Author Archives: Gerry McGovern

Top tasks are the invisible gorilla

The top tasks of organizations are often very different to the top tasks of customers because organizations think and see differently than customers. The top tasks of a digital team, for example, will usually be strongly associated with the particular project they are currently working on. For management, it’s the latest policy or program that they want to push. That is why it’s so vital that the voice of the customer is a constant presence at every meeting, discussion and initiative

Experts are expert in what they are expert in, and often blind to what they are not expert in. The greater the expertise, the greater the blindness. The more people specialize, the greater the general blindness. Today, specialism is essential whether from an educational or career standpoint, and with specialism comes a growing and general blindness often to the most essential things that need to get done.

There is a famous experiment about people being asked to watch a game of basketball and to try and count how many times the ball is passed. During the game, someone in a gorilla outfit walks across the court. 50% of people do not see the gorilla because they are so concentrated on counting the passes.

Radiologists can see things that normal people can’t. Yet, from time to time they miss unusual but important things. Trafton Drew, an attention researcher at Harvard Medical School, superimposed an image of a man in gorilla suit angrily shaking his fist, which was the size of a matchbox, on a series of slides that radiologists typically look at when they’re searching for cancer. He then asks a bunch of radiologists to review the slides for cancer nodules. 83% did not see the angry gorilla.

Time and time again, I meet talented digital teams that are blind to the customer experience. They work on the website or app every day and they don’t see the confusing menus and links glaring out at them. They don’t see the totally frustrating search results, the excruciatingly long forms full of wholly unnecessary, confusing questions. They ignore top customers tasks that have massive failure rates. Or maybe they do ‘see’ these things but they don’t experience them. They don’t truly feel the pain and frustration, and they certainly rarely feel the need for urgent action to fix the broken experience.

Digital is a black and white world. Digital is a limited world. Digital is the world at dusk on a country road. When it comes to truly seeing and understanding the customer experience, so little is really seen, understood and felt. So much data, so little empathy and true insight. Because the customer isn’t there.

Every digital team should ideally to share the same floor and space as the support team. Then, they would have daily insights into what is actually happening in the real world of the customer. Digital teams require customer champions, people whose specific responsibility is to speak for the customer. (And you can only speak for the customer if you speak with the customer.) Yes, everyone should be a customer champion but when everybody is, nobody is.

The invisible gorilla effect is called “inattentional blindness”. The invisible customer effect should be called digital blindness.

Why Even Radiologists Can Miss A Gorilla Hiding In Plain Sight

Fake metrics: Impressions are the new hits

We all know that HITS stands for How Idiots Track Success. Well, IMPRESSIONS stands for Idiots Making Pretentious Resources Endlessly So Suckers In Organizations Notice Something. It’s the next chapter in the endless saga of the Cult of Volume.

So much human work is hugely wasteful. So rarely is the question: How do I serve the customer better? Usually, the questions are: How do I serve my career? How do I get promoted? Or, how do I survive here? And the answer is nearly always: By sucking up to your boss. And the best way to suck up to a boss is to produce lots of stuff and to come up with magic, very big numbers. Big, big numbers will always create an impression.

Back in the old school days we pored over the website analytics and one number always jumped out. It was, of course, HITS. All the other numbers were small in comparison to HITS. And that of course was the number we reported. A big number. Because everyone loves big numbers.

I’ve been walking around Berlin these days and I have to tell you, I’m having a major impact on the city. I’ve racked up so many impressions. Whenever I see a crowd, I mingle. I hang around crowded shops, rubbing shoulders with strangers. I’ve even talked to some people, smiled at others. So many impressions. So many impressions.

“Impressions measure the number of people who potentially, maybe, for some brief moment could have been exposed to a piece of content,” Adam Snyder wrote for AdAge in 2015. “In my humble opinion, it’s out of control — in the literal sense. Our continued reliance on this metric is detrimental to marketing and communications growth and is in direct opposition to reality.”

Still, the game goes on, chasing impressions, chasing fake numbers. Irrelevant, inaccurate, counterproductive numbers that feed our worst instincts to chase volume at any cost. All the worst practices that you can think of have their roots in the Cult of Volume. A culture obsessed with size. Fake metrics. Fake followers. Fake news. So many marketers and communicators chasing the easy win, the career-boosting fake numbers that will impress the senior managers, because to this day, 90% of senior managers are still clueless when it comes to digital.

The fakers don’t judge content on whether it is useful or not but on how much of a short-term hit and high it can provide. The new feature or new app or new website is not about better serving customers but rather about better serving the careers of those who create these fake things.

Because in this shiny, new digital world, so many are still judged by the new things they create, rather than by the old things they maintain and improve. And new things only have value if they create lots of fake HITS and fake impressions.

Quality still matters even if it is generally ignored. True value is rarely found in measuring volume. True value is found by measuring the actual experience of customers as they seek to complete their top tasks. The new metrics focus on customer outcomes, not organizational inputs. When you’re measuring volume, it’s so easy to fake it. It’s much harder to fake a satisfied customer.



The dark side of simplicity

Life is effort. Life is energy. But we’re always looking for the shortcut, the low-hanging fruit. As Steve Krug famously said: “Don’t make me think.” The more complex the world becomes, the more we crave simplicity, while at the same time wanting to benefit from the positives that complexity brings.

“Whenever we are about to substitute a laborious activity such as learning a language, cooking a meal, or tending to plants with a?—?deceptively?—?simple solution, we might always ask ourselves: Should the technology grow?—?or the person using it?” So questions Ralph Ammer in his blog post, Make me think!

“Highly sophisticated systems work flawlessly, as long as things go as expected,” Ammer continues. “When a problem occurs which hasn’t been anticipated by the designers, those systems are prone to fail. The more complex the systems are, the higher are the chances that things go wrong. They are less resilient.”

Simplicity sucks energy. I read somewhere that the energy required for Alexa to turn off the lights for you is far greater than the energy you would expend by actually getting up and turning off the lights yourself. Not to mention the fact that many of us would be much healthier if we spent more physical energy every day.

Simplicity creates insecurity. Creating the frictionless experience requires designing the seamless organization. Data needs to be able to flow easily across all the touchpoints. These environments are harder to secure and when a hacker gets into one ‘touchpoint’ they often have access to all the data.

Simplicity creates dependency. I walk a lot more because of Google maps. I travel extensively and always used to get taxis once I arrived in a foreign city, because my sense of direction is terrible. However, occasionally, Google has led me to some strange places. And when the map goes down, I feel a real sense of helplessness.

Simplicity is manipulative. “YouTube’s most famous frictionless feature — the auto-playing function that starts another video as soon as the previous one has finished — has created a rabbit-hole effect that often leads viewers down a path to increasingly extreme content,” Kevin Roose writes for the New York Times in December 2018.

Simplicity is addictive. Not thinking can become a bad habit. You can just keep watching, keep going with the flow. The less effort you make, the lazier you get. At what point do those who make your life simpler make your life?

Mark Zuckerberg has championed the “frictionless experience”. Jeff Bezos has talked about how his competitor’s complexity is his opportunity. “For Facebook, “frictionless sharing” was a thinly veiled cover for the company’s true goal of getting users to post more often, and increasing the amount of data available for ad targeting,” Kevin Roose writes for the New York Times. “For YouTube, auto-playing videos have sharply increased view time, thereby increasing the platform’s profitability. And for Amazon, tools like one-click ordering have created a stunningly efficient machine for commerce and consumption.”

Some things are worth the effort. If you’re not thinking then someone is thinking for you. The ethical thing to do is to help people make good decisions for their lives, their futures. Stripping away the complexity that confuses and frustrates is always great. But making it simple just so as people will spend more and more of their time and money, just so as to get more data from them in order to exert greater control over them, is unethical.

We can build a better world with digital. A world that truly benefits the many, not just the few. But to do that we’ll need a moral compass and we’ll really have to think.

Is Tech Too Easy to Use? Kevin Roose

Make me think! the design of complexity Ralph Ammer



Customer experience is stressful

Dealing with customers can be rewarding and fulfilling. It can also be distressing and depressing. Customers today are not easy to deal with and things will only get more difficult.

There has been a collapse in trust and respect for organizations in many countries around the world. Much of it is deserved. The populists who now strut across the world stage, throwing off easy answers and fake certainties like confetti, are not the cause. The are just the symptom, like pimples on the face of a new reality.

In this new world, the customer does not simply see themselves as king. They are dictator. What they want, they want now, right now. If you’ve got slow webpages or slow processes, slow service, or slow whatever, then you are in danger of being left behind in history’s ash-heap.

Keeping up is no easy thing. 39% of technology workers are depressed, according to a TeamBlind survey published in December 2018. The survey found that Amazon employees are the most depressed. Not surprising. A customer obsessed organization creates stress like fire creates smoke. Obsession and depression do more than rhyme.

In Ireland, an ESRI study found that job stress is more common among people who are more likely to experience emotional demands such as dealing with angry customers. They were 21 times more likely to experience job stress than staff who face low emotional demands.

Customer experience is a contact sport, and the ego can get very bruised by dismissive or ungrateful customers. Humility, inquisitiveness and the ability to listen are difficult skills to acquire.

Customer experience can also be a career limiting profession. Eight out of ten organizations I deal with do not want to listen to their customers in any meaningful way. Those who champion customers within such organizations are often seen as troublemakers. In such organizations, those who deal most regularly with customers, such as those in service or support, are often the least respected and receive the lowest pay. That’s a perfect recipe for stress.

If you’re in digital, you’re in service. A service culture means putting the customer first. That’s what customer experience is about.

If you’re going to put the customer first, you must also put those who serve the customer first. You must celebrate successful service. Staff need to hear about how things they have done have improved the customer experience. They need to regularly hear about what is working. If someone goes to a major effort to delight a customer, they must be celebrated. If someone simplifies a form they must be celebrated. If someone simplifies content, making it faster and easier to read, they must be celebrated. Customer success must become synonymous with employee success. Those who champion customers should be championed. Putting the customer first must become synonymous with putting your career first.

The impatient, disruptive and skeptical customer is here to stay. Celebrating employees who improve customer experience will not eliminate job stress, but it will go some way to reducing it by making people feel that it was worth the effort.

Job stress and working conditions: Ireland in comparative perspective – An analysis of the European Working Conditions survey

39 Percent of Tech Workers are Depressed

Customer experience trends for 2019

Get customer experience right and profit will follow. That’s the conclusion of a survey by Hotjar of 2,000 CX professionals published in November 2018. Only 12% of respondents regarded their companies as being mature when it came to customer experience.

“Customer experience leaders prioritize delivering an outstanding experience over everything else (yes, even over revenue),” Hotjar states. The leaders focus on current customers, rather than obsessing about potential ones. They allocate a regular amount of time every week to make calls, meet for coffee or find out about the support issues of their customers. They follow the Golden Rule of customer experience: “Treat customers how you would like to be treated.”

Customer experience (CX) leaders focus on the basics. They talk directly to their customers, which, strange as it may seem, is actually quite rare. Most digital teams I have come across hardly ever see a customer. The survey also found that the CX leaders rely far less on ‘over-hyped’ methods such as chatbots, predictive analytics, live chat, and social media. Again, the CX amateurs are always chasing the latest tool or method just for its own sake.

Customer feedback is the strategy for CX leaders. They design with customers. Feedback is their oxygen. Feedback drives the evolution of the strategy, and the strategy is always evolving based on customer feedback. Whereas the laggards in CX tend to depend on market trends, industry best practices, and hippos (highest paid person in the room), zebras (zero evidence but very arrogant) and seagulls (swoops in, poops an opinion, flies on).

While CX and user experience (UX) need particular champions, excellence can only be achieved if the entire organization is onboard, and that requires constant evangelism and training. It is essential that as many staff as possible see and feel the customer experience. They need to regularly see real customers attempt real tasks on the website. There needs to be regular discussion of real customer journeys that real customers actually go on. Customer research and feedback needs to be shared as widely as possible. The CX laggards live in a closed world and are focused on improving company operations and investing in new technology and software.

Speed is the defining metric for customer experience. Poison for the customer experience is waiting for a page to download or waiting for support to solve an issue. Unnecessary steps, complicated forms, jargon-filled content, anything that slows down the customer, reduces the experience. Customer satisfaction is a word called ‘SPEED’.

The metrics of CX and UK are founded in the customer experience. Did the customer complete their task? How long did it take them? CX laggards focus on often fake, volume-based metrics such as impressions or page views.

You cannot do customer or user experience well if you don’t know your customers inside out. You cannot know your customers if you don’t regularly interact with them. Getting out there into the world of your customers is the single most important thing you can do if you want to deliver excellent CX and UX.

No, we don’t really care about your privacy

I know you’ll be shocked to hear this but that annoying sign you just clicked on, it’s not true. I know it said: “We care about your privacy”, but nobody in here really cares about your privacy. Don’t get me wrong now. It’s not that we actively don’t care. It’s not that we wake up in the morning with new ideas of how we’re going to abuse your privacy. Well, it’s not exactly like that. It’s just that you’re our product. We sell you, and the most valuable thing about you is your privacy.

The more confidential the information, the more valuable. What is there about you that’s worth selling if not the stuff you hold private and personal? The stuff about your daily life, your likes and dislikes, your habits (bad habits are even better), what you’re searching for, what you buy, who your friends are, your age, sex, relationships. I mean, you are the product. What do you expect?

You didn’t actually think this stuff was free, did you? There’s nothing free, my friend. Every time you get something for free, you sell a little bit more of your freedom, your privacy. It was always thus and will always be thus. We’ll get the money out of you one way or another. Free is just another word for pay later. It’s a form of digital barter, maybe. We give you something for ‘free’ and you give us information that we (or our partners) can use to get money out of you later.

You’re so gullible, my friend, such an easy fool. You have something that’s worth €20. I give you something that’s worth €10 for ‘free’. Then you give me the €20 stuff, and I pocket a nice and easy €10 profit. Now, that’s what I call a bargain!

We give you all this free stuff and then we can nudge you in some political or other direction that someone has paid us to nudge you in. Or maybe we just allow them into your cosy little community and then their bots can have some nice conversations with you. You didn’t actually think it was all about the community and love and digital hippy stuff now, did you? We may be from San Francisco, but there’s no flowers in our hair, know what I mean?

So, we have to pretend that we value your privacy because of that annoying European Union and their recent legislation. Don’t you just hate them. All that stupid bureaucracy and red tape. The news media that we control have relentlessly exposed the EU for the consumer-protecting bureaucracy that it is. So, when we say “we value your privacy” we’re really saying that we have contempt for your intelligence. We think you’re so stupid that you’ll actually believe us.

If only you weren’t so innocent. If only you placed more value on your worth rather than on your convenience and getting free stuff. We value your information because from your information we make money. With your information we control you. You’re our cash cow. How does it feel to be the product?

No, I don’t want to take your survey

Take your survey? Why on earth would I want to do that? Help you improve your website? Am I your employee? Are you my boss? Last time I checked, I wasn’t. So, do your job. It’s not up to me to help you make your website better. What do I think of your new redesign?

What do you think of my new classic straight toecap Oxford made tan crocodile shoes? They’re very versatile; have an elegant and semi sports look to them. What do you think of that? They feature a Rendenbach sole in a refined Goodyear welt construction and full calf lining. I was informed that these shoes are very carefully manufactured by expert craftsmen who follow the exact same techniques that Charles Goodyear created in 1869. Hah? Ok. Ok. I get it. Well, then, can’t you get it? I have as much interest in your redesign as you have in my new crocodile shoes.

Can’t you ever understand that I, your customer, do not wake up in the morning wondering about what you’ve done or what you’re about to do. When I hear that you’re “excited” or “delighted” to announce the launch of something, I just yawn. Your personal mood is of zero consequence to me.

And when you talk about your anniversary. Listen, last week it was our wedding anniversary. Did you call? Did you send a gift? Why should I care that it’s your anniversary? You are such a naval-gazing, narcissistic organization. And that won’t do. Because if there’s going to be a narcissist around here, it’s me, the customer. Remember, I’m the king.

What’s in it for me? What do I get out of it? If you ask me what my top concerns are, then I might respond to you. If you ask me about how you could make things easier and faster for me, then I might respond. If you talk to my needs, rather than your needs, then I might respond. But, please face reality, I don’t care much about you or your organization. You’re just a tiny, inconsequential part of my day. I’ve got much bigger things to think about, like paying bills, dealing with some personal issues. Do you want to hear about my personal issues?

Only joking! Wow, you sure looked worried there. You’re so puffed up in your own little world. Digital has made you so detached. You don’t see me on a day-to-day basis. You don’t hear me. You don’t listen to me. You don’t watch me. You don’t know me. You really don’t. All this digital stuff has made you so detached.

But I exist. I’m real. I’m real mad. I’m real cynical. I’m real skeptical. I’m real disloyal. I’m obsessed with my own world, my own network. You’re going to have to work really hard to understand me. It’s going to be a constant, ongoing struggle. The more digital you become, the more disloyal I will become, because digital is a fickle, shallow mistress, unstable, shifting, constantly dissolvable.

And no, I don’t want to take your survey.

Marketing: the truly original fake news

Some marketers are deluded. Too much hype, spin, fake news. While 87% of marketers say they are delivering engaging customer experiences, nearly half of consumers say that brands don’t even meet their basic expectations, according to survey published by Acquia in November 2018. Another 2018 study run by Arvato found that while 89% of brands felt their customer service was “excellent” only 9% of consumers agreed. According to a global 2017 survey by the Fournaise Group, 80% of CEOs don’t even trust their own marketing teams.

Many marketers unfortunately believe that fake beautiful smiling ‘customer’ images they put on their homepages are actual customers. They have convinced themselves of their own hype and hyperbole and live in a bubblegum world, where they rarely deal with real customers. Sitting with their advertising executive partner over lunch they bemoan the fact that marketing has got so much harder with this whole damn digital thing. The ad executive, who is even more clueless, but desperate to peddle his next fabulously useless, enormously expensive redesign consoles the poor (metaphorically speaking) marketing executive by saying things like: “It’s time to be even more interactive, engaging, robots, algorithms, chatbots, hamburger menus, millions of stock images, caring language, influencer marketing, fully embracing the most expensive brochureware design option, innovative, I don’t get out of bed for less than half a million, bots, we’ll win awards with this one, we need a new utterly meaningless generic branding tagline such as ‘Dreaming beyond the dreams and possibilities,’ Big Data, interactive, mobile is the past, VR is the present, the now and beyond, CDROM, sorry misspoke, we need more videos, huge giant expensive videos, I know a Hollywood director, he’ll make you look like James Bond, even better than James Bond, targeting, campaigns, interactive, utterly meaningless language that spouts a caring simplicity and the most deep holistic desire to engage and experience a real customer just once (but not for too long) because we all know that only suckers deal with real customers on a regular basis, where did we outsource support to this time, wow, those annoying idiotic customers who actually believed our advertising, don’t they know that we are the original masters of the universe when it comes to fake news, bots, interactive, immersive, you do this ridiculously expensive redesign and watch your career soar, it’s all about you, my friend, my entire focus, my every waking hour, I think up ways to make you look good, to do things normal humans don’t dream of, in order to help you shoot up the career ladder, new projects, new initiatives, new redesign (very expensive), they’ll think you’re so-so creative, innovative, hardworking, pushing boundaries, bots, hamburger menus, it’s all about you, it’s always been about you, you stick with me and it’ll always be about you and your ego until the end of time and beyond, bots, typewriters, CDROM, the wheel, show me the money!

Acquia global survey: Closing the CX Gap

CEOs Don’t Trust Marketers

Arvato survey: Very few consumers report excellent customer service

Brad Tuttle, Customer Service Hell, 2011



A better digital experience for Irish health

When the US Department of Health deleted 150,000 out of the 200,000 files that were available on its public website, nobody noticed. Too much content, too many websites, much of the content out-of-date. Important information hard to find and even when you found it, hard to understand. These are the classical symptoms of “orgitis”. Orgitis is “a condition that leads organizations to believe that the more websites, content or apps they publish, the more value they are creating.”

The Irish Health Services Executive (HSE) was diagnosed with orgitis. Historically, the main website (HSE.IE) has some 30,000 pages. Then there are more than 30 standalone websites, more than 35 microsites, 50+ social media accounts, 20 hospital websites, and multiple transactional portals. It’s confusing.

Orgitis is very common in Ireland, where the needs of organizations have nearly always come before the needs of the people they are supposed to serve. Where the powerful, instead of delivering good service, expect instead subservience. But the winds of change are blowing and every year the public becomes more educated, better connected, and less willing to accept poor service and condescending attitudes.

The Irish health service seems like it has spent the last twenty years in the emergency room. It feels like every time you turn on the radio, TV, or pick up a newspaper, there is a new crisis. The biggest recent one was the Cervical Check Scandal, where many women were not given the proper information in a timely manner.

There is now a real determination to get things right, to be transparent, to be clear, simple, easy to find, easy to use. A talented and passionate digital team is being assembled that is genuinely focused on delivering an excellent patient experience. To this end, in 2017, we did a Top Tasks analysis to find out what really matters to Irish people in relation to health. 3,500 people voted from all sections of Irish society. Here are there top 5 tasks:

  1. Waiting times (hospitals, clinics, other health services)
  2. Mental wellbeing (stress reduction, mindfulness, positive thinking)
  3. Costs and fees (treatment, drugs, consultant visits, care)
  4. Screening (breastcheck, retinal, bowel, cervical)
  5. Diagnosis of condition / disease

Not surprisingly, waiting times is number one. Mental wellbeing is number two, which is again not surprising, seeing that Irish people are finally rising above the stigma and silence in order to address critical wellbeing issues. Screening is the fourth most important task, reflecting the importance of preventative medicine.

Over the coming months, I’ll be delivering a series of webinars exploring how a patient-first, evidence-based approach is being used to help people find the health-related information they need. I’ll be examining how decisions are now being made based on evidence of what people are actually doing online, rather than based on opinions. It’s a process of discovery, of getting the language exactly right, of understanding how people search and navigate for health information. It’s about measuring the top tasks, seeing where the blockages are and designing ways to make things faster and simpler. It’s about measuring the outcomes of the people who use the service rather than the inputs and activities of the organization.

So, success will no longer be about launching a website or campaign or getting lots of traffic. Success will rather be about ensuring that Irish people can get the information they require in the simplest, faster, most accurate manner possible.


The accidental discovery of Top Tasks (Part 2)

For years, I had run card sorting workshops. To keep track on the cards, I used to hand out a sheet that contained all the names of the cards. One exercise involved deciding what cards to use when designing a classification for a homepage. I wanted people to prioritize, so I asked people to choose no more than 10 cards and to give their most important card (class) a vote of 10 and so on.

There were 150 cards and people were supposed to sort and group these and then finally choose their top 10. But some people started cheating. They went straight to the sheet that contained the list and began choosing from there. Once I’d notice that I’d go up to them and explain that sorting and grouping was an essential first step in the process.

They needed to sort. They needed to group the cards because that was what I was teaching. That was what I believed. That was what I had been trained on. And I had created 15 sets of 150 cards each. Did they not realize how much effort went into all that? How much printing? How much tearing of serrated edges? How much neatly stacking and wrapping in elastic bands? My set of cards were my pride and joy and they were going to sort them whether they wanted to or not.

Except that more and more people didn’t want to. And some were quite stubborn. They wouldn’t accept my arguments. They challenged my dogma. “You can’t scan a list of 150 things and choose wisely,” I said. “There’s years of research to prove that you can only scan about 7 things.” And yet they were scanning 150 things and the choices they were making seems to be roughly the same choices that those who went through the much longer process of physically sorting were getting.

So, one morning I did something brave and risky. I left my box of cards in my hotel room and headed to the workshop armed just with sheets of paper containing the list of 150 things you might be interested in if you were planning to go on holiday to Ireland.

When I calculated the scores, I found that in the workshop I just did with the sheets I got essentially the same top 10 as in the previous workshop using the cards. Except that this process was 4-5 times quicker. The next workshop I tried using the list. It worked. It kept working.

Then someone else said: “Why don’t you do this as a survey?” Another crazy idea. You can’t list 150 things in a survey and ask people to quickly scan and choose just 10. It won’t work. But it did. Since 2006, there have been more than 400 Top Tasks surveys, with over 300,000 people voting in more than 30 countries and languages.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over the years is that the best way to design, develop, innovate or discover is through use. Get the thing used and observe and learn from the use. Keep your mind open. Design and evolve through use. Design with people. Don’t let the effort you invested in something become a ball and chain. Don’t let your expectations, attitudes and opinions get in the way of the evidence. Stay open, connected and constantly evolving within the network.