Having a clear next step is essential to someone taking it. Next steps are easy to find online, banners, large rounded corner buttons and “Read more” links seem to be everywhere. But next steps go beyond the Web, if you have a problem with your home Internet, the next step is probably to call customer support. When you know the source of the problem it’s easy to know who to call.
Not all next steps, though, are easy to determine, especially in a decentralized Web environment like we have at Wayne State.
I recently saw a demo for a product called SiteImprove which aims to help automate quality assurance on a website. I was impressed by the product and mortified by the results at the same time. In the 1,700 pages that were part of the demo we had 445 broken links and 180 misspelled words. I expected some, but not that many issues with our site. I want to make it clear this isn’t an endorsement for the product, I have not used it, just received a demo.
I bring it up because it opened my eyes to a major problem with the decentralized Web, and specifically with “crowdsourced” Web content management, which is a more fitting description for the WSU environment.
Lots of eyes but no one speaks up
We get millions of visitors each month. A good chunk of them are internal audiences who read the content on our pages. I’m willing to bet that people are seeing these misspellings and broken links but they don’t know who or how to tell someone about them. There is the old trusty “webmaster” email address and we do get a fair number of emails there, but they are often from students who stumble on broken links they need and it is their last resort. Obviously we don’t want prospective students to get to this point.
Most often someone on campus has interacted with one of us in the Web department to set up their website. Which means they probably interacted with me, a designer, a developer and a content administrator at the very least. They know the drill, and that the content of a website is the responsibility of the department. So they often don’t think of contacting us to fix it and although we ensure the “Contact Us” area is prominent on every website it is often used for student recruitment and there may be many hoops before messages get to the Web person in the department.
The next step to alerting someone of the problem isn’t clear, therefore problems often don’t get reported.
Who’s responsible for QA?
At the end of the day, the Web Communications department is responsible for the overall user experience on the Web. There may be a lot of factors that go in to what is actually produced but if there is a problem we are charged with fixing it. Although the content on every page isn’t originated by us, we need to ensure it building the university brand instead of hurting it.
How to report a problem
I have posted in the past about how we handle dozens of support requests per day without a ticket system and that has worked well for the past few years. We are now employing the same technique to our phones. Everyone in the Web department now has a single phone number. This way if anyone is out of the office or away from their desk the phone can still be answered and get handled in an appropriate timeframe. If someone leaves a voicemail it goes to our group email account that everyone sees. It’s been a week so far and the simplification has really helped to filter all requests through one person, our project manager, and only assigned/disrupt a staff member when they are needed.
The Web Department is now acting as a single point of contact for the campus community to know their next step. They no longer have to remember a staff members name, phone number or email address. Once a problem is reported we are able to determine who is the owner of the website and the quickest route to get it fixed. We will do all the leg work to ensure it gets corrected even if the website isn’t in the main university system.
But what about the public?
The process for the public to alert us is a little trickier. In the past if we added a feedback form or email address to a website as a “feature” it tends to get used by people who simply can’t find information or to ask a basic question. This would flood the IT staff with general questions instead of actual problems. The easier it is for the visitor the contact someone the more likely it is for them to use the contact info instead of using the website to find the information they need, they often look past the purpose of the form. That being said we are hesitant to put a “Report a problem” link on the page, even if it only shows if the visitor is on campus.
We are currently testing different options and should have a solution in the next few weeks.
Contacting Web Communications