Author Archives: Gerry McGovern.

From building trust to building use

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Normal: Viacom young people study

How to Build Trust and Lead Effectively




Metrics drive behavior and culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why government must care about customer experience

For too long, government has felt comfortable behind the shield that it is a monopoly. But today, if government can’t prove it’s useful, it will face continuing challenges to its authority and purpose.

Over the years, when I have proposed making it easier for citizens to do things on the Web with government, I have been met with a generally lukewarm response. “They have no choice. They have to use us,” is often the reply.” The government employees who have said this to me have not usually said it in an arrogant or contemptuous way. They merely said it in a matter of fact sort of way.

We see around the world the collapse in trust in the system of government. People think that government is not working nearly as well as it should. People feel that where government works best is for the bankers or other special interests, who seem to have incredible influence.

If government doesn’t focus on the customer experience then the function and role of government will be relentlessly questioned. The digital footprint of government will shrink as citizens go to other sources to quickly and easily find the information they need. Amazon Alexa or Google will be the place people go to find answers to questions they used to go to government websites for.

Government may end up as simply data providers to third-party service providers. Maybe that’s ok. Maybe not. These service providers are there to make a profit. Will they give citizens truly objective advice, or will they nudge them in the direction of the most profitable option to the service provider?

Government has a tremendous resource in data and services. But unless these data and services are easy to find and use, they lose a huge part of their value. If government wastes a citizen’s or a business person’s time, then it undermines confidence and trust. If people can’t quickly and easily complete the tasks they need to complete with government, then government is diminished in the eyes of these people. “What good is government?” they ask.

The measure of customer experience is relatively simple. Was the customer successful in completing the task they came to complete? How long did it take them? Great customer experience is about maximizing task completion and minimizing time-on-task.

Why is this so difficult for government? Because government thinks like and operates like a monopoly. Government is obsessed with itself. Government thinks it is the center of the universe. Monopolistic culture is the essence of government. Some governments recognize this toxic culture and are trying to change.

To change this monopolistic culture we must shift the reward metrics. Right now, government employees are rewarded based on output. How much have they produced, whether that involves producing policies, content or websites? It’s all about production, output. It’s all about measuring the organization.

Customer experience is about measuring customer outcomes. This is hugely, hugely culturally difficult for government employees. To measure your success based on the success of the customer is such an alien concept within most governments. But it is the path to the future. It is the road to success. Maximizing customer experience must be the number one objective of government when it comes to digital transformation.

Dashboards and other meaningless forms of navigation

I use Optimal Workshop quite a bit. It’s an excellent service for testing navigation, among other things, and I would definitely recommend it.

Recently, I needed to duplicate a study. I had done this once before so I knew it could be done. However, no matter where I clicked I could not figure out how to do it. Initially, I clicked on Create New Study, because with other services I have used, that’s where you can duplicate. No, didn’t work.

Then, I went to Edit. I was sure I had done it in the Edit section before. I looked up and down, I went back and forth, I was stumped and frustrated. I sent a message to Support. I received a friendly, fast response from Paddy at Optimal Workshop. He explained that to duplicate I needed to “click the grey ‘edit’ button next to the title of the study you wish to duplicate in your study dashboard, then click duplicate.”

I replied, thanking him for his quick reply, but pointing out that, “the Edit button in the dashboard does not allow me to duplicate.”
“Yes, I should have been clearer,” he wrote back. “The duplication feature only works from the Studies tab. The Dashboard is just a quick access interface to get to any live studies.”

Wow, I thought, since when did “dashboard” come to mean a place where you got access to live studies. Why not call such a place “Live Studies.”

When I load Optimal Workshop the default page for me was the Dashboard screen. I just assumed that this must be the homepage, the place where you can do everything and get to everything.

Paddy and his colleagues at Optimal Workshop know their interface inside out and upside down. They have been using Dashboard to mean Live Studies for years, I’m sure. To them, it’s totally obvious what Dashboard means. And that, of course, is the great danger of having experts design a navigation or classification.

That’s why Optimal Workshop delivers such a wonderful and essential service. Because it gives us tools that allow us to get data on how customers react to navigation when they have a task to do. Year in, year out, we find that confusing menus and links are the number one reason for task failure. And yet we also find that menus and links receive the least attention from management and designers.

It is almost impossible to think and behave like a real customer. You are inside your organization and what seems simple to you can often be very confusing to your customers.

Dashboard is a horrible label because its meaning is so incredibly vague. You might as well create labels called “Things” or “Stuff” or “Resources” or “Tools”. Never, ever make assumptions when it comes to your navigation. Get evidence. Observe your customers as they try to complete their tasks. Where are they clicking? Where are they not clicking? Change and refine until your menus and links reflect the mental model of your customers, not your organization.

Service culture in action

In December 2013, a man came to the Clarion Hotel Arlanda Airport in Sweden with a special request. He wanted to know whether he could book a room for two on New Year’s Eve; himself and his dog. His dog had a thing about spending New Year in a hotel with champagne and caviar, and getting his paws massaged.

That last sentence is not true. His dog got very stressed because of all the fireworks. No fireworks were allowed around the airport, so the man figured this would be a safe place for his best friend.

The receptionist said: no problem. For some reason, the occupancy rates at airport hotels tend to be low on New Year’s Eve, so she was glad of the extra booking. Then she had a thought: Wouldn’t there be lots of other dogs who would just love to spend New Year’s Eve at a firework-free airport hotel? This was an opportunity. She talked to her management and they agreed. By February 2014, enthusiastic dogs had booked out the entire hotel for the following New Year’s Eve.

This story was told to me by Ida Serneberg, a Senior Digital Consultant, and is a classic example of what happens all the time in a service culture. Service professionals spend most of their day with their customers. In some service organizations, managers are mandated to spend at least 80% of their week with their customers, serving, listening, watching, spotting issues and opportunities, coming up with ideas and then testing these ideas.

If the ideas work, they become new services. And how are such ideas judged to work? Based on how customers are using them. Service design through use. That’s how digital services should be designed. Great digital service designers constantly immerse themselves in the world of their customers.

Customer experience is not about a bunch of smart designers coming up with new experiences. It’s about discovering the experiences that are already out there and designing for them. It’s about the experience that the customer wants to have, not the experience you want them to have.

Customer experience, customer centricity and customer obsession are about putting the customer first. Service design requires humility, openness, deep listening. Service design is NOT about you. You are NOT the customer. In fact, you are often the OPPOSITE of the customer. You know too much. You’ve been on the inside for too long.

If we work for an organization then we must accept that our default culture is organization experience, organization centricity, organization obsession. That’s how you get ahead in a traditional organization who has no history of delivering services. The greatest enemy of future success in today’s customer-empowered world is not the competition but the organization itself.

Years ago, a search analyst at the BBC noticed that when people searched for “planets” on the BBC website, very few were clicking on the search results. Clearly, the results people were getting were not meeting their expectations. The analyst wondered why. Most of the results were for a program about the sea called The Blue Planet. The analysts had a hypothesis. Were people searching for outer space and ending up in the sea? So, he added some solar system results for “planet” searches. Lots of clicks. Success.

Search is a type of macro digital service. That BBC analyst was doing essentially the same thing as the hotel receptionist. Understanding the customer. Meeting an unmet need. That’s service, digital or physical.

The sad story of a lonely piece of content

“Just because I’m a link, they don’t think of me as content,” said Product Features. “It’s discrimination.”
“Yes, it’s total discrimination,” said Pricing. “Here I am in the navigation. If I was in the middle of a sentence, I’d be content, but because I’m in the Navigation, I’m not content. It’s not fair.”
“At least you mean something,” said Resources bitterly. “At least you’re useful. I’m always sending people in the wrong direction. Who on earth came up with such a stupid name as Resources!”

“But it’s not fair,” said Product Features, warming up to his argument. “It’s all because of their silo-based way of thinking. Content is more than just articles and paragraphs and sentences. Content is more than just the stuff written by communicators and marketers.
“Totally agree!” said a voice somewhere deep within digital-land.
“Who said that?” said Pricing.
“Who’s me?” said Product Features.
“Me! Over here in the Apps section.”
“The Apps section!” Resources said, and she shuddered. “Have they been listening to us?”
“Don’t ignore me, please, don’t ignore me. I’m content too. Please come over.”

Pricing and Product Features tip-toed over to the Apps section. “Be careful,” whispered Resources. “You know that Apps used to be called Tools. And you know what our parents said about Tools. They eat content for breakfast. They get all the funding too, nearly all the budget goes to them. I hate Tools and Apps, I really do.”

“Don’t worry,” said Pricing. “Resources is just a scaredy cat. I don’t believe all these stories about Apps.” Slowly, they peered into the world of Apps. They could not believe their eyes. It was full of content. There were words everywhere. Links and labels and sentences and paragraphs and even entire articles. In the middle of it all, there was a little paragraph jumping up and down, waving its arms.

“It’s me! It’s me!” the little paragraph shouted. “It was me who was calling out to you. I’m content too. I’m a paragraph. Made up of sentences and words just like every other paragraph. But they don’t really think of me as content.”
“Wow!” said Pricing
“Wow!” said Product Features

“We’re all in this together,” said the little paragraph.
“I’m a language too,” said a voice within Apps. “I have syntax, words, meaning.”
“Where are you?” said Pricing
“Here.” A section opened up and it was full of code. All the content went white with shock. “Please don’t run away. I’m just code. I’m not here to harm you.”
“But you’re going to exterminate us,” said Product Features. “Every line of code means at least one less line of content! We hate you!”

“Hold on,” said another voice from within Apps-land. My name is Get-A-Quote, and me and the code are the best of friends. We work together to serve the customer, not to inflate the egos of our writers. I make a promise to customers,” continued Get-A-Quote, “and code delivers on that promise. We work together in harmony.”

“If we’re going to succeed in Digital-land,” said Get-A-Quote, “we all have to work together. Content and code. Break down these stupid silos and barriers that humans are always putting up. The content and the code in harmony and indivisible. No more barriers or borders so that we can create the seamless customer experience.”

We need genuine customer experience metrics

Customer experience is a philosophy and culture that puts the customer first in the belief that the best way to meet organizational objectives is to meet customer objectives.

The wrong metrics, the wrong behavior. The right metrics, the right behavior. Many websites measure success based on how many leads the website generates, or how many visitors have come to the website, or how many pages have been looked at, or how much time a customer has spent on the website.

These are crude, organization-centric metrics. These very metrics are often the reason customers have terrible experiences on websites, because the websites are managed in a way that maximizes the achievement of organization objectives.

Traditional marketing looks at a person as a potential lead because the job of marketing is often to feed leads to sales. So, marketing becomes obsessed with lead generation. In this sense, it becomes a purely tactical activity, with the overriding objective of maximizing leads. Everything gets judged through the lead generation lens.

If marketers behaved in the real world like they often do on the Web, they’d be constantly punched in the face by irate customers because of their annoying and intrusive tactics. On many websites, for example, there’s a constant debate on how much ‘free’ content to offer, and how much people must signup for.

This whole thinking is poisonous to developing a superior customer experience. Instead of thinking about the customer, you are instead thinking about achieving your organization-centric objectives. It’s all back-to-front from a customer experience perspective.

You’re not focused on helping the customer solve their task. Instead, you’re focused on getting their personal data as quickly as possible, so that you can spam them with lots of offers they don’t want. You’re not focused on helping them solve their problem as quickly as possible. Instead, you’re focused on maximizing the amount of pages they view and maximizing the length of time they spend on your website. These are totally ridiculous objectives in the vast majority of situations. Instead of helping customers navigate simply around the website, you plaster your pages with screaming campaign banners, trying to distract them as much as possible.

You cannot possibly hope to improve customer experience if you don’t totally overhaul how you measure success. You must measure success from the customer’s perspective. And that involves understanding what they mean by success. And that is nearly always about a task they want to complete as quickly and easily as possible.

Stop measuring organization tasks. Get out of campaign mode, for it is campaign culture that is truly corrosive of the customer experience. Measure what matters to the customer. I know, this sounds crazy for so many organizations out there. They have so lost touch with their customers. Not just that. Many organizations have a whole tactical approach based on a ramping up of the exploitation of their most loyal customers.

If your objectives don’t match your customers’ objectives, you’ve got a problem. A real problem. Change your objectives. Oh yes, in the past marketing and advertising was able to change and influence the customer. Those days are over. This is the age of the customer taking back control. That’s why so many people are talking about customer experience. It matters, and the real experience the customer is having with you will matter more and more.

The need for diversity and collaboration in coding and design

I saw my first intranet in 1997. It was not a pretty sight. I will never forget its “Feedback” icon. It was in the shape of a letterbox, from which suddenly a grabbing hand burst forth.

Being allowed to view the intranets and internal systems felt like being an investigator on Silence of the Lambs. ‘Ah, so this is where he tortures his victims.’ Because that’s what intranets and internal systems were, rubbish dumps and torture chambers. Many still are.

For years, I wondered why there was such a yawning divide between software designed for employees (enterprise software) and software designed for consumers. Why was so much enterprise software so utterly unusable, so incredibly badly designed?

A lack of commitment to delivering a quality employee experience by senior management is certainly the most important factor.

However, over the years, I noticed a pattern in the intranets that were striving to improve. There was nearly always a woman driving the change. Most often, this woman came from the Communications Department. She was tech-savvy and worked hard to build relationships with the IT Department.

Whenever I saw intranets that were delivering business value they were always collaborative efforts. It was IT working closely with Communications and HR and Support and Marketing and Sales. Working across divisions and boundaries and silos.

Traditional internal IT departments have been almost exclusively male dominated. Not simply male, but a very particular type of male. These hermetically sealed monocultures were like they were some sort of monastery where men could code in solitude, while sharing the occasional in-joke with their brothers. These monasteries of code delivered some of the worst software I have ever come across.

It is not wishful thinking but rather my constant experience that diverse teams deliver better software, deliver better customer and employee experiences. It is thus important to see the debate in Silicon Valley about the need for diversity as a critical one. The release of an internal document from a Google engineer challenging approaches to diversity within Google allows us to continue that debate.

The author of the Google piece makes the groundbreaking statement that there are undeniable differences between men and women. It is the differences we should celebrate, integrate and learn from. If we want software to work for the widest possible groups we must involve the widest possible groups in software development. A team with different genders, cultures and backgrounds delivers more usable, useful software.

One thing I noticed about the female champions of the employee experience is that they were often seen as troublemakers. Their desire to build bridges, encourage collaboration, put the employee first and help develop enterprise systems that actually worked, did not sit well with macho senior management culture. Men don’t like their monasteries being disturbed.

The old male world was: Listen to this leadership insight explaining how wonderful it is to work for us and how much we’d like your feedback telling us how great it is to work for us. And, by the way, we’ve just bought and installed a new sales management system. Pease learn how to use it by Monday latest.

Exclusive: Here’s The Full 10-Page Anti-Diversity Screed Circulating Internally at Google

Men are emotional, women are rational

When confronted by data, our gut instincts, received wisdom, common sense, and stereotypes, are often proven to be wrong. We need to be able to change our opinion based on evidence.

I was brought up to believe that women are more emotional and less rational than men. But in a range of behavior data I’ve been examining recently, it is men who are more emotional, more likely to be led on by ego-based brand messaging. Women, on the other hand, are more practical and cost-focused. (The data examines how people buy a high-priced consumer product.)

So, can we conclude that men are more emotional than women? Of course not. No more than we can say the opposite. Data lifts the lid on human behavior and what it shows is complex and changeable based on time and context. Modern life is complex and unpredictable. There are no easy answers, and there are always more questions.

Data is a torch in what has generally been a large, dark room. It throws some more light on the subject, but it’s open to misinterpretation, and rarely tells us the full picture because the full picture is a very complex one full of nuance and hidden depths.

However, you’re better going into that large dark room of human behavior with a torch of data than with blind instinct. Of course, instinct can be useful if it’s well trained. Instinct is a repeated behavior in a repeated situation that has become habitual and automatic. It works well in environments that don’t change much. It can be dangerous and misleading in rapidly changing, unpredictable environments. Like the world we live in today: unpredictable, often random, highly complex.

The way we succeed in such a world is to use data to create hypotheses and then to test these hypotheses, and to continuously tweak and evolve them based on feedback. We need a new mindset, one that is focused on how to know rather than what to know. We cannot hope to have a fraction of all the answers. Rather, we should seek to have the tools, methods and network of other people to get the answers, knowing that the answer today may not be quite right tomorrow.

The danger for all of us is that the knowledge and instincts we have gathered in the past become blockages to our ability to clearly understand the present. Forget about the future. Those who predict the future are fools hoping to find bigger fools to believe them. At best, we can only have a rough guide, a general direction, and we must be ready to constantly adapt based on continuous feedback.

Along the way we will discover that things we were certain were true are not true at all. True wisdom is to acknowledge your ignorance, and to celebrate a new fact rather than dismiss it because it challenges your established thinking. The goldmine of digital is data, and it is the data miners and interpreters who will pave the road to the future.

The caring economy: careers of the present and future

Today, and tomorrow, it pays to care.

“Let’s face it, many of the products made today are becoming commodities with the same basic components and performance levels. How different is one bank ATM machine from another? How different is the performance and reliability of one car from another?

“How will business differentiate itself in a world becoming increasingly commoditized? In a world that is becoming increasingly automated? For some products and services, the lowest price will always be the focus. But there isn’t an economy in history that is ruled by price alone.

“To differentiate itself, a company can start by using the Internet to engage with its customers more, seeing them as partners so as to develop solid, long-term, mutually profitable relationships. By developing products that truly match customer needs. By focusing on service. By being friendly and helpful.”

I wrote the above paragraphs in the introduction to The Caring Economy, a book I published in 1999.

“Disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data are changing the world of work,” Livia Gershon writes for the BBC in July 2017. “Retail jobs are disappearing in the US while the online sellers supplanting them fill their warehouses with robots instead of human workers. In China, manufacturing businesses that fled wealthy countries to find low-wage workers are now replacing those humans with machines. And on farms around the world, automated systems are beginning to take on backbreaking tasks like weeding lettuce. Studies have found that new technologies threaten around 40% of existing US jobs, and two-thirds of jobs in the developing world.”

“There is one kind of job though, that is both indispensable and difficult – perhaps impossible – to automate: the kind that requires emotional skills,” Gershon continues. “Artificially intelligent software is being built that can recognise emotions in people’s faces and voices, but it is a long way from simulating genuine empathy, and philosophers have been arguing for centuries that a machine with real feelings is impossible. Computers are nowhere near being able to compete with humans on the ability to really understand and connect with another human being.”

Emotional intelligence is the final frontier of human intelligence. It is the most complex, least understood, and has the most potential for humans in this age of smart machines. If your job involves you working on your own, figuring out things on your own, then, with a few exceptions, your job is in danger of being automated.

The future is for the carers, the connectors and the collaborators. The future is for those humans who understand other humans in the deepest possible way. The future is for those who thrive in multidisciplinary, multi-ethnic, multi-gender, multi-everything teams. The future is for those who are humble about what they know, and hungry for what they don’t know.

Break down the silos, the walls, the barriers, both inside and outside your mind. See your customers as your greatest partners. Today, if you truly care about what you do, and if you truly care to serve, to connect, to collaborate, it will shine through, and it will give you a path to the future.

The automation resistant skills we should nurture, Livia Gershon, BBC