Content Management Tidbits

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Archive for July 2008

The Devil Is in Templates

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Shopping for something on the web, subscribing to a service, requesting for help online. We are overwhelmed by a massive amount of automated replies everyday. As users, this constant exposure affects our level of tolerance, and usually we don’t even cringe anymore to horror greetings like “Mr/Ms x”. As content managers, however, we can’t afford to relax and exploit the advantage, because it’s only apparent. People can only take so much inconsistency, or rudeness, or illiteracy, in one day. And the last straw could be your reply template.

Of course no standard reply can be the perfect one, and avoiding every mistake and inconsistency is an impossible task: e-mails, even the automatic ones, are part of a conversation, and conversations are dynamic entities that cannot be pinned down to a template. Anyway there are some measures you can take to prevent the biggest gaffes.

First (and foremost): Don’t let the developers put in the system the first template they find. Or, worse, don’t let them write it by themselves. Nobody is expecting you to write part of the code, and nobody would be thrilled if you took the initiative to slip some code of yours in the project. That works both ways, even if the programmers feel really confident about their language skills. You have to double-check every word that’s in the system.

Then, about the templates:

  • avoid gender gaffes, such as the “Mr/Ms” above;
  • at the same time make sure you don’t use convoluted or awkward impersonal forms to avoid that gender trap;
  • a standard reply should be used to confirm that a task has been accomplished, or not: Don’t rely on them too heavily, or you will be set for some surprises;
  • it is not the proper place to explain procedures, passages or products: Just put a link to the main website (or update the main website if it’s lacking that kind of information);
  • most people are well aware that no real person typed the message they just received, but don’t take it for granted: Warn your reader that “this is an automated reply”;
  • if you are selling products or service, make sure the receiver knows that he or she can contact you for further questions, and how (in case you can’t promise that, warn the Customer Service Department that you have a problem).

As made evident by the last item in the list, you have to keep in mind that content is just another form of costumer service, and that no automation can exempt you from taking care of the users. On the contrary, automated processes require the greatest deal of consideration and attention.

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Written by Paola

July 26, 2008 at 10:21 am