Monday, March 05, 2012

What's In A Name? Clarity

Gerry McGovern’s recent blog post about “content strategy” got me thinking about the importance of words and – specifically - names.  If you don’t know Gerry (and you should), he is an internationally known web content specialist.  And one of his major products is helping his customers understand that the words they use have everything to do with great customer service.  It’s the same thing my plain language colleagues espouse.  Word choice is critical to comprehension…understanding…clarity.  The names we use to describe our work, our initiatives, even our websites, can make the difference in communication, support, and credibility.

So, here are three examples where better names could make a big difference in our bosses’ and our customers’ understanding about what we do.

1.  “Content strategy.”  Being strategic is absolutely the right thing to do, as you work to improve your communications.  But I think Gerry is right on this one – the term “content strategy” doesn’t resonate with executives.  It doesn’t make that executive think immediately, “Oh, that’s something I care about – these people can help me do what I want to do.”

Getting content right is essential because that’s how we communicate with, and serve, our customers.  So if we want to give that effort a name, why not call it what it is:  our “customer service strategy?”  Or, at least, “communications strategy?”   Those names tell our bosses – and the public – what we're doing in terms they understand.  It tells them we’re doing something they care about.    

When you have that 5-second window of opportunity - on the elevator or walking in the front door or standing in the cafeteria line with that agency executive – try it out.  Watch executives’ eyes when you say, “we’d like to talk about our customer service strategy.”  They’ll understand exactly where you’re going - and they’ll want to work with you to get there. 

2.       .gov domain.  Here’s a different spin on the importance of a name.  One of the .Gov Reform goals is to get federal agency websites on the .gov (or .mil or domain.  Why?  Well, for one thing, those domains have instant credibility.  User testing has shown over and over that citizens/customers recognize the .gov and the .mil domains to be official, authoritative government websites.   Those domain names bring clarity.

The .gov domain name works for state or local government websites, too.  Though .gov was reserved for the federal government initially, that changed in 2003.  So state and local governments:   visit the GSA website to find out how to get your .gov domain.

This should be a no-brainer.  Your domain name can bring clarity.   And trust.

3.       “Digital government.”   I’ve been reluctant to bring this one up because so many of my colleagues use this term.  I mean no disrespect to you.  But, gosh, “digital government” bothers me.  For the record, I never liked the term “e-government” either.  I don’t think we should organize or think about government by delivery channel.  And I don’t think it conveys the message we want it to.  Mention “digital government” to executives, and I’m betting many of them think “technology” - not “customer service” or “customer experience” or “communications.”     

Why isolate the internet (websites and social media) and cell phones from the other ways we deliver customer service?  When there’s growing acceptance of the need to  deliver service across channels, seamlessly, why discuss or target or organize around only some of those service channels?   

Name it “Customer Service” or "Customer Experience."  Those are terms that bring clarity about what’s important to us and what we’re trying to achieve.  It says we’re putting customers first and keeping them at the center of our attention.  It helps us remember to deliver services all the ways our customers want, need, and use them. 

OK – some of you are shaking your heads. “Oh, Candi – you’re making much ado out of nothing.  These are internal terms – we know what we mean.”  Maybe so.  Maybe not.   I still hear complaints all the time about bosses who don’t “get it” about what web teams are trying to do.  Maybe it’s because they don’t understand the words we use to describe it.

But here’s the other thing…and it’s equally important.  We want to be open government.  We want to be transparent.  We want to engage citizens and involve them in their government.  That means we have to talk to them – and among ourselves, because they are listening – in words that mean something to them.  

Pardon me, Mr. Shakespeare, but there IS something in a name.  Comprehension.  Communication.  Understanding.  Clarity.

Related Posts
Web Improvement Plans Must Start With Commitment to Customer Service
Web Managers:  Time to Look for aNew Job
Are We Ready to Provide Great Customer Service in Government?


Gwynne said...

I was with you on the moniker "digital government" until I got to your reasoning. There is EXCELLENT reason to call out new ways of delivering government services. Damn straight I want executives to think about how we use technology to deliver services and info in modern ways. It's like not talking about paving roads or creating an interstate highway system for motorized vehicles or air traffic control systems or magnet technology for bullet trains because it's all about transportation and we need to integrate with horses, stables and oats.

We need smart, strategic investments in technology and in new ways of providing new services (and deep-sixing old, outdated methods). It's not incremental, it's revolutionary. [And while I am up, we also need to add technology literacy to the toolbox of every exec, along with planning, negotiating and budgeting.]

And, speaking of the power of words, don't get me started on calling citizens "customers"......

Candi Harrison said...

I always appreciate your views, Gwynne!

Jeffrey said...

I look forward to our next dinner. I'll referee. :D

As for "customers," I agree it's awful, but to me, it's the least-bad of many bad options.

Judson Vaughn said...

I agree with Gwynne that its important to differentiate by channel. We prepare different messages when we shout by megaphone or write a thoughtful white paper or tweet an attractive headline.

All are important. And its important for executives to understand the methodology.


Judson Vaughn said...

I agree with Gwynne that its important to differentiate by channel. We prepare different messages when we shout by megaphone or write a thoughtful white paper or tweet an attractive headline.

All are important. And its important for executives to understand the methodology.