Author Archives: Gerry McGovern

Measure customer use of things, not customer satisfaction with things

“The problem with customer satisfaction surveys,” a sales manager once told me, “is that they don’t predict future behavior. We’ve found that customers who are ‘satisfied’ can be as likely to leave us as those who say they are not satisfied.”

When we measured a particular website in relation to how able customers were to complete their top tasks, the results were dismal. The marketing manager, on the other hand, wasn’t worried at all. “Our customer satisfaction results are fine,” she said. “That’s what we go by around here.”

Over the years, we’ve seen customer satisfaction data from a range of organizations in multiple industries and countries. The numbers are all very high, but they bear practically no resemblance to task performance on the sites and apps. There can be anything from a 30%-50% difference between task success and stated customer satisfaction. For example, you could have a totally wonderful 80% customer satisfaction rating and an absolutely terrible 30% task success rate.

The Net Promoter Score was developed to address some of these problems. In 2017, Jared Spool wrote an excellent article on the many flaws with this method. “It doesn’t help businesses grow. It doesn’t even tell the management how loyal the customer is,” Jared writes.

The problem with customer satisfaction surveys is as old as the hills. What people say and what they do can be very different things. Furthermore, people tend not to be very good at predicting what they are going to do in the future.

If we want good metrics, then we need to measure the actual customer experience. It won’t solve everything but it’s a lot better than asking people how satisfied they are. Our relationship with organizations is complicated. I’m an Amazon customer. However, I’m actively trying to buy as little as possible from them because I think they treat their staff appallingly, and also because I think they’re becoming a monopoly.

However, when I recently had a problem with an Amazon delivery, the support I got was excellent. Any issues (and there haven’t been many) that I have had with Amazon over the years have been addressed quickly. I never get the sense that they’re trying to rip me off, either—a sense I get from a huge range of other ‘brands’ I have to deal with. So, it’s very hard to leave Amazon entirely because they make things so easy and convenient.

Not like PayPal. I had an issue with a credit card with them and it’s been a nightmare; such a waste of time. An automated phone system that makes you want to jump from the nearest bridge. Email support that never gets back to you. A Twitter response that uses lovely language but doesn’t solve the problem. If I could never use PayPal again, I’d do so. And I have always found PayPal absolutely terrible to deal with.

Saving time, simplicity, ease-of-use, convenience. These are the things we need to measure, not ask people their opinion on. Measure, observe. One of the biggest competitive advantages you can have today is ease-of-use. How do you measure ease-of-use? Measure use.

Is it easy to measure use? No. Is it easy to measure ‘customer satisfaction’? Yes. Lazy, ‘cost conscious’ organizations like to find what’s easy to measure and then they manage that. You must decide what is vital to manage and then measure that. In a digital economy, the most vital thing to manage is use.

Net Promoter Score Considered Harmful: Jared Spool

Why organizations are still so bad at findability

Organizations still refuse to invest in findability. And they pay the price in poor customer experience and decreasing loyalty.

Part of the reason why Google is so strong and powerful is not simply because it understands that people like to find stuff quickly. It’s because the vast majority of organizations don’t recognize that it is strategically important to help people find the right stuff quickly. Thus, traditional organizations make it so easy for Google to dominate.

The quality of most organizational search environments is truly shocking. In my experience, there has been little real progress in the last twenty years in making it easier for people to find things on a typical organization’s website. Most organizations massively underinvest in designing quality navigation. They might be willing to buy the latest search engine software but when it comes to investing in the people and training required to make search work, it is either woefully lacking on non-existent.

Year-in, year-out, we show organizations how their customers truly struggle to find stuff on their websites, either by using navigation or search. Often, we will watch people try the site search engine, get terrible results, then go to Google and put in the exact same search phrase, and the correct page appears first.

Showing organizations how Google is vastly better than their own search engine is like telling them that it’s raining outside. There is a sense of fatalism and often indifference. We usually get told: “We know that already” And?

If you know your site search is truly awful, and you know that Google is ten times better, what should you do? Should you leave up your old search engine that you know is delivering a truly awful customer experience? Or should you try to fix it? And if you can’t fix it, what should you do?

Here’s the shocker: When I tell organizations that if they can’t do search properly they should just get rid of it. Point to the Google search engine, integrate it, whatever. “No, we can’t do that,” I get told every time. “We have to have our own search engine.” Why does this warped organizational thinking occur?

Because organizations need to own things and measure things: Search engines, content management systems, content, graphics, videos, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts. Remember the chorus a couple of years ago: “We need an app.” To most organizations, it’s entirely unimportant what the app does—what matters is that you have an app so that you are able to say that you have an app. Because all real organizations have apps and search engines and stuff like that. Why, if we didn’t have that sort of stuff, customers might think we’re not really digital and with it, and cool, and that sort of stuff.

Organizations do not measure customer outcomes like findability. I have yet to come across an organization where findability is a key performance indicator for senior management. Yes, in an age when findability is at the very center of the customer experience, the vast majority of organizations neither measure nor manage findability.

Organizations, please wake up. If content is the oil of the Web, then findability is the petrol / gasoline. Content that is not findable is crude. It sits there with untapped potential. If you don’t have a findability strategy, you don’t have a digital strategy.

The most powerful words are often not searched for

In the United States, 36% of people have a great deal of confidence in “higher education” but only 23% have confidence in “colleges and universities”, according a Gallup study published in March 2018. The words you use to describe things can have a very significant impact on how they are perceived.

Years ago, we measured the impact of “deals” and “special offers” on the tourism sector. We found that special offers were significantly more attractive to people than deals.

Recently, we’ve measured the differing impact between “health” and “wellbeing”. For certain types of tasks there wasn’t much of a difference, but for many others there was a major difference. For our particular study, “wellbeing” performed significantly better.

According to Google AdWords:
10 times more people search for “university” than search for “higher education”.
10 times more people search for “deals” than for “special offers”.
10 times more people search for “health” than for “wellbeing”.

Search is a partial picture of what really matters to people. Search words tend to be more functional, basic and shorter. There are a whole different set of words that are much more rarely—sometimes never—searched for, and that often mean much more to people. Yes, you need to focus on the words that will bring people to your website. But that’s just the start of the task. There are more important words that can have a critical influence on whether people complete their tasks on your website or app.

Why would somebody choose to do a Master’s? We found that a key question was: How will this Master’s advance my career? So, the phrase “Advance You Career” became very important. But nobody would search for “advance my career”. In car buying, we found “affordability” to be an important concept. Affordability is related to, but not the same as, price.

Sometimes, the words searched are just a symptom of the true problem. On the Microsoft Excel website, many people were searching for “remove conditional formatting”, so they created a page for this task. However, no matter how much they edited the page, it always got poor reviews. Turns out that what people really wanted to do was use conditional formatting properly. They’d get stuck and then search for “remove conditional formatting”. The Excel team deleted the page about removing, and made sure that these searchers found the overall page about conditional formatting. Reviews improved substantially.

On the BBC website, they thought that the Blue Planet series was exceptionally popular. That was until they discovered that lots of the searches were not for the series at all. Rather, they were people wanting to find out about the solar system, who were searching with the word “planet.” (These people were trying to get into outer space and ending up in the sea.)

Words matter. They truly, truly, truly matter. And they matter most when it comes to menus and links. By far, the number one cause for failed task completion in our studies is confusing menus and links. Every time. Yes, every single time. Getting your words right in your menus and links will have a greater positive impact on customer experience than any other initiative you will undertake.

Words Used to Describe “Higher Ed” Make a Difference, Gallup

If Google wanted to get found in Google

Google isn’t optimized for Google. It’s optimized for searching and finding. Focus on the task of your customers and you are much more likely to get found, used and valued.

If Google was optimized for Google what would it look like? Well, for starters, there’d be a lot of content repeating the words “search engine” on the homepage. (“Welcome to Google, the home of great search; the number one search engine.”) However, if you look at the Google homepage, there is only one use of the word “search”. Quite clearly, Google has a thing or two to learn about search engine optimization.

Google is severely suffering because of its lack of search engine optimization. I just searched for “search engine” on Google and it’s not good news for Google. The first search engine to appear in the results is DuckDuckGo, Followed by Dogpile. Google isn’t even in the first ten results, which is pretty appalling. Why would that be?

Of course, everyone knows Google. But how did people get to know Google in the first place? Because right from day one Google has always had a spartan homepage website. Google has never tried to be optimized for search engines. Instead, Google has tried to optimize for searching. Big, crucial difference; and something that so many organizations get wrong.

What Google has focused on is being useful. Google has focused on being the best place in the world to find answers. Google has focused on being what it is, being what people need from it. Google doesn’t have to say it’s a search engine because the large search box makes that statement for it. The design instantly expresses the function.

In this hugely impatient world if you have to start off by describing what you are, then you are already at a major disadvantage. The functionality of your design should instantly communicate your purpose by allowing people to immediately start the top task they have come to complete.

If you ever have to say you’re simple, you’re not. Because if you were truly simple then you wouldn’t have to waste time telling people you are. You’d just be simple. Only those with complexity syndrome feel the need to explain that they are simple. The more you have to write about how to use your product or service, the more you have failed as a designer.

Getting found is just a tactic. What matters is what happens after you get found. What matters is what happens after people arrive, when people are there using your website or app. Findability does not lead to usability, but usability leads to findability. Because usability and usefulness are the greatest search engine optimization strategies of all. Because they tap into social findability. Other people telling other people. Because that’s how Google grew. And that’s how so many other great digital brands grew. By being useful.

So many times, I have seen search engine optimization tactics result in the creation of truly awful websites. Such tactics often achieve the goal of bringing people to the website. What happens then? People experience clutter, confusion and lots of garbage “search engine friendly” content.

The reason a website exists is not to get found. The reason a website exists is to be useful.

Complexity is making many experts redundant

David Davis is the UK government Brexit Secretary. David doesn’t believe much in planning or predicting. In his opinion, they should just Brexit and then see what happens because it’s all too complicated to predict anything these days.

Back in 2016, David promised impact analyses on 57 sectors of the UK economy that would go into “excruciating detail”. At some point, David decided to avoid all that excruciating detail and just fly by the seat of his pants. “I’m not a fan of economic models because they have all proven wrong,” he said.

Good old David basically admitted that while they have been making huge decisions about the European customs union and the single market they have literally no idea what the impact might be. Except that it will be big.

Should we be surprised? Not at all. Wars have been fought because one king was jealous of the size of another king’s poodle. Some of the biggest company mergers have been decided as two CEOs looked into each other’s eyes over a candlelit dinner. Monumental decisions causing death, despair and ruin for millions have throughout history been made by the whims of vain, ambitious men.

I was involved in the whole Dotcom bubble in the Nineties. I was CEO of a company that was valued by one of the world’s leading investment banks at $200 million. Eighteen months later it went bust. To see these investment bankers in action was amazing. I’m sure they didn’t read any of the plans we gave them because they never asked us a single question. It was they who had approached us telling us how much money they could raise. They were riding the bubble. Everything was cool. Until it wasn’t.

Over the years, I have watched some very important decisions being made at a senior management level on pure gut instinct, opinion and mood. Wow, I thought, is this management? Is this what they get their mega bonuses for?

David Davis is right. The models are broken. The more complexity increases the more the old models break down. But, David, it’s not just the economic models that are broken. It’s the political models that turn out bumbling, arrogant buffoons like you with production line efficiency. It’s the management models that reward mediocre talent, who don’t really have a clue what is happening, with excruciating bonuses. The longest lasting and most bloated bubble of all is the explosion of senior management pay.

The poor politicians and senior managers don’t and can’t know what is really happening because it’s all become too complex. Instead of helping develop new organizational and political models based on collaboration, agility and evidence-based decision making, our politicians and managers have become the problem. Because they have the most to lose when it’s discovered that most of them have no clue what they’re talking about.

Trust is collapsing around the world because people realize that the system and the institutions are no longer fit for purpose. We need new organizational models that are much less hierarchical and predictive and much more collaborative and adaptive.

Developing a customer obsession culture

Being customer-centric is hardly enough these days. To truly be successful, you need to nurture a customer obsession culture within your organization.

Customer obsession begins with humility. The opposite of customer obsession is organization obsession, ego obsession, bureaucracy obsession. Customer obsession is about genuinely putting the customer first. That is the most extraordinarily difficult thing to do for a great many organizations, whether they be government or commercial.

The natural order for organizations everywhere is to focus on their own needs, and that very often translates into focusing on the needs of its senior managers. For example, the typical function of government is to make the party in power look good. The public servants must focus on the needs of the government ministers first. Getting government to actually focus on the needs of the public—to truly put the public first—is often extraordinarily difficult.

Humility involves constantly listening to and observing customers. It means making decisions based on evidence of customer behavior, not opinion or ego. Most importantly, it means measuring success based on customer success, not organization success. In a customer success culture, organization success flows from, and is dependent on, customer success.

Agility is the next characteristic of customer obsessed organizations. To truly understand and design for customers requires constant iteration and experiment. It is almost impossible to look inside the organization and understand the customer. To design for the customer you must design with the customer, and that requires flexible open minds. That’s the whole philosophy of minimum viable product, lean and agile design. It’s about design through use, evolution through use.

Customers are changing far faster than organizations. Organizations need to keep up. Most organizations have stiff joints. Many have arthritis, and quite a few are the walking dead. We need massive Pilates and Yoga initiatives to loosen organizations up. It is shocking, for example, how slow most organizations are to make basic changes to their websites or apps. Amazon makes changes on average every 12 seconds.

Simplicity for the customer is the final key characteristic of customer obsession. If you want to be obsessed with your customers, be obsessed with saving them time. It all boils down to time. For many customers, they will give up much of their privacy in order to achieve greater convenience.

Organizations are wonderful at saving time and money for themselves. Many organizational time-saving innovations (automated phone systems, localization, outsourcing) waste customer time in order to save time and money for the organization.

You could get away with such tactics before the Web, when the customer had much less choice and was much less empowered. In an age when customers are far more independent-minded, disloyal, and connected with other customers and competitors, it is those who obsess about saving customers time who will lead the digital race.

What do you think are the most important things to do to nurture a customer obsession culture? Please let me know by answering my survey. Thanks.




Dear AVG, I’m just going to have to let you go

It’s not easy breaking up. I mean, forget about loyalty, it’s the sheer hassle. Going out again, on the lookout for something better. Thinking that they’re all the same anyway. Lots of promises to lure you in and then over time they all maltreat you. It’s easy to get cynical in this crazy world.

I would have stayed, you know, but it just got to a stage where you became super-annoying. Those constant popups. You really did become like the boor at the bar who goes on and on and on about all these great things you’re doing for me. Protecting me from this, optimizing that. It was so disruptive and incredibly annoying and even when I thought I had turned those infernal messages off, they kept coming.

But it wasn’t just that. Your ransomware dark-pattern approach to design got to be too much. You’d give this message about how you had been super nice and analyzed performance and found some problems that you could fix if I just clicked on some button. And when I did: “Pay us $29 to fix these problems!” Just feels like trickery and ransomware.

I know, I know. This is how you meet your sales targets. This is how your senior managers get their bonuses. You’re a predator and I’m the prey. How to squeeze more money out of me seems to be your core focus.

I know. I know. All the other anti-virus companies are the same. I agree. I just had a bad experience with Malwarebytes. I had tried it out for a while and decided not to use it further. Then, out-of-nowhere, in pops an email thanking me for renewing for another year. That dark pattern auto-renewal that’s wrapped up in “we care so much about you” language. And how it’s impossible to turn off the auto-renew on the Malwarebytes site. How you can’t close your account either. But it’s very easy to give them nice new, juicy credit card details.

You’re the companies that are protecting us? Often feels like a protection racket. And, I suppose, you just don’t care. There’s enough busy, lazy fools (like myself) out there to get sucked in and then ripped off in order to make the whole business model work like a dream.

When I listen to the radio in the car I never hear an ad for current customers. “Hey, you’ve been with us three years. You’re getting a discount for staying the fourth.” You never hear that. Practically every ad screams: Switch! Switch! Switch!

The only reward in marketing and advertising is for being disloyal. So, that’s exactly what I’m going to be and do. I’m going to be disloyal and I’m going to switch. In fact, I have come to the belief that switching is one of the most powerful things we can do to make for a better, fairer society.

So much of traditional management thinking is based on exploiting the laziness of the loyal customer. The more we switch, the more we transfer power from organizations to customers. Think of how powerful one million customers switching is. The Web is the land of comparison and switch. We’ve got so much power today. Let’s not let laziness get in the way. Switch!

Quality information requires quality people

“The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program,” proudly states the Google News homepage. For years, technology companies have shirked their social and moral responsibilities by hiding behind ‘anonymous’ and ‘objective’ computer programs and algorithms.

Partly, it’s philosophical. There’s a deeply held view within technology culture that people are the problem that technology is going to fix. Partly, it’s financial. The very business case for a technology stock is that it replaces expensive people with cheap and scalable code.

The algorithms may well end up taking over the world, but they are still quite crude and stupid in many ways. There are lots of clever humans out there who for bad and good reasons know how to manipulate the algorithms.

Fake news is nothing new. It’s just that social media industrializes and globalizes it. The social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter once promised to truly democratize communication. The tech industry, in general, promises a better world through constant innovation.

Lots of people still believe in and trust the technology industry. Which is strange. Globally, the technology industry is sucking wealth out of local economies and transferring it to some paradise tax haven where it pays minus 10% tax. This allows their investors to build diamond-encrusted bunkers in New Zealand so that they will have a nice little hideaway when it all blows up.

Some cracks are beginning to appear, as social media facilitates communication between peers. According to the recent Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in “a person like me” dropped from 60% in 2017 to 54% in 2018. Trust in journalism rose from 54% in 2017 to 59% in 2018, whereas trust in social media platforms dropped from 53% in 2017 to 50% in 2018.

The algorithms are not going to deliver us quality content on their own. If you want to make technology work, you have to invest in people. I have been involved in the content management industry since the mid-Nineties. The essential pitch of the industry is: fire the editors, hire the algorithms. Why organize content when you can buy our search engine? Buy our software and you won’t even have to think. Who cares about quality. Feel the quantity.

Unfortunately, it still takes quality people to write quality content. Giving a half-day training to the junior admin on the content management system so that they can be a channel for the ego of senior managers doesn’t cut it—never did.

Yes, content does need to be managed. It needs to be well structured and organized. It needs to be tested and optimized. It needs to be regularly reviewed and,where appropriate, deleted or archived. Technology can help but without quality people, technology just helps you fill the garbage dump faster.

It’s 2018. It’s extraordinary to have to still need to say these most basic of things. But senior management still has such a love affair with technology as a cost-cutting, staff-firing, productivity-enhancing wonderkid.

We still need people to make things work. Far more people than the algorithm sales people predict—and far better trained. The world doesn’t run on information and content. It runs on quality information and content. It will run aground on poor quality information and content.

Edelman 2018 Trust Barometer

Organize around the customer task

Historically, organizations had so much power that they could demand that customers adapt to the organization’s way of doing things. This is particularly true of government. Today, the greatest challenge all organizations face is to organize around the customer. Those that don’t will not survive.

Organizing around the customer means organizing around the task that they want to complete. It’s not about products. It’s not even about services. If I’m an old person in the wintertime, I want to keep warm. My task is to get warm, not to get services.

If I want to start a business, that’s what I want to do—start a business. I will need to access government services to do that, but my core focus is not to access services. Starting my business—that’s my task.

I once interviewed a bunch of highly successful entrepreneurs. There was specific government funding targeted at these entrepreneurs, but most of them were not accessing it. Why not? “Too complicated,” was a typical reply. “Takes too much time. My time is better spent developing my product or out selling it.”

Part of the government complexity was deliberate so as to weed out people who had less entrepreneurial potential. But this complexity was proving an even bigger barrier for high-potential entrepreneurs because their time was much more precious.

One of the best books I have ever read is The Mystery of Capital by Hernando De Soto, which was published in 2003. In it, De Soto describes trying to set up a small business in Lima, Peru. “Our goal was to create a new and perfectly legal business.” De Soto’s team began “filling out the forms, standing in the queues and making the bus trips into central Lima to get all the certifications required to operate, according to the letter of the law.” They spent six hours a day at it. 289 days later they had legally set up their business.

If you want to start a business in the UK today, you may have to interact with HMRC, DWP, BEIS, the Department for Education, Companies House, the Department for International Trade, the Pensions Regulator and the British Business Bank, to name but a few. It’s not Peruvian in its scale of complexity, but it could be simpler. When we worked with the European Union a few years ago, we found that a typical citizen or business task might have relevant information in an average of 12 different European institutions.

GDS (who run GOV.UK) have started to establish communities of practice around services / tasks. “We’ve started to test this concept with the ‘Starting a Business’ community, which brings together people working to help users start a business,” write Tom Wynne-Morgan and Will Harmer in January 2018.

Such communities are wonderful but they will struggle to survive in the long-term unless they are tied together by common goals, objectives and metrics. We must come up with metrics that measure the areas where starting a business is failing and work to reduce those failure rates. But the crucial metric is time. How long does it take to set up businesses? We must have a relentless focus to reduce that time and hassle.

The Mystery of Capital by Hernando De Soto

How cross-government communities can support cross-government services

Designing for simplicity of use

If you want to make things truly simple to use by your customers, you will nearly always have to make your organization take on more complexity.

We have a basic tool we use to record what customers are doing when we observe them trying to complete tasks on websites or apps. One of the things the tool does is record time. A Begin button records the start of a task, and an End button records the end of a task. However, the people analyzing the data asked us if we could sync times with the recording of the measurement session itself.

All our sessions are run remotely using software such as GoToMeeting or WebEx. We record every session so that we can later analyze it. What our analysts wanted was that the file we create from the tool would sync up with the time of the video file. For example, an interesting observation might be made in the analysis file, and then it would be great to jump to the video and see exactly what was happening.

Anyway, our very flexible and helpful developer, Patrick O’Beirne, went about solving the problem. The initial solution created a file with time in two columns. In column A was the time for each task. In column B was the overall time from beginning to end of the session.

I asked Patrick why there were two columns. He explained that it was the easiest way to ensure backward compatibility, allowing the new version of the tool to be able to analyze older files. And it was just one extra column.

I was expecting that everything to do with time could be managed in one column. Patrick explained that, yes, this could be done but it would take a bit more thinking. It would also be a bit more complicated to do, and would require a bit more testing to ensure everything was done right.

Organizations have always designed for simplicity for themselves. Invariably, the cheaper and faster option is the one that pushes the complexity onto the customer—the person who needs to use the thing.

Like Rome, complex-to-use products and websites aren’t built in a day. Complexity creeps up on you, one small decision at a time. And, of course, the complexity for the customer is usually hidden, whereas the complexity for the organization is all-too-evident.

Many design and development environments that I come across are very driven by deadlines. There just isn’t time to simplify for the customer. And it’s more expensive. And it’s harder. You have to think more, be more inventive, do that really difficult thing of thinking deeply about use. And it’s just one more little change; one more minor inconvenience.

You must relentlessly ask: Is this harder for the customer to do? Relentlessly. Because, today, in an increasing number of areas, if it’s not easy-to-use, it’s dead in the water. To survive and thrive in digital times, you must keep making your customers lives simpler, and that means taking on more complexity for yourself and your organization.