Content is King, but Context is What Makes it Useful

Nov 10, 2011

I'm really tired of being inundated with contextually irrelevant information. I don't want to know what I don't need to know. I don't. Really. And, neither does anyone else.

The sheer volume of information available to me in the digital age is overwhelming. Everywhere I look, there it is. Even when I'm not looking, it's there, waiting to be found. Unfortunately, most of what is presented to me is of little use -- or is difficult, if not impossible to find -- especially on the web.

I recently purchased a Canon Pixma MX870 all-in-one printer, a device that, in addition to printing documents, serves as both a photocopier, a scanner, and a fax machine. For the price, it was a good deal. It would have been an even better deal if it actually worked.

At first, my experience with the printer was a good one. I would instruct it to print a document and it would do so. Kudos! But one day, when I needed it most, it just stopped printing. Instead of rendering a printed copy of the document I required, the MX870 hurled an indecipherable error message at me. Argh!

In search of a solution, I visited, and found a ginormous mess of words and pictures organized around the way the company operates, not how users actually use the products they sell. To find anything, you first have to determine where the information you need belongs. And, that's no guarantee it will actually be there when you arrive. What is guaranteed is that you'll find the information Canon wants you to find, whether you need it or not. You know what I'm talking about. Useless, irrelevant information like glowing reviews, awards, features, and, of course, sales information.

After scouring the site in vain for a few minutes, I gave up on browsing and decided to plug my query ("MX870 won't print Macintosh") into the site search engine. "No results found." I tried a few variations ("MX870 stopped printing Macintosh," "MX870 printing problems Macintosh," "MX870 unable to print Macintosh"). "No results found."

#Fail. #Stupid. #WhyConsumersHateSuppportWebsites.

After determining the Canon website was not the best place to find information about Canon products, I ran my query through Google. Voilà! There, in the very first search result -- ironically, located on the discussion forum -- was my answer. In less than one minute, I learned the cause of the problem, how to overcome it, and, perhaps most interestingly, that I was not alone. Others had experienced my problem and had sought help elsewhere. They not only found the answers from folks at Apple, but also from Amazon.

Ironic? Yep. Stupid? Check. Avoidable? You betcha. And yet, this is business as usual on much of the web today.

Frankly, most of the companies that I buy products and services from are lucky to have my business. They're lucky to have yours, too -- especially in this economic climate. If you're like me (and I'm wagering you are), you're a dedicated, loyal consumer. When brands do a good job and deliver as promised, you reward them with loyalty. And when they don't, get the idea.

According a recent survey by Deloitte (Consumer Products Group) 82% of people who use the web to research products, say reviews posted by others have influenced them to buy a different product than the one they had originally been thinking about purchasing. Other organizations have reported similar findings. When consumers read negative comments about products they were thinking about purchasing, they often change their minds about purchasing that product. The fact that these problems could negatively impact sales should be reason enough for companies to get their acts together and improve both their products and their support website.

Of course, this column isn't about influencing you not to purchase products from Canon. Instead, it's a call to all organizations to understand the importance of being the "go to" source for information about their products. It's about the need for product and service providers to provide contextually-relevant content to their customers and prospects alike, when and where they need it -- on the device of their choosing -- or, face the consequences.

In a socially-enabled, search-powered world, consumers demand respect. We don't want to waste our time navigating your counter-intuitive "knowledge center" built by people who couldn't identify a positive customer experience if it slapped them in the head. Nor do we want to sift through hundreds of irrelevant pieces of content that your poorly-tuned search engine couldn't find without a search party and a DNA trail. We don't want to contact support, not via chat, not via email -- and certainly not via telephone. We want you to be smart enough to understand us and provide us with relevant, useful information when and where we need it.

Is this too much to ask? I don't think so.