Most governments don't have to worry about winning and retaining customers. Perhaps that is why they have such a very long way to go in terms of speaking human. Today, many government websites reflect this and are very difficult to understand and use for the average citizen. This leads to complaints, negative press and excessive numbers of phone calls, which could have been avoided or handled much cheaper and more efficiently over the web.
At our Philadelphia conference earlier this month Eric Karjaluoto made a very compelling case for organisations to 'speak human' in order to better connect with customers. He illustrated his keynote with best and worst practice examples from large and small enterprises that made it clear why you can no longer “lie, cheat, steal” your way to making it big. This advice applies equally well to government administration, which would be able to make real progress if they became better at connecting with citizens.
A few stories to illustrate the potential and how the web could help:
- In Denmark with a population of 5 million, the Danish Tax and Customs Administration receives about 4,5 million phone calls every year with questions about taxes. In a a story in a Danish newspaper, a government representative says that the Danish tax rules are particularly complex. That might be true, but a good content strategy making the website much easier to use should be able to reduce the number of calls greatly.
- In the US, The New York Times recently reported that doctors, once used to answering patients’ questions about their hearts or other matters physical, have lately spent up to half of their time answering a range of different questions — about the new health care law. Needless to say, substantial policy changes will always lead to questions. Better websites with plain language texts should help answer most of these.
Part of 'speaking human' is about using plain language. In the UK, The Plain English campaign has been campaigning since 1979, "against gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information." Here's an educational example from their website:
High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.
Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.
Plain language will indeed get you far in terms of speaking human. You've probably seen plenty of examples like the above in both paper and online communication if you have had to deal with government. Plain language in a sense is the easy part, the difficult one is the "connect" part. This is where you actually listen and builds a relationship - regardless of whether online or offline. I can name several enterprises that do this well at the moment and Eric Karjaluoto also named a few.
Please, dear reader, can you mention just one government agency that 'speaks human' today?