Content is Part of the Customer Experience

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Content is the whole point of why people visit websites. Without content, the experience is going to be pretty awful.

Would you publish a website that looked like this?

GOV.UK home page without content

GOV.UK home page without content

I don't think so. And no one does. There is always content in that interface. Whether that content is helpful or not is another story. All too often it is not.

In a matter of one day I had these three experiences:

  1. Received a letter from my mortgage company about a deficiency in my homeowners insurance coverage. So I called the insurance company. They created a letter about my coverage and I submitted it to the mortgage company via secure message on their website. Many days later I see a reply message that tells me to call customer service. I called and the representative explained the situation and told me I don't need to do anything.
  2. Attempted to login to a bank account that I hadn't accessed for about 5 months. First, I couldn't figure out where to login. Once I find it (called "DFCU Online") and enter my credentials, I received an error that said my member number or password was incorrect. I tried to reset password but got a message that there was no account with that number and I should call them. So I called and was told that they have made changes to the system since I last logged in and I have to enroll again.
  3. Had problems logging in to webmail, despite using saved user names and passwords that had worked the last time I tried. I waited about 30 hours with no success and called IT. They told me I was locked out because of too many failed attempts. They had to unlock my account on their end.

All three of these experiences resulted in a phone call that quickly resolved my problem or answered my questions. But two of them could have been avoided, and the third one resolved sooner, had the content been more clear. Let's look at how these experiences could have been easier for me--and the customer service representatives.

Be as specific as possible

In example #1, the letter I received was unnecessarily vague. This was the text:

Upon review of your policy information, [company name] has found that the current hazard insurance policy as referenced above is written with an insufficient amount of coverage.

Please contact your agent for one of the following solutions: (a) secure an Extended Coverage endorsement, or (b) have your agent provide proof that the policy protects the improvements according to our requirements as stated on the reverse of this letter or the attachment.

Even though the insurance company gave me an endorsement letter, some key information was missing: How much should the insurance cover?

The lack of that information caused me to have to deal with two companies via multiple channels of communication over a week. The mortgage company representative who I talked to was helpful. But it turned out that I didn't need to do anything. There was a mismatch between the mortgage balance and insurance coverage. This must happen a lot since about a third of the price of my house is for the land and not the building.

They could have provided a clearer message. Perhaps like this:

Upon review of your policy information, [company name] has found that the current hazard insurance policy as referenced above has insufficient coverage to pay off the balance of your mortgage.

If you would like to increase your coverage so that you are not liable for the difference in coverage and mortgage balance, contact your insurance agent.

Most organizations want to decrease the number of calls to customer service. If that is your goal too, make sure your content is as specific as it can be. In this example, some simple changes to the working could have saved me time and decreased the number of calls to customer service. (I'm sure I wasn't the only one who called.)

Better error messages

In examples #2 and #3, the problem was with the error messages being insufficiently specific.

The best option for #2 would have been for the bank's online account system to migrate the accounts. I hope they considered that option and had good reason not to do it. The situation being as it was, the message should have told me why I couldn't login and directed me to re-enroll in the online system. Perhaps like this:

We have updated our online account system. Please enroll again to access your account.

In this case, while I had them on the phone, I got requested that some fees be waived, which they did and credited my account. They lost $15 because I called about logging in. Imagine if 1,000 customers had done the same. That's $15,000 lost because of poor error messaging. I wouldn't have called about the fees if I'd have been able to get into my account without calling. The whole reason I was logging in was to add money to my account to avoid future fees. (Oh, and the fees had to do with getting charged for paper statements, which I was unaware of until I got a paper statement, which is only sent once a quarter. But that's a different problem--sort of.)

As for the webmail problem, I still would have had to call, but I would have called right away to remedy the problem and not have waited and let my frustration and confusion build for a day and a half.

Really, the content in the login path for the webmail is pretty awful. Not sure if it's standard text provided by Microsoft or if the company made it themselves, but it lacks proper context and specificity. Being locked out is not the same as not entering the correct username or password. Other systems tell me this, why can't Outlook webmail?

Making content better

The best way to make your content better is to have someone who is an expert in writing write it. There are different types of writing, too. In the examples here, a UX writer would have been appropriate. "A UX writer is someone who writes write the words we read or hear when we use a digital product. Their texts must be clear, concise, and useful. Their goal is to help and guide the user." (UX Writing, UX Copywriting, Content Strategy, and Content Design are not the same job) Not a copywriter--someone who writes advertising materials. Also not the software engineer or the interface designer.

There is an aspect of content strategy to all of this as well.

  • Consistent voice and appropriate tone
  • Understanding your audience to be able to write so they can understand text the first time they read
  • Governance, including defining whose job it is to write the content in all the various places

These examples are part of the user experience of specific websites. It is time to acknowledge that the user experience of an interface is a direct result of the organization's approach to customer experience. Because of the work I do, I can see through these problems and get to the heart of them. I get sad. Others may feel dumb. Is that how you want your audience to feel? No? Well, that's something else that content strategy establishes: define how you want your audience to feel.

Content gets better when it is not left for someone (anyone) to deal with at the last minute. Content is good when there is a strategy for it and it is viewed as integral to a user experience. Content becomes invisible when a person completes their task on the first try--when they don't have to think. Words matter. It's time everyone start paying attention to them or find someone who will.