Author Archives: Gerry McGovern

Wasting time is the worst customer experience

Reducing the amount of time a customer has to spend is one of the best ways to improve the customer experience

The essence of digital is speed. Customers are obsessed with saving time. Those organizations who save customers time are like digital magnets. These days, customers are also obsessed with saving money. They go to the Web to research, to compare, to find the best deal.

The more time an organization takes from its customers the greater the digital threat is. Wasted time is the goldmine of the digital competitor. Your complexity and bureaucracy is your competitors’ opportunity.

According to a customer experience report published by McKinsey in March 2017, an insurance start-up called Lemonade, “allows distressed customers who have lost property to submit a claim via a video message on their mobile phone. The company reviews the message using anti-fraud algorithms, cross-references it against the customer’s policy, and then transfers the appropriate funds to the customer’s bank account. While these are still early days for the start-up, it is declaring speeds for processing claims in matters of seconds.”

The McKinsey report also stated that:

  • A telecom provider used digital to cut its signup time for new customers by two-thirds.
  • A major North American bank reduced the time to sign-up for a deposit account from two weeks to less than ten minutes.
  • Another bank found if it took more than 20 minutes to apply for an account, the net promoter score (NPS) declined; if activating the new account took more than a day, or receiving the debit card and PIN took more than five days, the NPS fell sharply.

Digital pioneers, such as Jeff Bezos and Larry Page, have long been obsessed with saving customer time. Speed is at the core of the Google culture. Page doesn’t talk in seconds; he talks in milliseconds. Bezos seeks to drive down customer time in every part of the business. Fast and convenient—with the customer at the controls—this is the mantra of digital.

If organizations want to truly thrive in the digital landscape they must measure from the outside in. They must truly focus on the customers. They must attack the ‘costs’ a customer has when interacting with the organization. This is what true customer experience excellence is about. This is what real digital transformation is about. A customer-centric mindset, rather than an organization-centric one, will be the true driver of value in the digital age. And it begins with time; an obsession with saving the customer time.

This will be a challenge for traditional organizations. Up until now, most of them have used digital to reduce organizational costs. An automated phone system wastes customer time so as to save money for the organization. A great many websites are poorly designed, poorly managed and short-staffed because organizations want to deliver self-service in the cheapest possible way.

Waste customer time and you will lose customers.

Putting customer experience at the heart of next-generation operating models. By Shital Chheda, Ewan Duncan, and Stefan Roggenhofer


Bridging the great organization-customer divide

Organizations obsessed with cost reductions are like gardeners obsessed with weeding. They weed and weed and weed until everything becomes a weed and the garden is bare.

Current customers and employees are seen as costs by most organizations. They need to be weeded and weeded, pulled out as costs at every opportunity. So, digital is wielded as the ultimate weeding machine. Let’s close the physical stores. Let’s automate the phone systems. Watch the costs drop.

Two things happen. Firstly, employees lose even more touch with customers and with why they work. There is nothing more powerful and motivating than feeling that your work has had a positive impact on another human being. Secondly, customers lose human touch with the organization.

Francesca Gino writing for Harvard Business Review reports on studies that show that:
• Fundraisers who were attempting to secure scholarship donations felt more motivated when they had contact with scholarship recipients
• Lifeguards were more vigilant after reading stories about people whose lives have been saved by lifeguards
• Cooks who see those who will be eating their food feel more motivated and work harder.

Digital can be a wall or a window. As a wall, it can separate the organization from its customers. As a window, it can deliver tremendous insights into customer behavior. However, even if it is used as a window, if the employees looking through the window do not see how what they do is impacting customers, then the insights will be poor or worse—focused on exploiting customers.

We must use digital to connect employees with customers. Content is the currency of digital. We must show all the content writers how their content is helping or hindering, simplifying or making more complex, illuminating or mystifying.

How do we do this? By organizing around the customer. By focusing on what they do. By understanding and measuring the tasks they need to complete with the organization. We don’t measure the content itself. We measure the task that the content is designed to support. We focus not just on the cooking, but more importantly on the eating.

The employee is a digital cook. When they see a satisfied customer who has just consumed their content, that is hugely motivating. I was in a room once with a bunch of people responsible for writing policy and standards information for a large intranet. Six months previously, we had measured the performance of related employee tasks. Task A performed poorly, with a 35% success rate. We made a series of recommendations to improve Task A. There were two people responsible for this task and they worked really hard to implement the improvements. When we measured again, the task success had jumped to 75%. When we presented the results there was a spontaneous round of applause from the 30 or so people in the room. The two employees looked so happy and one of them came up to me afterwards and said that it was the first time she truly felt her work had value and worth.

Create an empathy bridge between those who produce and those who consume and wonderful things will happen. Everybody will win: the customer, the employee, the organization.

To Motivate Employees, Show Them How They’re Helping Customers

The surreal crazy, crazy world of branding

After a long time spent working with various different kinds of organisations, I have consistently found the branding department to be the craziest, most surreal and most disconnected from anything remotely approaching reality.

There must be some city of 10 million people somewhere, that we have never heard of, with factory after factory churning out branding people. Because they’re all the same. I’ve worked in more than 40 countries and whenever I meet branding people they dress the same, talk the same, think the same.

The first serious interaction with branding I had was back around 2000. I was speaking at a travel conference. I told the audience that “low fares” was being searched for about 3,000 times a month and that “cheap flights” was being searched for about a million times a month. A hand shot up in the audience. He was a branding expert. “We would never use “cheap flights,” he said. “It would hurt our brand.” And all the other branding experts agreed. Of course, a couple of years later the vast majority of the brands were using “cheap flights” because it was that or go out of business.

Some years later I was in a room full of executives. We had a deep discussion about the products and services of that organization. We talked about pricing, simplicity of ordering, service and support, and how the website could help the organization sell more and increase customer loyalty. Then the branding expert put up his hand. “That’s all very interesting,” he said. “But what about the branding?”

Recently, I dealt with a very large website where onsite search was really important to customers. They had just appointed a new VP of Marketing. As a result, there was the inevitable redesign and ‘rebranding.’ I looked at the new print brochure website and couldn’t believe that they had hidden the search box. The new ‘branding’ guidelines had dictated that there could be no form fields immediately visible on any pages because it would “hurt the holistic feel of the brand.”

Imagine if one of the these branding experts was in charge at Google or Amazon. “Sorry, guys, we have to remove the search box because of holistic feel reasons.” But don’t mention Google or Amazon to these branding guys. Because, to these branding experts, Google and Amazon are not real brands.

Real brands dominate the page with brochureware hero shots of fake customers. Real brands use gushy, meaningless, emotional language. Real brands have thought leadership corporate videos. Real brands have the greyest of grey text. Real brands obsess about font choice. Real brands are fanatical about image.

How 1970s jaded these ‘real’ brands look in the age of social media and mobile. In an age when time has never been more precious, these brands are still full of pompous certainty that they can control the message, that they can control your experience, and dictate your journey. They believe with an arrogant certainty that no matter how poor the product or service is, they can make you feel you’ve had a great customer experience through the magical power of emotional branding.

And these branding experts get the ear of senior management because they whisper the compelling promises: “You are in control. You can control the message. You can control and manipulate the customer.”

Digital makes it harder and harder to control the customer journey. Much better to give the customer more and more control.


Information architecture: still vital to digital design

Over the years, the most neglected, and yet most essential, area of digital design has been information architecture.

Recently, a set of presentations for website designs were made to senior management at a large organization. One presentation was based on data. It had carefully analyzed customer behavior and focused particularly on the navigation structure and wording. But it didn’t have that polished graphical look. The second presentation was quite beautiful to look at but the creators used no customer data to create their design. They copied the old navigation, while focusing on eye-catching graphics. Unfortunately, senior management went for the eye-catching design. In 2017, it is indeed frustrating that many in senior management still want brochures instead of effective digital designs.

The number one reason for a poor digital customer experience are confusing menus and links. It was the number one reason back in 1995 when I started consulting on the Web, and it’s still the number one reason for customer frustration and failure. This is based on data and observations of thousands of customers seeking to complete tasks. 8 out of 10 times when I tell management that it’s the menus and links, they barely listen and hardly ever act to improve things.

Information architecture, navigation, metadata, linking; this is all hard, thankless, grinding work. And yet, this is how the Web is built, one link at a time. This is so much of the true value of digital lies. It’s frustrating to know what needs to be done to improve the customer experience and yet not get the required management support and budget. Yet we must persevere because information architecture is such essential work.

What was the killer feature for Facebook photos? Tagging. The ability to add metadata tags in order to name who was in the picture. Since the beginning of the Web, metadata has been essential to findability. I have worked with numerous ecommerce clients, where choosing the right link text had a huge impact on sales. I mean HUGE.

And yet … And yet so few organizations want to invest in doing quality, rigorously tested information architecture design. Always, there is the belief that some new technology will come along and solve the information architecture problem. Enterprise search has a history of incredible awfulness. Why? Because management invested in search engine after search engine but were not prepared to invest in the organization and management of their information.

And now we have chatbots and the “chat interface.” Chatbots have tremendous potential but they are not some magical cure. They are not some plug-n-play technology that doesn’t require us to have a navigation and classification.

How exactly are these chatbots going to chat? From what magic-magic land will they access their answers? Chatbots will require an extremely rigorous information architecture in order to ‘chat’ in a useful way. Otherwise, they’ll pretty quickly become gibberishbots.

Making the interface ‘invisible’ requires even more effort in the design of the back-end information architecture. The more you simplify for the customer, the more internal complexity you must take on. Efficiently organizing information is—and will remain—one of the most critical skills of the digital age.

The Wild West days of search are over

The Wild West days of the Web are coming to an end as people settle down and select their favorite websites as the starting points for an increasing number of their tasks.

In 2014, when Raymond James asked people where they typically start when looking to buy products online, 55% said a search engine, 38% said Amazon. In 2016, 26% said a search engine and 52% said Amazon.

As people mature in their use of the Web, this sort of trend will accelerate. People will find their favorite places and stick with them. Again, this is just one more example of the inherent rewards in building up a loyal customer base. Those chasing leads and new customers will have an increasingly difficult time.

Areas such as search engine optimization will become less and less effective. Traditional banner-driven advertising will approach a vanishing point of effectiveness as adblockers proliferate and attention evaporates.

The old models and practices simply don’t work as well as they used to. Organizations whose business model involves capturing lots of new customers will struggle and fail. Organizations that focus on delivering an excellent customer experience for the customers they already have, will thrive.

As the traditional channels of attention either get closed off or clogged up, the only channel that will remain vibrant is the current customer channel. In essence, social media is the current customer channel. By and large, it is a place where real people tell real stories of their experiences with brands and organizations. Certainly, there are attempts to game social media with fake reviews and fake customers, but it will remain a resilient channel through which quality brands can support their current customers.

The current customer is the new marketer and advertiser. Marketers need to provide the reasons why current customers want to market and advertise the brand. Essentially, that means ensuring that customers are getting a great customer experience.

There is no more important place to deliver customer experience than in support. When the customer has a problem is when they truly discover the real customer experience. Support is the new sales and marketing. That means that the marketing and support departments need to work very closely together.

Support in many organizations has been underfunded, downsized and outsourced. That is because most organizations see support as a cost to be managed rather than an asset to be maximized. It is like having a bucket with a big hole in it. Instead of addressing why the organization is leaking customers, it decides to get a marketing and sales hose to pour more water into the bucket.

That model is well and truly broken, and yet in organization after organization I meet it’s standard practice. It’s like some rigidified custom, some archaic behavior, some unhealthy habit that marketers can’t break. Marketers need to break their obsessive habit of focusing on leads, or else their future will be bleak as they are broken and made redundant by the new customer-centric model.


New data shows Amazon is eating into Google’s territory — and it’s only going to get worse




Trust is shifting to the network

Our trust in institutions and the establishment is in severe decline. At the same time, we are getting into cars with strangers and letting strangers sleep in our houses. We are increasingly deciding who to trust based on what the network of our peers says.

Historically, societies have looked to leaders, institutions and deities to get guidance and direction. Global surveys are revealing a collapse in such institutional trust centers. And yet a sharing, service and collaboration economy is rapidly emerging that is highly dependent on trust.

The new brands that are leading in this economy—Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, Google—are not so much trusted in themselves. Rather, the trust is in the network of drivers, home and content owners. Of course, this nascent new economy is constantly under assault with fake news and other attempts to game the system. However, even with such challenges, there are many promising developments.

People are willing to put trust in the wisdom of the crowds. In a survey of 16,000 people by BlaBlaCar, 88% of stated “that they highly trust other BlaBlaCar members with full profiles.” This is just 7% lower than the 92% who highly trust their friends, and 30% higher than the 58% who say they trust their colleagues. The key to trust is having a “full profile”, much of which means being vetted by a significant number of other people who use taxis.

“At Trust Amsterdam,” Irene Dominioni writes for Euro News, “you can walk in and sit at the cozy, vintage tables, enjoy unique vegetarian recipes prepared in the open kitchen, and pay…as much as you think your meal was worth. There are no prices on the menu.” Trust Amsterdam has been successfully running for three and a half years.

On a grander scale, Blockchain is a way to establish trust between two strangers. It taps into the collective processing power of millions of computers in a highly distributed and decentralized way. According to David Siegel, Blockchain can:

  • Eliminate trillions of dollars of wasted effort in coordination, market functions, and clearing.
  • Record data – including ownership rights to anything of value – permanently, in a way that can’t be hacked or stolen.
  • Eliminate middle men – companies that bring buyers and sellers together and charge high fees (everything from banks to insurance companies to ecommerce to Uber)
  • Eliminate data centers, which are targets for hackers.
  • Eliminate IT departments, which are expensive, sluggish, and prevent companies from being agile.
  • Radically transform government services to be far cheaper, faster, and better.

Of course, there is exaggeration here but what is no exaggeration is the latent power of the network. Humans have a capacity to circumvent traditional models of the ‘establishment’ order and organizational structure in a way that is unique in history. The World Wide Web is already a giant hub of human intelligence and connectedness. We are at a point of reinvention of what a society and economy is and can be.

Time to replace capitalism with trust

Decentralstation (Blockchain) David Siegel (Thanks to Andrew Lugton for the info.)

BlahBlahcar survey




Complexity demands collaboration

In a world of increasing complexity, unpredictability and sheer randomness, the idea that traditional, hierarchy-based leaders can lead us to a better future is both naive and dangerous.

Nobody’s in control. Nobody knows what the future will bring. Things have become just too complicated. In such an environment, the most dangerous are those full of certainty and zeal, as they fight to rise above with their Zeppelin-like egos.

The hard, brutal reality is that we all have to take more responsibility. The best response to unpredictability is flexibility. We must be ready and willing to change our attitudes, our opinions and our decisions based on shifts in our ever-changing environment.

Faced with such an unpredictable present and future, we must resist the call of the wild, the simplicity and comfort of tribal thinking. I am as much a culprit as anyone else for this tribal thinking. And all around me I hear the chants of the tribes of my profession. People love nothing better than to split into groups and do their own thing.

In the Web industry of which I have had the honor to be a part for more than 20 years there is a dizzying array of digital tribes. We have the content tribe, and the UX tribe and the CX tribe and the IA tribe. We have the techies from Pluto, the visual designers from Saturn, and the marketing folks from Mars. And there’s the sales crowd, the support crowd, the analytics crowd and the SEO crowd. And the Social crowd see the Web crowd as competitors, and mobile is of course the new and future king. All these tribes either consciously or unconsciously seeking advantage, competing with the others for budget and prestige.

I watch time and time again as groups within open offices busy themselves building walls within their minds. Within six months, they converse in jargon with a tight circle of those who share their passions and agree with them. They don’t have time to discuss with the others because that would slow them down and might even challenge some of their certainties. And what’s the result? A silo-delivered, sub-standard customer experience.

The seamless customer experience is the Holy Grail at the moment. How on earth can you have a seamless customer experience without a seamless organization? When so many of us are busy stitching and building walls, who’s building bridges and ironing out the seams?

We can do so much better, and deep down, we all know that. It’s just that it’s so hard and messy and time consuming to get multidiscipline, multigroup collaboration going. And, of course, the traditional organization rewards tribal departmental behavior, encourages internal competition, and often actively punishes those who promote collaboration across and outside the organization.

This is a call to the rebel. It’s easy for me, I know, sitting comfortably on the outside. But there has never been a greater need for a holistic view of the customer and a holistic view of the organization. The road is tough but the rewards are huge. In practically every instance where I have seen major web success, I have seen a wide web of collaboration and interconnections.

You’re not responsible for content, technology, graphics, usability, Twitter, apps, websites. We’re all responsible for the customer experience. Together.


Digital organization customer disconnect

The Great Wall of Digital is being built between organizations and customers.

Before the Web, the average person could visit a dealer 9 times before buying a car. Now, it’s down to an average of 1.3 times. This is according to Conrad Fritzsch, from Mercedes-Benz, who presented at a Netcentric conference in Lisbon in January 2017. According to CACI, the number of times people visit a bank branch is set to almost halve between 2016 and 2020.

The irony of digital is that it is isolating organizations from their customers. Organizations are talking more and more about customer experiences and relationships and are, in reality, having less and less relationships with their customers. And the experiences that customers are having online are increasingly not with the organization that ‘makes’ the product or service but with the one that organizes the information and connections around the product.

The Web was supposed to get rid of intermediaries. However, companies like, Uber and Airbnb are showing dramatic rises in value because they are managing customer relationships.

How are traditional organizations responding? With traditional marketing and its obsession with leads and potential customers. Don’t these organizations ever stop to ask why they need to generate so many new leads? Maybe, just maybe, if they looked after their current customers better, they would achieve more success.

As organizations have fewer and fewer human interactions with their customers, they have never had more data on these same customers. If you have less and less human relationships with your customers, the danger is you will abuse the data, abuse the customer, and destroy the relationship, trust and loyalty.

How many of these data analysts know customers, meet them for coffee, have a clear moral approach that they should always want to do good for their customers? When you create distance you create moral ambiguity.

“When it comes to building trust with customers and within teams, it turns out that warmth is a key element to success,” Renuka Rayasam wrote for the BBC in January 2017. Warmth is generally associated with human-to-human relationships. How do you approximate warmth online? You must show that you care about your customers. Not ‘say’ that you care. People are so tired of hearing organizations saying that they care. For an increasingly cynical public, the more you say you care the less they trust you, because if you actually cared, why would you feel the need to keep saying it?

Take Amazon. Amazon gives you a good price. That shows they care. Amazon tries to deliver as quickly as possible, often for free. That shows they care. If you have a problem, they generally resolve it really quickly. That shows that they care about you.

Digital can make organizations blind to their customers, and customers blind to organizations. Once that happens we will get great instability of relationships. The key to avoiding such instability is to actually truly care about your current customers.

The one quality that builds trust and loyalty, BBC

Collaborating beyond our comfort zones

Cooperation and collaboration are how societies have been built. Our history books—like Hollywood films—mythologize the heroic leader, but it is the humble collective upon which civilizations have laid their foundations.

The villagers of Palanpur “have remained poor, even by Indian standards,” Samuel Bowles wrote in his 2003 book on microeconomics. “I approached a sharecropper and his three daughters weeding a small plot. The conversation eventually turned to the fact that Palanpur farmers sow their winter crops several weeks after the date at which yields would be maximized. The farmers do not doubt that earlier planting would give them larger harvests, but no one, the farmer explained, is willing to be the first to plant, as the seeds on any lone plot would be quickly eaten by birds. I asked if a large group of farmers, perhaps relatives, had ever agreed to sow earlier, all planting on the same day to minimize losses. “If we knew how to do that,” he said, looking up from his hoe at me, “we would not be poor.””

According to Helga Nowotny, “No human group can survive, let alone effectively cooperate, without being able to develop a shared outlook on the world which is the precondition for acting together.”

The shared outlook of the group is what gives it the capacity to act collectively. This is what we might call group culture. However, in our world of ever-increasing complexity and interdependency, this group culture can hold us back.

“What make complex systems so complex are their multiple feedback loops and indirect cause?effect relations which, moreover, play out at different speeds and on different time scales,” Nowotny states. “Reaching out across different domains and adopting different perspectives to achieve some kind of synthesis, synergy, perhaps even some kind of synchronicity in the ways we perceive, analyse and interpret the world, we begin to realise that we are part of dynamic complex systems. Any such system is open and evolving.”

We are indeed part of dynamic complex systems that are open, evolving, unpredictable and often random. To succeed within such systems requires a flexible adaptive mindset that embraces multiple viewpoints and disciplines. The traditional, cohesive group with its deep shared outlook and common language can find such open systems extremely challenging. The group’s common language becomes jargon to those on the outside, and its deep culture is often unwelcoming. You are not one of us, the group makes clear in subtle and not so subtle ways.

And yet our future as a species depends on us evolving a new type of group. One that is internally cohesive yet welcomes outsiders. One that is multidisciplinary, multicultural, multi-viewpoint. One that encourages and embraces challenge, is open to heresy, and ready to act and change with other groups. We need groups that are comfortable working within multi-groups.

Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it can seem slow and tiring. We long for the strong group and the strong leader who will find us a simple path through our complex world. That’s a mirage, an increasingly dangerous myth.

“The embarrassment of complexity begins when we realise that old management structures are no longer adequate and the new ones are not yet in place,” Nowotny states. “Currently we are in a transition phase. The old never yields to the new at one precise moment in time and this is what makes transition phases exciting, risky – and sometimes embarrassing.”


Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution, Samuel Bowles

A view from the top: the complexity of managing complexity, Helga Nowotny

Fake news, distrust and anti-marketing

The global trust epidemic has become a pandemic. Historic lows are being reached in people’s distrust of government and business. The system is broken.

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer makes for grim reading.

“For the first time in 17 years, people’s trust declined in every kind of institution we asked about”

“Public trust in media at all time low”

“Trust in CEOs plummets and hits all-time low”

“A staggering lack of confidence in leadership”

“Global implosion of trust”

“Public trust in institutions sinks to a record low”

“The West’s biggest problem is dwindling trust”

“Largest-ever drop in trust across institutions of government, business, media and NGOs”

Trump and Brexit are the consequences of this tsunami of distrust in government. Brand disloyalty and consumer agitation is the consequence for business. People are switching brands and jobs like never before. A key growth area is freelancing and self-employment. At an increasing rate, people are becoming disconnected from the pillars of the system. They are moving off the grid, becoming harder to reach and influence.

Before there was fake news, there was marketing. Advertising and marketing thrived and fed off a gullible, trusting, emotional population. There was a time when great numbers of people were ready to unquestionably believe what ‘the man’ said.

There is still gullibility and emotional behavior out there but every year the immunity grows. As messages explode in a Big Bang of communication, and the marketing calls for attention become more shrill or sly (native advertising), the population becomes more cynical, blind and deaf.

If you’re shouting at someone and they’re not paying you any attention, should you start screaming at them? “Hey John!!!” See! I know your name! See how personal it is. I know your name! Buy from me, John! Buy from me, John!!!!!!!!!!!!”

““Hey $FNAME” used to cut it,” Brad Smith wrote for Wordstream in January 2017. “Used to be good enough. And then like many things in marketing, it was overextended, overused, and now inevitably ignored.” The best strategy today? “A direct and to-the-point statement that still sounds personal.”

Boring marketing is often outperforming creative marketing. “MailChimp analyzed over 40 million sent emails to determine which email subject lines performed best and worst,” Brad wrote. The best subject lines had “an incredibly high 60-87% open rate, while the #losers only managed a depressingly low 1-14%.”

Here’s what the winners looked like:

[COMPANYNAME] Sales & Marketing Newsletter

Eye on the [COMPANYNAME] Update (Oct 31 – Nov 4)

Here’s some examples of the losers:

Last Minute Gift – We Have The Answer

Valentines – Shop Early & Save 10%

Marketing Experiments, an excellent evidence-based resource for marketers, in January 2017 released a manifesto called Transparent Marketing. “When you say “sell,” I hear “hype.” Clarity trumps persuasion. Don’t sell; say.”

If you’ve got a fake product you need fake news. If you’ve got a real product you need to get real. Amazon, Google, Slack, Facebook are digital winners because they’re useful. Too often I meet companies with great products who are hurting their brands because of outdated traditional marketing techniques.

Anti-marketing is marketing that seeks to inform and be useful, to listen and respond, to take feedback and change. Anti-marketing does not seek to create a customer experience, but rather seeks to enhance the experience the customer has already decided to have.


2017 Edelman Trust Barometer

5 Subject Line Mistakes That Tank Your Open Rates

Transparent Marketing