Last week I attended a workshop with RIBA Client Services. London-based Director of Membership Services Cathy Ditchfield and Client Services Advisor Bobbie Williams were in Birmingham to talk through the client services process, and to advise on how the RIBA and Chartered Practices can make the system work better for all parties.
Typical scenario: someone is looking for an Architect, they call up RIBA Client services who provide them with a shortlist of chartered practices (3 – 5 practices on average) which has been drawn up based on location, the size of the project, and a number of other factors (specialisms required, previous experience, etc). The online client referral system works in the same way – but requires users to register and log in.
The online directory is there to allow a visitor to the website to search, using various filters, allowing them to draw up their own shortlist, or find contact details for a specific practice or member.
If you are a chartered practice, you have a better chance of making it onto shortlists for project leads if your RIBA practice profile information is kept regularly updated. Better profile = more work. Simple, right? Well no actually, because in a nutshell, RIBA’s website sucks.
Architects often get a lot of stick for their websites, and RIBA needs to lead by example. Their website should be clean, easy to use, functional, accessible and look great. It’s none of these things. It’s outdated and clunky – I could be wrong here but from memory the website has changed very little since it’s first incarnation. It’s stuck in the land of Web1.0 due to its lack of perception to the users needs (be that members, or clients). It’s difficult to navigate and the menus are confused. It’s clogged up with masses of outdated information, not least because members find the login and profile updating process complicated and time consuming. The search system isn’t intuitive and unless you have precise information, you are unlikely to find what you are looking for (see image above).
I should say at this point that Bryant Priest Newman has a really good relationship with the institute and the practice supports the regional office wherever possible – Regional Head, Matt Dobson, has a reassuringly fresh outlook and is always willing to listen to members.
You may have noticed that I’m fond of the odd moan, but I always try to do something constructive in order to put it right. So that was my question to the RIBA team last week: as fee-paying members, how can we make sure something is done about the website? The problem here isn’t just that online client services and the online directory don’t function efficiently, the wider problem is RIBA’s website as a whole.
Incidentally, fellow Practice Manager Su Butcher blogged about the online client services system back in April 2009. As far as I can see, nothing has changed since then – but the Client Services workshops are hopefully going some way to address the issues.
So, Cathy’s response to my question…. alarmingly it sounds like the website isn’t at the top of RIBA’s marketing strategy and the only way it will reach the top of the list is if members share their dissatisfaction and make the institute realise how important a good website is. So, encouraged by Cathy and the team, I’ll be dropping Harry Rich (RIBA’s Chief Exec) a line. I would share Harry’s email address with you here, but at the time of writing, I can’t find it on RIBA’s website. I rest my case your honour.