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Are we ON?

ARE WE ON?Não paramos, #EstamosON (We don’t stop, #WeAreON) was the Portuguese government's “answer” to the need for the physical closure of its services, in March 2020, as a measure to stop the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
With the closure of the various public offices, it was necessary to redirect citizens and general public “somewhere” where they could see their questions or doubts answered, and “deal with their life”, which had (has) to go on. That place, the only one available, was the internet – the wonderful and brave new online world!

Truth be told, most of these services were already there. You have, for instance, the tax portal of the Tax and Customs Authority, where self-employed and freelancers have been issuing their invoices for many years, where you can turn over your annual tax return and you can even get rich with the “Lucky Invoice lottery” (“Fatura da Sorte”). Or the Institute of Registries and Notaries where registries can be made, both by citizens or companies, certificates requested, etc. And even Social Security, where it’s always possible to discover a € 0.50 debt, from 20 years ago, which no one has notified you of, and now adds up to a joyful amount of several hundred Euros (thank you very much for the interest on it!); not to mention justice, with its portals, Citius and Sitaf, which made quite a few headlines and helped sell a lot of aspirin to lawyers and solicitors across the country.

All public services have moved lock, stock, and barrel to the world wide web and “now”, with half a dozen clicks we can do everything we (normally wouldn't want to do but) have to do, in the comfort of our home and in a simplified way . Amazing, right? Yeah... it would be, if that was how it worked. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these portals and websites are incredibly confusing and one needs several master's degrees just to find the exact page we require, and then a lot of patience and resilience to be able to carry whichever action triggered our visit to said portal to start with (thank you Google for being a fantastic repository of information, where so many others, who have been through the same frustration as us, share some of their wisdom and help us to feel less stupid!).

OK, but there’s always the helplines and, quite often, even the online support chats, to answer our questions and render advice on any difficulties we may have, right? Well, it should be. The problem is that the lines are, in most cases, overflowing with calls (which translates into absurd and impractical waiting times for the common user), and that on the other side (when you finally get to talk to someone ) there is a person who has neither enough training, nor information, for himself, let alone to share with or clarify things for someone else (like the lady on the Social Security helpline, with whom I spoke the other day, in search of an explanation for an issue with my social security contributions, who told me "how do you want me to tell you the ordinance or decree-law that regulates that? That’s legislation, I don't know that.").
And support chats, I'm not even going to talk about them… 90% of the time, the coding of the chatbots (those virtual assistants who should be our “lifeline in difficult times”, saving employers the salary of one more “real” employee) is poorly conceived and we are directed to where we don't need to go, or we are left with even more doubts than those we had when we started (not to mention the time we lost).

But that’s alright. All of this happens in the government services and, in fact, living in Portugal, we would not expect it to work in any other way. However, this reality is not (unfortunately) exclusive to the public sector. Try, for example, to do something as simple as changing an address with an electricity supplier, or changing the type of billing with your cable TV or internet provider, and it’s quite possible that you’ll be facing the same problems. However, while there is no competition for Social Security or the taxman (!), there are several companies on the market that provide cable television, internet services or electricity. And generally, the smaller our company is, the more competitors we potentially have – if my website or online store “doesn't work”, the user won't stay there because he has to, or by the work and grace of the Holy Spirit, but he will leave and go to another website where he can do the same thing.

A good rule of thumb – that should be the foundation for building any website or online activity – is that it’s all about the user. It doesn't matter, which way I (a business and website owner) think, or want him to take to reach my holy grail – the purchase of the products or services that I sell or provide. It is the user who dictates the rules. And, if we think about it, we’ve heard so many times before the old saying “the customer is always right”, so why should it be different in the digital world? When thinking of a website we have to keep that in mind. We have to facilitate not only the user’s entry (yes, I’m talking about SEO and good content and the combination of all these and other things that will make someone find your online space amongst the 1.7 billion websites in the world – this was the official number when I started writing this article, but it will now, quite possibly, be out of date), but also keep him there and, of course, his conversion (purchase, booking, contact, etc. depending on the nature of the business). Simplicity is often the keyword, but simple means neither ugly, nor uninteresting, nor easy.

A good design is essential, for a website must be pleasing to the eye. And although all of us (more or less) are ultimately able to build something resembling a website and to put it online – especially now with the advent of platforms like Wordpress, Squarespace or Wix, amongst others – something that is done by a (good) professional, it will be exactly that: more professional, more desirable, more attractive to the user.

But we can rely on image alone. Although we have all become rather lazy when it comes to reading these days, after being "hooked" for the "attractive look" of a website, it has to have some "juice", something that makes us stay there , that continues to arouse our curiosity, that impels us to want to “know more” – that's right, content. And, if today we all are designers of a sort, what to say of copywriters?! There’s not a business soul in this world that does not know how to put letters together to form words, words to form sentences, and phrases to form text, even in several tongues because Google Translate speaks all the languages on this planet, right? Wrong. In fact, we all know how to write, but producing good, relevant content (in our native language only and without spelling or semantic errors, is already a good start!) is not something for everyone. And even worse, because writing for the web is not the same as writing for any other media. It has its own rules that the common business owners do not master (nor do they have to) and must be preceded by a more or less exhaustive process of searching for what makes search engines (yes, Google, for the vast majority of us) know what our website is about and which users to show it to (preferably our potential customers, who are the ones we want to get there) – the infamous keywords. Once again, guess who does this very well? That's right, a professional!

And finally, most importantly, realise that we are not “ON” if the user is not able to easily carry out the action (whatever it may be) that took him specifically to that website. Functionality and ease of use for those who access is everything. If we approach someone on the street, to ask for directions to a certain place, and if these directions are an endless babble of “first turn right, then go straight ahead, pass on to the left side, turn right again, then left, then take the third to your right, cross to the right side now and on the corner go straight ahead again ”; after the first three seconds we have stopped listening and discreetly started looking around for another person passing by, who can perhaps show us a simpler way. It is exactly the same thing on a website – if to be able to buy a product or service we have to click on the main menu, which is not easily identifiable, open the services page, scroll down to the middle of this page to select the category where we think what we want might be, which will open a new page, with all the products, we finally find what we wanted, click on it and are directed to the contact page (to where we could have gone from the beginning) to fill out an XL size form (with data that we don't even want to share, at least not for now), send it and wait for an answer (boy, am I tired!), guess what will happen? Of course – we are not going to buy that product on that website. Fortunately, there are a dozen other websites out there (and that’s just on Google’s first search results page) where you can get the exact same thing. So don't do this to yourself: competition is to be done by your competitors, not by you.

User-friendly is actually an English term, but if it’s difficult for anyone to understand it, just ask any self-respecting Algarvian (“marafado” or not!) and he or she will translate that in no time, as most folks around here will be able to mangle two or more languages just from welcoming the “camónes” and the “avecs” every year!.
Be ON, but for real, as digital transformation and the online world are no longer a distant future (like the one The Jetsons showed us, on Sunday mornings in the 80s) but are already here to stay.

For more information, bespoke strategies and efficient digital marketing solutions, just contact the Clarity’s girls through info@yourdigitalclarity.com or visit our website at yourdigitalclarity.com.

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