CMS: CAN’T MANAGE SITE?

The problem isn’t selling a customer on the concept of having their site built in a Content Management System (CMS.) Most customers want, and even demand control over their site’s content. Surprisingly, the problem isn’t really the limitations of today’s CMS’s either. In this post Web 2.0 era, we can pull off some amazing stuff in a web browser. No, what it comes down to is supporting and educating the client on utilizing the tools that you are selling them.

YOU KNOW YOUR CMS. ASSUME NO-ONE ELSE DOES.

Whether you wrote your own in-house CMS or you are implementing another solution such as Drupal, Joomla, or WordPress, you undoubtedly know it forwards and backwards. However, no matter how simple and elegant the system is, chances are, this is the first time your client has ever seen it and it’s foreign. In addition, the very concept of websites, links, pages, forms etc are pretty vague for most people. The very fact that changes are made to their website from another website is a layer of abstraction that can be really confusing to most people.

It sounds simple, but you need to have a plan for clearly explaining the concept of web based administration.

As Yoda said in the Empire Strikes Back, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Try to imagine never seeing a CMS before and try to explain it to yourself. Take it a step further and find a family member or friend who is not in the industry. Setup a trial site for them using your favorite CMS. What questions do they have. Do they understand where and how to login. Do they understand how make changes to text, add pictures, or bold some text? For a lot of us, we think of bug testing as something that only pertains to programming, but I say that this concept should be applied to even pre-packaged software packages that are sold to a customer, but I digress. Getting honest feedback from your “test subject” can be invaluable to your future projects. You might find sharp edges in your CMS that need refined in the system, or at very least, you can find the areas where you will need to prepare extra help for your client in cases where systems and processes cannot be changed.

MANAGE CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS, MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

One point of frustration I’ve run into is when a customer wants to use the CMS tools to perform design changes that go against the design structure (or template) of a website. For instance, you might have dictated in the CSS that all the paragraph tags be left justified with a .9em size in an Arial, sans-serif font, but when the customer goes to edit a page, they expect to not only be able to change the copy, they also want to center align the text, enlarge it by 200% and maybe change the color to “burnt orange”. Now this might be a reasonable request from the customer but when you implemented the CMS, you left those controls out so the customer could not stray from the original design of the site. Both you and client have expectations, but unfortunately, they conflict. Either you are going to be deflated by the destruction of your perfect markup and design, or the customer is going to feel cheated on the promise of content control.

Get these kind of discussions out of the way before development begins. A lot of times concessions can be made to make both parties happy. If there are limitations to your CMS, highlight them upfront. Don’t make the mistake of saying, “this functions just like Microsoft Word.” I hear this a lot and it really is a stretch which will come back to bite you.

Okay, so you might be thinking, “I hear you, but how do I better support and educate the client?” There were times where I would think ahead and quote a few extra hours into the project where I’d offer support in the form of a meeting with a client when the site was ready to go live. I’d sit down and give a whirlwind tour of the site administration while the customer hopefully wrote notes down as I went along. Unfortunately, this is an overwhelming amount of information for a mere mortal to absorb in an hour. Here are two solutions that our team has implemented that have been a tremendous assets to both us and our customers:

WIKI

Build a wiki site for your CMS. If you write your own CMS this really should be a no-brainer. From logging into the CMS to modifying forms, each feature should be documented. In addition to a clean index of each feature of the system, a thorough FAQ will go a long way in helping your customer get through the basics. You will be answering these questions repeatedly anyways, you might as well take the extra time to type it in once and save yourself time and at the same time empowering your customer with information.

CREATE HELP VIDEOS

Have a system that’s a little complicated? Drupal is a good example of a powerful and flexible CMS that lacks in the ease of use category when it comes to end user experience. Remember your customers don’t generally make changes every day to their site. They have their real jobs and remembering 5 menu levels deep to make a change is a lot to expect. Writing out the instructions is even a bit cumbersome. Try using a program like Jing to record a session where you make the changes with an accompanying voice-over. A picture is worth a thousand words but a movie with auditory explanation is even better. Doing this for some of the more complicated processes will go a long way on cutting down on your support time and will give great peace of mind to your client. Create a repository of these movies on youtube or screencasts.comfor example for all your clients to access at anytime. Depending on your client load, you might need to pay for a service to maintain space and lift bandwidth restrictions. If this is the case, the time you’ll save supporting your clients this way will make up for the cost.

By investing time into building the resources to educate your client, the more likely they will continue to use your products and services because they understand what they are paying for and you’ve established a personal connection that builds trust. The end result is a portfolio full of satisfied customers.

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