Author Archives: Gerry McGovern

Developing a circle of customer-organization feedback

The long-term quality of feedback you get from customers is directly correlated to the actions you take based on that feedback, and the feedback you give to the customers who made the effort to respond to you.

If you read the Amazon seller forums, you will find almost universal agreement that customer feedback is in decline. “Customers do not want to be troubled with feedback anymore unless they are unhappy,” one poster states.

In the UK, an Ipsos MORI report published in June 2017 identified possible causes for the general decline in response rates as, “less trust in government, brands and professions, and survey fatigue.” In 1997, Pew Research would get a typical response rate of 36% to a telephone survey. By 2016, it had dropped to 9%. Response rates for US agricultural surveys have dropped from 80-85% in the early 1990s to below 60% in recent years.

In the last ten years, we have noticed that it is getting harder and harder to get people to respond to surveys and participate in helping test websites and apps. Our number one source has been people visiting the website / app itself. Sometimes, if it’s really hard to get enough people this way, we consider using third party resources but have found them to deliver significantly inferior results. Basically, you are much less likely to get a true picture of customer experience if you buy in a list.

Even building customer panels poses challenges, as the very nature of such panels indicates a much more engaged customer. We recently did a study in 15 countries. In 13 of those countries, we used a website popup to get responses. In two countries we sent a request to customer panels. In the 13 popup countries let’s say we had a key metric that came in at, on average, 40% positive. In the two customer panel countries, it was, on average, 60% positive. Panels tend to be significantly more positive in their opinions.

One reason why customers are giving less feedback is because they don’t believe it will make any difference. It is our experience that organizations are much better at soliciting feedback than acting on it. I would estimate that of all the customer feedback we delivered to organizations over the years, only 20% was acted on.

The organizations where we see quality feedback still being received are the ones that act on that feedback. Some of the best organizations go even further. They get back to those who gave the feedback and tell them that the problem has been fixed. That’s the type of feedback loop we require.

Digital is a network. You have no future in digital—as a professional or organization—if you are not constantly getting and giving feedback. The dead-zones of digital are the feedback-free zones. An essential characteristic of digital is its ability to more rapidly adapt to feedback. For a digital organization, feedback is its lifeblood. The digital organizations that thrive, thrive on customer feedback.

Thread: Sharp decline in feedback received from customers

Declining response rates and their impact, Ipsos Mori (PDF)

Falling Response Rates to USDA Crop Surveys: Why It Matters




Design has become a continuous activity

We do a lot of work analysing customer experience within the business-to-business technology industry. One thing we’ve noticed over the last 5-10 years is the rise in the importance of design-related tasks for customers.

We recently did a top tasks analysis for a large technology company and a design-related task was the second most important overall task for their customers. This really surprised our client. “Why is design so important to our customers?” a manager asked. It was just not an area of focus for this client. They had very little design content, code samples, architectural plans or other information available, and what they did have was all over the place.

We needed to understand what the customers really meant by design. To start, we asked our client what they thought their customers meant. Our client understood design as a type of “pre-sales” activity or something that happened before configuration and installation.

However, as we began to research the customers’ understanding of design, we saw that they had a much broader concept. They were seeing design as a continuous process, something they did on a regular basis.

The world that digital technology creates is highly complex and ever-changing. There is rarely now a simple and clear-cut design phase, followed by an installation or rollout phase. The system being designed has become fluid. It needs to be constantly optimized and refined. The interface must be constantly evolving based on customer feedback. In this sort of world, design becomes a constant process and a way of thinking.

More and more people are seeing design as part of their jobs. More and more people are thinking about design and thinking like designers. In business-to-business, in particular, customers don’t really want to buy ‘products’ anymore. They want services and solutions, and they realize that the optimal solution this year may be sub-optimal next year.

This poses new challenges to traditional organizations used to selling products and ‘boxes’. Increasingly, their customers are asking them to become design partners, to help them with consulting, optimizing, training and design-related content and tools.

Helping your customers become better designers is a new and exciting opportunity. It involves a reimagining of what your purpose is. It is where much of the world is heading. The more complexity we face the more design we require. As complexity increases so must design capacity increase.

Design happens at multiple levels. Design happens in the code. Design happens in the interface. Design happens in the process. And increasingly in the digital world, design happens in the content, in the words. Words are the DNA of digital, and words will become even more important with the rise of voice interfaces.

Whatever way you think about design, you can be sure that there are an awful lot more people today who think that design is part of their jobs than thought so 10 or 20 years ago.

Digital is driving a shift towards customer outcomes and away from organizational outputs. For a long time, it was enough the make and produce things, whether that be code, visuals or content. Once these things technically ‘worked’ – once the compliance or project delivery buttons could be ticked – that was often enough.

Now, you need to make sure the thing is useful; that it delivers the right outcome. That requires increasingly sophisticated design skills and there is a huge opportunity for organizations who can help make their customers better designers.

Customer experience continues to get worse

Customer expectations are rising much faster than organizations’ capacity to meet those expectations.

The customer has awoken. For decades they have been comatose, anaesthetised by clever advertising and marketing aimed at pulling their emotional strings and directing them to buy substandard products and services at inflated prices.

Digital has awoken the customer. Digital has empowered the customer by giving them the tools to share and compare. The masses are now able to mass organize in a way never before possible. The masses are now able to communicate en masse.

As the customer rises to a never-before attained level of empowerment, organizations are beginning to reap the whirlwind of decades on disinvestment in customer experience driven by technological innovation. From automated phone systems, to outsourced customer support, to production-line localization, organizations have spent the last thirty years boosting profits by exploiting their current customers.

In most organizations, there is a culture of contempt for the current customer and an equal contempt for those who serve and champion them. Customer service is at the bottom rung of organizational hierarchy. In fact, it’s of such low strategic importance that it’s often outsourced.

The most dangerous occupation in many organizations is the true customer champion. At best, your career will stall. At worst, you’ll be fired. You’ll be seen as a troublemaker, a complainer, someone who doesn’t play the game. You’re the one who slows project delivery down, who is constantly asking for rewrites, coding and design tweaks. You’re that annoying voice that’s always saying: “We need to test this with customers”.

In 1977, 32 percent of U.S. shoppers experienced some issue in shopping. In 2017, that figure had risen to 56% according to the 2017 Customer Rage Survey. Of those consumers who filed a complaint, 79% were not happy with the issue resolution, according to a study by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

The quality of customer experience (CX) has worsened, according to Forrester Research 2017 U.S. Customer Experience Index. In the 2017 study, the number of brands in the ‘excellent’ category fell to zero.

The overall UK Customer Experience Excellence (CEE) score dropped from 7.33 in 2016 to 7.08, a record low for the UK. “The vast majority of UK brands are struggling to keep pace with rising customer expectations,” according to David Conway, Director at KPMG Nunwood.

Why has this happened? Because organizations have used technology to boost short-term profits by exploiting their current customers and, where possible, replacing their employees with technology. One of the consequences is a growing extinction event for companies. According to Credit Suisse, the average life expectancy for an S&P 500 company is under 20 years, down from 60 years in the 1950s.

Obsession with short-term profits and exploding senior management bonuses has had another consequence: declining productivity. “Economist Robert Gordon has shown that US productivity growth slowed from a pace of about 3% per year between 1930 to 1970, to an average of about 1% since—excluding a brief spurt in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” according to a March 2017 article in QUARTZ.

How do we turn this around? An obsession with delivering long-term value to current customers. That’s how the likes of Amazon and Google have thrived. We need to build a current customer culture.

2017 Customer Rage Survey

Quality of customer experience is getting worse: Forrester CX Index

UK customer experience drops to record low

We must measure customer time

The vast majority of organizations I have worked with over the years have no concept of customer time. It is simply not an issue from a management perspective.

I recently observed an online environment that was exceptionally slow for customers. Its pages took an average of 20 seconds to load. But that wasn’t the major time sink. Its information architecture was wholly unintuitive. Customers spent ages clicking around trying to find what they were looking for. Everybody failed the tasks we were measuring.

To make matters worse, we measured the exact same tasks for the organization several years ago and the experience was also terrible. In fact, the problems got worse because they bought a new content management system, and created new customer journeys that were even worse than the older ones. According to management, things had gotten better because they had bought new technology.

You’re either shaking your head in disbelief or nodding in resigned understanding. This is still the overwhelming digital reality out there. Yes, we have the digital leaders who are so far ahead they might as well be on another planet. But in many more organizations things are actually going backwards.

Traditional management models are wholly, woefully and utterly unable to professionally manage digital and the customer experience. In fact, the metrics and key performance indicators that drive traditional management behavior are often the root cause for poor customer experience.

We have to change the management model, not the technology. Most managers are simply not fit for purpose today. They either need to radically change how they manage or else face a very bleak future. The astounding levels of management incompetence when it comes to customer experience cannot be sustained. Management is broken; the customer broke it and they used digital to break it.

Customers care about their time. They truly, truly, truly care about their time.

“ is the biggest food ordering service in China,” Luke Wroblewski wrote in October 2017. Their Progressive Web App gets “skeleton screens up in 400 ms and fully interactive in 2 seconds.”

400 milliseconds. Digital leaders don’t think in seconds. Seconds are so analog. Digital leaders think in milliseconds, milliseconds, milliseconds. Google and Amazon know that customer experience is affected in increments of 100 milliseconds. That’s one tenth of a second. Yes, a second, with 90% knocked off.

Your time is how you measure your experience as a customer. Time is the customer experience. The worst possible thing you can do to a customer today is make them feel that you are wasting their time. They will relentlessly punish you if they see you as a time waster. If they make a decision to waste their own time doing stupid things, that’s their choice. But woe betide the organization that wastes their time by forcing them to do stupid things they don’t want to do, like clicking on stupid links, or having to go through stupid processes, or waiting for stupid pages to download.

Time is rocket science. When you’re measuring the customer experience in milliseconds and implementing strategy that is focused on cutting out every single millisecond of waste, you need a wholly different management model, technical architecture and organizational culture.

Wasting your customers’ time is the poorest of poor customer experience. The first step is to recognize that.

Diversity, polarization and connectivity

At one level, the Web facilitates diversity. At another, it encourages uniformity. Paradox and contradiction seems to be the hallmark of complex, interconnected systems.

In politics, the Web has allowed those of similar views to flock together. The center struggles as the wings and peripheries bulge. Tribalism and groupthink are flourishing. “The divisions between Republicans and Democrats on fundamental political values – on government, race, immigration, national security, environmental protection and other areas – reached record levels during Barack Obama’s presidency,” Pew Research Center stated in October 2017. “In Donald Trump’s first year as president, these gaps have grown even larger.”

However, there are counter-currents. “Today, more than one-third of marriages start online,” according to an article in Technology Review. Online dating is now “the second most common way for heterosexual couples to meet. For homosexual couples, it is far and away the most popular.

Online dating has also led to a significant increase in interracial marriage, particularly in the United States. “It is intriguing that shortly after the introduction of the first dating websites in 1995, like, the percentage of new marriages created by interracial couples increased rapidly,” say researchers, Josue Ortega at the University of Essex in the U.K. and Philipp Hergovich at the University of Vienna in Austria.

“In 2015, 17% of all U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, marking more than a fivefold increase since 1967, when 3% of newlyweds were intermarried,” according to a Pew Research Center analysis published in 2017.

Perhaps the trends of polarization and diversity are not that far apart as they might initially seem. Where we are born is an accident of geography and race is essentially an illusion. In 2016, Scientific American wrote that, “the mainstream belief among scientists is that race is a social construct without biological meaning.”

Republican National Committeeman from Alabama, Paul Reynolds, recently stated that, “If I’ve got a choice of putting my welfare into the hands of Putin or The Washington Post, Putin wins every time.” Reynolds is by no means alone in his views. A 2017 Morning Consult-Politico poll found that 49% of Republicans consider Russia an ally.

The idea that a significant percentage of US citizens would prefer to be ruled by Russia than someone from their own country is not really surprising. Nationalism is a flag of convenience for most, and patriotism, as Samuel Johnson once stated is often “the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Most nations are no more than accidents of geography. People may be close physically but miles apart emotionally and attitudinally.

Given time, the Web will remake nations and states, and create a new geography where the like-minded find each other. Where those who share the same values and outlook on life come together and coalesce.

The Partisan Divide on Political Values Grows Even Wider

The Strength of Absent Ties: Social Integration via Online Dating

Google Maps and its unintended consequences

“The traffic in Brighton has gotten much worse in the last couple of years,” Daryl, my taxi driver stated. “People haven’t been buying more cars than usual. It’s the same quantity of cars, it’s just a lot more congested. And Google is to blame.”

Daryl runs a seven-person taxi company in Brighton, so he has a pretty good idea about traffic. According to him, Google sends drivers in waves towards the “fastest route”. As these drivers converge on the ‘fastest route’, it no longer becomes the fastest route, but often the slowest one. Google has begun creating traffic jams as it tries to optimize and get people there more quickly.

Daryl thinks that “everyone now is using Google maps on their phones”. When everyone starts going down the fastest route, that’s going to create problems. He also mentioned a conversation he had with a lady who lives in a neighbourhood just outside of town. She said that in 20 years, she’s never seen as much traffic on her street. Daryl knows that it’s Google because he remembers how Google has recommended it to him as a shortcut. This street is narrow with parking on both sides, and it’s hard for two cars to pass by each other.

“No shortcuts today. I’m in a hurry.” So goes a Japanese saying. Google promises that this route is one minute faster than the other; and that one minute is precious, particularly for those commuting to and from work.

“A recent study of British commuters,” Lydia Smith writes for Quartz in October 2017, “found that even just a 20-minute increase in commute time is equivalent to getting a 19% pay cut for job satisfaction. Every extra minute spent travelling to and from work feels like a lifetime—and, unsurprisingly, increases strain on our wellbeing.”

What has digital brought us? Stagnant wages meet rising rents and houses prices, pushing people further away from their work. “The number of workers who commute daily in the UK for two hours or more has increased by a third in five years,” Smith writes. It is Millennials who are hit hardest by these lengthening commutes, the generation who have the privilege of being better educated and worse paid that their parents were when they were their age.

Yes, digital is working well for the elites, as the one percent become criminally richer sucking up wealth like some vast, ravenous octopus. Us in the digital industry are doing pretty well too, as we service design, design think, AI and Internet of Things away to our hearts content. We’re doing our bit to eliminate and automate more jobs, so that the middle class becomes the new working class and the working class becomes the new working poor.

But we’ve given them smartphones and social networks to keep them company on their long and lonely commutes. Who can help it if Apple and Facebook and Google get so vastly richer and more powerful and more controlling every day? But at least we’re making their world more convenient. At least we’re saving them time.

Our crowded, lengthy commutes are making us more lonely than ever



Data and stories: the perfect combination to drive change

One of the most powerful ways to make change happen is to combine solid data with real stories about the people who make up that data.

Jessica Shortall gave an excellent presentation at the 2017 Webdagene Customer Experience conference in Oslo about using data and stories to change attitudes in Texas. In recent years, Texas politicians have drafted a whole range of anti-LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) proposals.

Jessica worked to try and stop as much of this stuff becoming law as possible. She worked with others to assemble data to show that anti-LGBT laws were bad for business. She helped found a business pressure group to make this point. Texas prides itself on being a business-friendly state, so having businesses tell politicians that LGBT bigotry was bad for business had more of a chance of having an impact than moral arguments about basic human decency.

Data on its own is not enough. Hundreds of LGBT people presented their stories of being bullied, intimidated and worse. Emotion and logic are a powerful combination.

Many organizations bully and exploit their customers with unnecessary bureaucracy, manipulative pricing, false promises, coercive contracts, sub-standard support. Many other organizations mistreat customers simply through negligence and a lack of awareness of their actions.

One of the main motivations for customer mistreatment is the belief that it’s good business. However, the data increasingly show that customers today are simply no longer willing to accept such mistreatment. Customers are becoming more demanding and less loyal. Customer culture is transforming far faster than organization culture.

One of the best ways I’ve found to get management to truly realize that they must begin to shift their culture and thinking is to provide them with a combination of data and stories.

Much of my work involves observing how people behave on the Web. I’m always looking for these teaching moments, where a pattern of human behavior emerges. Then I try to put a video together of 3-5 people illustrating this pattern. I then present this to management, saying something like: “I want you to watch these patients fail at this point because the form you are asking them to fill is too complicated.” When they see patient after patient fail, that has an emotional impact.

You then follow up with the data, saying that these people we have just watched reflect a 22% abandonment rate, and a 19% error rate of those who do actually attempt to fill in the form. These abandonment and error rates result in 4,000 support calls a month, with each error taking an average of 10 minutes of staff time to correct.

It’s not enough to have data on customer behavior. You need to connect this data with other data within the organization that ideally is connected to a cost or revenue stream.

Humans think logically (at least part of the time) and act emotionally. Build your logical argument through data and your momentum for change through emotional stories of real people and the real experiences they are having.



What we think are facts are often wrong

Too often, our memories, gut instinct and opinions are simply wrong. Digital gives us the opportunity to base decisions more on reality and what is actually happening; rather than on what we think is reality or think is happening.

The whine that older people make about younger people is louder than any jet engine. It’s rarely based on fact, and more down to resentment that old people are old and secretly wish to be young again.

Millennials have been described as so lazy that most of them are still living at home with their parents. It is true that in the US, more millennials are living at home. That’s not because they’re lazy, but partly because they’re getting married later. Another reason, according to Amanda Ruggeri, “is the rising Asian and Hispanic population, which is more likely to live in multigenerational households.” In fact, economist Jed Kolko found that once you adjust the data to account for such democratic trends, “young people today are less likely to live with their parents than young people with the same demographics 20 years ago were.” Hmm.

Most of us adjust the data to fit our prejudices. Older people just love to let their prejudices towards youth flow out in bitter sentences full of bile. “They tried independence, it didn’t work, and that sapped their confidence and sent them home crying,” US author Susan Littwin wrote in 1989 about Generation X. This empty, facile prejudice goes back to Roman Times and before. “There was a great reluctance to entrust honourable offices and liturgies to young people,” Christian Laes and Johan Strubbe wrote in their book, Youth In The Roman Empire.

Young people are stereotyped almost as much as goldfish. You might have heard about the Microsoft Canadian study that found that humans now have shorter attention spans than goldfish. (I talked about it myself a number of times.) Except that the Microsoft study actually referenced its figures from other sources. When Simon Maybin tried to track down these other sources, he didn’t have any success. In fact, the researchers he talked to who specialized in studying memory and attention were not aware of any evidence that attention spans were getting shorter.

And what about the goldfish? “It turns out that there is no evidence that goldfish – or fish in general – have particularly short attention spans or memories, despite what popular culture suggests,” Maybin writes for the BBC. Hundreds of scientific papers have proven that goldfish have quite good memories and learning capabilities. “That a species that’s used by neuro-psychologists and scientists as a model for studying memory formation should be the very species that has this reputation – I think that’s an interesting irony,” states Prof Felicity Huntingford, a specialist in fish behavior.

So much of what we think we know is true is not. The Web gives us tools to verify and validate, to develop hypotheses and theories and then test them. We should focus less on knowing the answer and more on knowing how to get the answer.

What everyone gets wrong about millennial snowflakes, Amanda Ruggeri

Busting the attention span myth

From building trust to building use

The world is facing a crisis in traditional trust. And that’s a good thing. Traditional trust has facilitated a type of god-like leadership and management model based on hierarchy and ego.

A survey of 28,600 young people in 30 countries, published by Viacom in 2017, found that only 2% of trusted politicians and only 9% trusted religious leaders. These astonishing figures are to be celebrated.

Think of the societies where there is huge trust in politicians, religions, and the establishment. These are among the most corrupt, and often the most backward societies on earth. Too much trust breeds contempt, exploitation and neglect.

Young people see the world as imperfect, according to the Viacom survey. “They are losing faith in religious leaders, government and politicians, even in their own judgment. Their approach to life is grounded and realistic, with most saying they “keep it real” and are true to the people they’re closest to. When asked who inspires the most confidence in them, the most common answer was “Mom.””

That’s wonderful. I have great hopes for our younger generations. They are no longer in thrall to politicians, religious leaders, brands, or other ‘great’ leaders. On the other hand, the older generations are flocking to the illusionary certainty of the jingoistic, poisonous nationalism and tribalism that is reaching epidemic proportions right now.

The old model of trust is gone for good. In an educated, connected society—which is the essence of what the Web is facilitating—people question, share and search for opinions. They increasingly make decisions based on use. Is it easy to use? Is it useful?

Right now, I’m trying out a piece of software. I have a 14-day trial and during that period I’ll decide how easy-to-use and how useful this software is. No marketing has any possibility of reaching me. The 10 most important leaders on earth can ring me and plead with me to buy this software. I won’t listen to them. Here’s who I might listen to: People like me who have also used this software. My peers.

Counterintelligence expert Robin Dreeke has written an interesting book on trust. In an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, he outlined his five principles of building trust:

  1. Suspend your ego.
  2. Be nonjudgmental.
  3. Honor reason.
  4. Validate others.
  5. Be generous.

Many of these principles can be used, not so much to get people to trust you, but rather to get people to use the products and services you offer. How do you make something useful? Dreeke talks about “trying to understand the human being you’re interacting with, why they have the thoughts they have, how they came to be the human being they are and how they make the choices they make.” That sounds like a good strategy for understanding what is useful to them.

Knowledge@Wharton believes that social media has had a negative impact on trust. Yes, it has made people less trustful of idiotic, arrogant leaders. But social media and artificial intelligence have the revolutionary potential to rewire societies. To help us discover what is truly useful and what is truly important. And many times, yes, the best answers may come from your Mom, or your friend’s Mom, or that teenager in Tokyo who shares exactly the same obsessive hobby as you.

The New Normal: Viacom young people study

How to Build Trust and Lead Effectively




Metrics drive behavior and culture

Whenever you find organizations behaving badly you can nearly always find a series of metrics driving that bad behavior.

The Irish Police (Garda) have been under intense scrutiny recently over the falsification of millions of breathalyzer tests. To achieve targets numbers were made up.

Saving lives on the road by ensuring drunk drivers are found and prosecuted is a worthy objective. That’s the desired outcome, but it’s not the key metric for the Irish police. The key metric that meets targets and ensure promotions is how many tests have been carried out. That’s the organizational output. It’s about volume.

Managers get excited by numbers, big numbers. That’s why, to this day, I hear senior managers talking about website HITS, because HITS are the biggest number you can find in digital. HITS stands for How Idiots Track Success, and have nothing remotely useful about them other than the fact that they are very big numbers and senior managers do love these very big numbers.

Organizational outputs are much easier to manipulate than customer outcomes. The Irish police just invented the number of tests (outputs) they did. However, they could not invent or manipulate the number of convictions for drunk driving (outcomes).

The Irish police are a classic example of organization-centric culture. When they write training manuals or policy directives, they write massive, massive ones. Because it’s all about the volume, the cult of volume. Look at all the work I’ve done. Look at how much I’ve written.

Then these incredible hulk documents are published somewhere and as far as those in charge are concerned, it’s job done, mission accomplished. So many trees fall in the forest to create these humongous documents that practically nobody sees, hears or reads. But that doesn’t matter because in an organization-centric culture, the metric of success is the organizational output (the document).

The guide for carrying out breath tests, for example, is hundreds of pages long, which no normal person would read even if they could find it, which most can’t. These monster documents, churned out with incredible speed and frequency, are shoveled into a ‘portal’. A portal, that doorway to another world (seven circles of hell)—that place where documents go to die.

It’s all digital now, which means that organizations can save lots of money on training, guidance, discussion, building competence and understanding. It’s all in the Portal now, where monster PDFs lurk deep down in the depths. (A portal is a website that costs you five-times more.)

The Irish police are just an extreme example of what happens on the vast majority of intranets I’ve seen over the years. Precious little investment, practically zero senior management interest. Small teams struggle with monstrous beasts of badly organized, poorly written, out-of-date content, and software tools more akin to torture instruments. Metrics based on how many more torture tools and how much more crap content has been launched. Never measuring what really matters.

Back before digital, it was so much easier to hide the manipulation of figures and targets. It was so much easier to have a management system based on organizational output metrics. But there is an unavoidable transparency about digital. Digital stuff is so much more difficult to hide. Digital stuff is so much easier to track. Digital stuff is so much easier to leak.

Organizational output metrics are not simply more open to manipulation. They generally encourage bad practices and corrupt cultures. In the digital world we can measures customer outcomes much more easily than in the physical world. This is the road to a better customer experience.