’t understand what you have to offer, can’t understand where to find it or what they’re supposed to do with it, then they can’t use your services.  And you’ve failed. 

Nominations for the annual Clearmark and Wondermark Plain Language Awards are being accepted now.  They recognize the best-and worst-documents, legal writing, and websites (electronic media) in government, non-profits, and the private sector.  Entries are judged both on design and language, because both of those elements contribute to clarity.

So why are these awards so important to customer service?  Because they give us – you- wonderful examples to follow.  Take a look at last year’s Clearmark winners, and you’ll see what plain writing should be.  And those Wondermark winners shine the light on what you don’t want to do.
There is a small fee for submitting Clearmark nominations - $75 for government entries and $100 for non-profit and private entries.  But you get something pretty terrific for that money, win or lose.  You’ll get a summary of the critiques of each of the judges who review your entry.  These are some of the most experienced and widely recognized plain writing experts around the world (I say this with due modesty, since I’m among them); and you’ll get a thorough assessment of what’s good, and what could be better, from a panel of these authorities.  I’m guessing some of you pay consultants a whole lot more than that to advise you on your documents or websites…this is a real bargain.
I encourage you to submit your best documents, legal writing, and/or websites (or other media) for Clearmark Awards.  Deadline is March 3, 2012.  And if there’s a document or website that’s been driving you crazy, nominate it for a Wondermark Award (there is no fee for Wondermark awards, and you have the option to be anonymous). 
As important, I encourage you to review past award winners and be on the lookout for this year’s winners.  See what makes them worthy of acclaim (or shame).  Use that knowledge to improve your own writing.
If we don’t communicate effectively, we don’t serve effectively.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Time to Lasso That Elephant!

The .Gov Task Force has issued the State of the Federal Web report, summarizing its surveys and the national brainstorming effort it sponsored.  It’s a terrific report, full of great data and even better analysis.  If you care at all about how customer service in the federal government functions (or should function), this is a “must read.”

Are there any surprises here?  Heck no.  Many of us – both inside and outside government – have been yammering about the proliferation of government websites, the lack of consistency, bad writing, and the need for easy-to-use “top tasks,” for years.  The good news is that now we have the data to support it and a Presidential initiative to fix it. 

So, what’s the one absolutely compelling need that jumps out…the elephant in the room?  Governance.  Governance across agencies.  Governance across government.  It’s time to wrestle with those 5 “R’s” of governance, establish consistency, and really improve customer service through the web.

What are the 5 “R’s” of governance? 
  1. Roles – who, by title, must be involved? 
  2. Responsibilities – what must they do?
  3. Relationships – how/when must they interact?
  4. Rules – how will they operate (policies, publication rules, and operating rules)?
  5. Review – how they will make sure that the first four “R’s” are followed and improved (accountability; management controls)?
Roles, responsibilities, relationships, and rules do not have to be (shouldn’t be) reinvented agency-by-agency.  There are clear models of success out there (just check out  Embrace them.  We need to stop the tug of war between communications and technology and customer service and figure out who has the lead and how it needs to be organized, keeping the customer at the center.  It's time.

But the biggie – the one that, without it, all else fails – is “Review.”  We need good controls to make sure we’re adhering to “R’s” 1-4.  Certification processes are great.  But if no one spot-checks to make sure those certifications are accurate, who cares?  If we don't do something about noncompliance, why should anyone comply?  Content management systems can help.  They can enforce design and approvals.  But they can’t fix bad writing.  They can't make sure top tasks are easy-to-use and easy-to-find. 

You’ve got to have effective review processes to make sure everything (and everyone) is working according to plan.  And there have to be repercussions if it isn’t (you lose your posting rights, you have to take more training, we find someone else to fill your responsibilities, etc.). 

The .Gov Task Force is working on a governmentwide web strategy to address the findings documented in the State of the Federal Web report and chart a course for the future.  They’ve done a superb job handling this critical initiative, so far; and I look forward to seeing what they do now.  It’s a task fraught with peril - there’s so much to be done.  This strategy has to be very focused and very practical.  But this group looks like it’s up to it.  And if they lasso that darned elephant, we’ll see real improvement in customer service.

Related Posts
Governance Is Infrastructure for Great Customer Service
Web Improvement Plans Must Start With Commitment to Customer Service
Let’s Start A Customer Service Revolution!