Mod 2- Writing Interactive Media, Professor Susan Tamulevich
Everybody asks me: Why did you leave? I want to say “It was killing me slowly” or “I grew tired of saying things no one listened to”. Up until about three weeks ago, I spent five years in technology management. One of my primary responsibilities was evaluating software and making recommendations to upper management, “the decision-makers” on what would be the best platforms to produce desired outcomes. I left for many reasons, running away from some, running towards others, but the one I am going to tell you about today is bad software. I find myself giving a safe response like “I just needed a change.” Because being safe is practical, does not burden others and is actually a large part of an IT manager’s job.
Bad software thrives on customers that make bad decisions. But there are warning signs, this post explores how a company’s website language can reveal its attitude toward customers. But before we start on the vendor web content, a few notes on the client-side of things.
There are many ways to research and weigh software providers. Normally, there are established requirements and selection criteria and when you narrow your choices to a few contenders, it may all come down to details.
These are not easy decisions, investing in a tool often means entering a costly licensing contract, modifications to business processes and employee training. In a healthy, forward-thinking environment, the desired outcomes are usually tied to things like efficiency, productivity, increased sales, best industry practices, customer experience or satisfaction, scalability, and interoperability. Hopefully, a rubric that can provide some quantifiable indication on whether you made the right decision or should consider a change of course.
Those assumptions were naive on my part. Unfortunately, depending on your situation, making such prudent decisions requires two elements that may be in short supply. First, the willingness of the stakeholders to do some work: time spent clarifying the needs of both your employees and your customers. After such diligence, stakeholders would weigh priorities.
If you are in a consulting role, whether internally or externally, and start hearing the phrases: “We have always done it this way…” or “Everybody else does this…”, “Will it be easy?”, “Just make it simple…”, “I want a quick turn-key…”, it is a sign that willingness may be lacking. Lazy customers are bad software companies bread and butter.
Second, vision: some imagination will be needed to form goals and present a future in which the software under consideration will function. The vision will need to be communicated to the team responsible for making the recommendations. These are matters of leadership and unrelated to any technical discussion: features, bells, whistles, code or other goo-gaws associated with technology. Simple time-tested exercises like handwritten flow-charts can do wonders to guide a group through future scenarios.
If you have a client who begins a meeting requesting a feature or functionality without being able to articulate the purpose or why they want it, start heading for the door. Customers without plans keep bad software company’s sales departments busy. There are always happy to offer solutions to problems you don’t have and showing up without a clear need just invites proposals.
Sales departments are busy anyway. This is where things get sticky. The business-to-business software realm is filled with thousands of vendors and resellers (sorry “partners”) cluttering the space with jargon, fancy phrases, obscuring the plain and simple sun with a literal digital cloud, blockchains, enterprise solutions, full-stack discussions and all things that glitter. Tactics include, but are not limited to, cold calls, direct mail, emails, social media invitations, white papers, webinars, videos, sponsored awards, sponsored conferences. The noise can be overwhelming. So much so, even software procurement is being outsourced to “managed service providers” and other types of technology consultants. All in the hopes of picking and deploying tools that do not burden employees, cripple productivity and make customers puke (or walk away and then puke).
Let’s face it, most companies consider new software because their existing software sucks. Personally, I find it sad when companies no longer feel a need to evaluate their own tools and defer that responsibility. Like a carpenter renting a saw.
I believe free trials, test-drives and hands-on testing are good. Good software is self-evident; if the product is good, it sells itself, there is no need for hard sales tactics or much persuasion. So, let’s not repeat mistakes. Often the signs are right in front of us, but in a world bombarding our attention, it may be difficult to recognize them. Language is still important. It is no longer acceptable to be in the software game and a poorly developed website, it is not cool to say, “Oh that thing, we have been meaning to update it”. If a company can’t articulate its offerings clearly in writing, imagine how it will approach servicing your business. The online presentation reveals a lot about its attitude and quality of its software. Here are two examples of web content from the home pages of two similar software companies in the private club industry sphere.
Actual Software Experience Notes: Poor user experience. Closed system with no API’s. Slow support responses. Established industry insider with many sponsorships of conferences, magazines and relies on networking and no niche market competition for sales base. Offers “all-in-one” CRM solution.
Northstar Club Software
- Northstar Technologies was founded in 2003 after identifying need for innovation in the club industry.
- Today, Northstar is installed in nearly 500 clubs worldwide, including 50 Platinum clubs and has won Boardroom Magazine’s prestigious “Software of the Year” award numerous times.
- The Northstar system is the only club software in the market that offers a single solution on one database.
- Northstar CAM suite is the premium all-inclusive software solution choice for managing all aspects of a community association.
- The Northstar software is built from the ground up, and is the most reliable and feature-rich software solution centered on the needs of the private clubs & community association management.
- Headquartered in Atlanta, GA with regional offices throughout the US and a dedicated International Sales team.
- Northstar employs over 140 full-time professionals in the US and around the world.
Source: Northstar Club Management Software. (2019, October 27).
Retrieved from http://www.globalnorthstar.com/index.php
If the website does not mention how the software will help you or your customers it is a very bad sign. Upon arriving on the Northstar website, the very first thing you will see is a slide announcing that “registration is closed” for their conference. This is telling, much of the website layout “above the fold” is dedicated to in-person networking events. In addition, if you are simply evaluating the software for the first time, this information is meaningless to you. Like the software itself, it says “sorry you can’t do this” without offering any alternative. Maybe letting us know about the next event, or offering us a contact us link would be helpful. Already, the provider is failing at UX. A very regal looking, pretty but otherwise useless slide. There are a couple of other phrases that should set off alarms to a potential software buyer:
- What does “need for innovation” mean and how did Northstar meet it?
- Trust is important, No, Northstar is not the only company that offers this
- “All-Inclusive” is a term for tropical vacations, not a critical component of your business, this is clearly “Marketese”
- “Built from the ground up” often means homemade (sorry, custom) and proprietary, good luck trying to make it work with anything else.
If this is the first impression, it tells me this company is not interested in customer experience, performance or innovation at all and is resting on its laurels. Once you locked into an agreement, the gold will quickly fade. Companies that reach a dominant position in a niche market, often subtly display disinterest in end users. See the difference in web content between a well-known restaurant POS provider Micros and its upstart competitor LightSpeed.
Actual Software Experience Notes: High customer satisfaction. Open system with API’s. Fast support responses. Began in the resort space and has grown out of its niche market with larger, high profile clients and testimonials including Four Seasons and Hershey with higher traffic and public-facing footprints. Relies on the quality of software and successful case studies for sales.
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Source: ResortSuite – Know your Guest. (2019, October 27).
Retrieved from http://www.resortsuite.com
Music to my ears
This content is forward-thinking and appropriate in tone. It communicates freedom and choice. The vendor is offering in-depth articles and case studies that build trust. There is little hype and the mentioned partnerships are those that matter. It mentions other tools that are well known in the industry, tools I may be using already or I can add to my wheelhouse. The language often focuses on the guest.
Take a moment and read the material more carefully
Of course, we cannot base our decisions on whether a provider has a decent website or not but once you perform this kind of deep reading the differences are striking. Maryanne Wolf, a distinguished UCLA professor and expert in digital reading explains “that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds.” When assembling your software platform, the decision process is often complex. We often enter agreements without full knowledge of the companies our transactions depend on, this is simply another measure that you can employ to consider the truthfulness of vendor’s claims. I share this with you today because If someone had given me this perspective four years ago, it would have saved a lot of time and headaches. After seeing several software fiascos in the making, poor logic and sales teams produce insider slow-motion wrecks I decided to change course. From now on, I will say, “I left because It was the right decision and am much happier now.” Happy hunting.
Resources & References
Ryan, N. (2019). Timeless Writing Advice From William Zinsser’s ‘On Writing Well’. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/better-marketing/10-must-read-lessons-on-writing-from-literary-critic-william-zinsser-35f7a281250c
“How Users Read on the Web.” Nielsen Norman Group, 22 Oct. 2019, www.nngroup.com/articles/how-users-read-on-the-web.
Bad Writing Is Destroying Your Company’s Productivity. (2016, September 06). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/09/bad-writing-is-destroying-your-companys-productivity
Zinsser, William. On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction. Harper Perennial, 2012, www.amazon.com/Writing-Well-30th-Anniversary-Nonfiction-ebook/dp/B0090RVGW0.
Vaynerchuk, Gary. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World. HarperBusiness, 2013, www.amazon.com/Jab-Right-Hook-Story-Social-ebook/dp/B00BATNNZY.
William, Strunk, Jr. and Strunk William, Jr. The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition. ESBooks, 2019, www.amazon.com/Elements-Style-Fourth-William-Strunk-ebook/dp/B07NPN5HTP.
Barr, Chris and The Senior Editors Of Yahoo!. The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Writing, Editing and Creating Content for the Web. Griffin, 2010, www.amazon.com/Yahoo-Style-Guide-Ultimate-Sourcebook/dp/0230749607.
“Being a Better Online Reader.” New Yorker, 19 June 2017, www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/being-a-better-online-reader.
Pinker, Steven. “The Source of Bad Writing.” Essay, WSJ, 25 Sept. 2014, www.wsj.com/articles/the-cause-of-bad-writing-1411660188.
Content structure – Content Guide. (2019, June 03). Retrieved from https://guides.service.gov.au/content-guide/content-structure
Dag, O. (2015, September 23). George Orwell: Politics and the English Language. Retrieved from http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit
Is the Internet Making Writing Better? (2019, July 26). The New Yorker. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/is-the-internet-making-writing-better
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