Great Ideas Come From Customers

clip_image002We spend a lot of time and considerable effort managing an Internet-facing server for our members, customers and business partners. Usually, this is a “build it and they will come” type effort. We build out what we think is an effective site, we track a certain amount of usage that tells us it’s working, we pat ourselves on the back and move onto the next task. In the course of normal business, we don’t actually have contact with these important users. Recently, I attended our company policyholder meeting, and I got to spend some time in one-on-one meetings with a few of our customers. It’s one thing to send someone their user credentials and receive a “Thanks, this looks good…” email. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to sit next to that person and walk them through their site.

I always get a little nervous before these meetings, and I always come away realizing that the nervousness was unnecessary. We are providing a service to our customers, and they appreciate it. If they have problems, suggestions or questions, they really appreciate the fact that we are willing to solve, consider or answer them. We had a few of each to deal with this time, and I learned a lot in the process.

One of the things that I learned is how important it is to consider SharePoint from the point of view of the user. We look at this site as a multi-use portal; it serves our members, our policyholders, many of our important business partners and our employees. One of the things we did when we upgraded to SP 2010 was to create separate content databases along these various groups. That we had to do this is a good thing, it means people are using the site. Of course, it also means that the URLs changed. Navigation from the top level site didn’t change, and the main URL didn’t change, but these people want to start at a place that makes sense to them; they don’t want to enter the front door and then walk down to “Men’s Wear.” Fortunately, we anticipated this problem, and we secured a domain name that will link them to the front page of the policyholder site – forever!

One of the things that we didn’t anticipate is how our site can be both important and trivial, and how that dichotomy influences what our users want. Our site is important, because it is a source of information that our policyholders need. Our site is trivial, because they have a thousand other things to keep track of. They rely on our content always being up to date; they want to know when our content changes but they don’t want dealing with that content or those changes to be a big drill. They want us to improve notification.

We thought that notification was easy – users can set up alerts and get notified of everything that changes, and they can have as many users as they like. Well, some of their users don’t remember to set up alerts, and they want some people to be notified without having them be credentialed users on the site. They want to have a contact list that can include users and non-users, and they want a “more descriptive email notification” to go out when content changes, not simply the SharePoint alert. I know that we can handle that request for one policyholder sub-site, and I think we can handle it for all of them with a roll-up list, but suffice it to say, we have some work ahead of us.

Another challenge that lies ahead of us is training. One of the changes we made during the upgrade process was to eliminate folders in the various document libraries. Face-to-face, I was able to show the benefit of having all the content in one place, and being able to sort and filter on the metadata. Apparently, “face-to-face” was the important part of that sentence. I was asked if I could provide remote video training. The answer is “yes I can,” but now that task is on my plate; I don’t think anyone from my awesome staff is going to volunteer to be the trainer. At least this will give us a chance to put Lync to the test.

I am famous for looking for the bright side to every situation (and there always is a bright side). When I look at this situation, I think about how lucky I am to be able to meet with these folks and get their honest feedback. Of course great food, open bars and a hike through a San Diego canyon helped set the stage for a comfortable exchange, but the important thing is that the dialog will help us turn a good site into an awesome site.

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