Not Everyone is Worth Supporting

    August 2, 2004

Support costs money. Some customers are worth supporting because they are, or have the capacity to be, profitable. Some customers are not worth supporting because the cost of supporting them is greater than the profit that can be made from them. Differentiating between profitable and unprofitable customers is a critical skill.

A couple of my readers who responded to last week’s piece on customer support, mentioned how difficult it is to get an 800 number for If this is true then I would think the reason is that it is cheaper to support by email than by phone. works in a very tight margin business, so it has to keep its costs down as low as possible.

Running a website should mean making difficult decisions. In my experience, this doesn’t happen because it is rare to find a website, particularly within a large organization, that has someone actually, genuinely in charge. By this I mean someone who has real authority to say what should and shouldn’t get published on the website.

Because there is a lack of professional management, websites end up being a mishmash of compromises. Such websites invariably over-promise and under-deliver as they try and reach too many people with too much content that is either out-of-date or poor quality.

I know a software company that practically every time a problems occurs, an FAQ (frequently asked question) gets written and published on the intranet. Instead of solving problems, the FAQs have now become the problem. There are far too many of them, nobody ever updates or removes old ones, and many of them are awfully written, meaning that they waste time rather than solve problems. Sure, there are good FAQs, but these are smothered by the bad ones, with the result being that staff avoid the FAQ section.

Have you heard the expression “killing people with kindness”? Well, governments, for laudable motives, are killing people with information. Many countries are initiating Freedom of Information acts, when what we really need are Freedom FROM Information acts.

Throughout the world, governments have embraced the Web with enthusiasm, creating huge numbers of websites and publishing vast quantities of content on these sites. Government wants to reach every citizen with the Web and that is a noble aim, but it is an aim that is neither realistic nor practical.

There are certain people that are much more likely to use the Web for government services than other people. There are certain government services that are much more likely to be popular on the Web than other services. It is these people and these services that government should target first.

It is so much easier to publish than to ask the hard questions about what really needs to be published. Trying to support all citizens or customers on a website is simply counter-productive, even if you have unlimited resources, because the customer or citizen does not have unlimited attention. The more content you add to a website the more likely you are to confuse people.

We need to get away from this idea of the Web as some limitless space that will never refuse an extra document. Limited time, limited attention, and limited resources mean that offering highly targeted support is the way that you deliver value both to your citizens/customers, and to your organization.

For your web content management solution, contact Gerry McGovern

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