Author Archives: Gerry McGovern

We must measure customer time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diversity, polarization and connectivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Partisan Divide on Political Values Grows Even Wider

The Strength of Absent Ties: Social Integration via Online Dating

Google Maps and its unintended consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Data and stories: the perfect combination to drive change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



What we think are facts are often wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What everyone gets wrong about millennial snowflakes, Amanda Ruggeri

Busting the attention span myth

From building trust to building use

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Normal: Viacom young people study

How to Build Trust and Lead Effectively




Metrics drive behavior and culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.