Tuning Out ‘That 90’s Show’

Is your site’s content stuck in the ’90s? Think arrogance. Think bloat. Think of clients as something to be snickered at rather than revered.

Wake up, all you Captains of Content! It’s been two years since the heady ’90s ended (surely Fox is planning “That ’90s Show” for the fall lineup). Now it’s time for content that keeps the customers engaged rather than making them enraged.

So how do you modernize your content for optimum customer care and attention? Here are a few thoughts.

Rewrite. Rework content filled with bloated corporate-speak that boasts, “We’re Powerful, We’re Magnificent, We’re Omnipotent!” (Look out for anything that sounds like Enron execs after an exhilarating day of playing switcheroo with other peoples’ money.) In fact, count all the “we”s in your content. There should be a lot fewer “we”s and a lot more “you, you, you!”

Minimize the edifices. Big granite buildings with three-story corporate logos don’t impress today’s customer, so downplay those corporate building photos. Emphasize employees who want to help get orders processed correctly and on time.

And speaking of three-story logos… Someday I’ll do a study of how much time is wasted by organizations obsessed with “logoitis.” In other words, they fret and tinker with typefaces and weird little graphics that no one except the graphic designer really understands. Web sites that insist on stamping their 10-inch logos all over the page are hard to read and hard to stomach. Fill up those 10 inches with information on the value of your product or service.

Don’t personalize unless you mean it. Merely flashing someone’s name on your site says nothing more than you’ve captured one more trusting soul in the database. Go a step further and personalize content. The Peppers & Rogers Group’s 1to1 always welcomes me with a list of articles that might be of interest to me (me!). It’s very Amazon.com, only a little softer sell since the personalization features are directing visitors to content, not potential purchases.

Don’t confuse cute with customer service. Californians have lately been bombarded with advertisements starring Elvis Schmiedekamp, the milquetoast head of customer service for California Federal Bank. It’s a wretched campaign for a number of reasons. First, do we really feel our money is secure at a bank where a top executive carries his lunch in a paper sack and promises not to eat it until after the noontime rush? This is a bank, folks. The digestive habits of the personnel do nothing to enhance my sense of security. Second, Elvis talks like he’s the long-lost son of Barney Fife. Again, I want someone of reasonable intellect looking after my money. Running a bank is serious business and so is customer service. Today’s consumers want to feel confident that an organization will get the job done. A testimonial from an important satisfied client would go a long way toward communicating this message.

Be organized. Don’t waste readers’ time with attempts to puff up the organization. Yes, mention points of differentiation, but base them on facts and figures. Simply stating you are “among the best in the industry” tells the consumer nothing more than that you’re fond of vague puffery.

Ditch the mission statement. Ninety percent of all corporate mission statements are the same. (Look, Mabel, they’re dedicated to being committed to excellence! Imagine that!) Unless your statement offers useful information about your organization’s unique competence, take the mission statement off your site.

Say thanks. My fellow ClickZ columnist Nick Usborne writes that “thank you” is the most important message you can offer a customer. It’s amazing how often we forget to acknowledge our appreciation for customers’ interest and — if we’re lucky — their long-term trust. A little word of thanks says volumes.

And on that note, if you’ve been kind enough to read this whole article, I thank you. I realize you’re very busy in today’s challenging business environment. I hope I’ve been of help this week.

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