When you sit down to create a customer-facing website it’s always helpful to see examples of what you should not be doing. Luckily, Nottingham City Council has very kindly provided such an example with the site they’ve designed for people who are enquiring about housing benefit or council tax reduction. The silver lining here is that it looks like they didn’t spend a lot of money on it.
Of course, you should always check spelling and grammar, so saying things like “Apply for a Parking Permits” is definitely something to avoid. The most important thing, however, is that your site should always be user-friendly.
Unfortunately, the first paragraph users come across on this page reads (big breath for the second sentence):
“This electronic form has been approved by Nottingham City Council for submission of a new claim for housing benefit and council tax reduction. This is under the Housing Benefit (Electronic Communications) (Miscellaneous Benefits) Order 2006 and Paragraph 10 of Schedule 7 of the Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements)(England) Regulations 2012.”
Phew! Seriously? This is the kind of information that should be at the bottom of the page in 6pt. Why on earth would someone applying for housing benefit want to be greeted with this unwieldy paragraph with its umpteen parentheses? Paragraph this, Schedule that…
It’s reminiscent of the police offer who read out his notes in court (genuine example): “I (h)observed the (h)individual imbibing from a drinking vessel whilst proceeding along the Queen’s highway.” Of course, what he should have said was: “I saw the man drinking from a bottle while walking down the street.”
The council’s website goes on: “Any notification made by electronic means must be authenticated as to the identify of the individual making the claim as directed by the instructions on the Authority’s website. To ensure the authenticity of the identity of the sender, the electronic communication must include…etc etc.”
Later on, there’s the line: “Any communication where the Authority is unable to authenticate the identity of the sender shall be deemed invalid.”
Are we not in the 21st century? Who has ever said “shall be deemed” without putting “thou” in front and “a witch” at the end?
What’s this about “the electronic communication”? Are they talking about using this new-fangled thing that’s just come out called the internet or the bewilderingly revolutionary concept of sending post by electronic means (aka e-mail)? Finally, who thought that the wording of “ensure the authenticity of the identity of the sender” was well-structured?
It might be a little unfair to pick on Nottingham City Council but we’ve watched housing benefit claimants using this website and they certainly did not find it easy.
So, three handy tips that we can draw from here when creating a customer-facing website are:
- always consider the customer experience
- always make your copy easy to read
- always remember what century we are in