Author Archives: Gerry McGovern.

Evidence, not ego, must drive digital transformation

On a hot and dusty day in Afghanistan, a group of men sat admiring patterns. “Don’t like that one,” said the defence minister. Those around him nodded in agreement. “Don’t like that one, nor that one, nor that one either.” The defence minister was hard to please. “Let’s go browsing on the Web,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. Many faces smiled. “Many pages were visited, and then, finally, the minister gushed: “That’s it! That’s the one!!”
“Perfect!” a chorus of voices chanted.

And so the US Army spent $28 million of US tax payer money on Afghan National Army uniforms in beautiful forest patterns. The slight problem was that only 2.1% of Afghanistan is wooded. The uniforms were a complete waste of money and had to be dumped.

Over the years I have watched in dismay as a disturbing number of senior managers talked about digital transformation strategy as if they were designing a print brochure for a country club. The colors, the colors, the colors—how they loved their colors. And the big cliché images promoting their pet projects. And the gushy, meaningless language.

Digital teams have often had to suffer in silence as a senior manager—often aided by an advertising executive—gutted their well-thought-through design, replacing it with an enormous carousel of vanity and ego.

They mean well, many of these senior people. They’re just clueless when it comes to digital, and very sensitive about exposing their lack of knowledge and understanding. They are supposed to know things, after all. Most of them do indeed know a lot of things about a lot of stuff—just not much about digital.

Evidence is a life raft in these stormy seas of ego, opinion and entrenched habit. It won’t always save you, but without it you will surely drown. Didn’t someone in that room know that only 2.1% of Afghanistan is wooded? If they knew, were they afraid to say anything?

The age of ego-based experts, whether they be senior managers or senior ministers, is on the wane. This is the age of evidence. Big Data is a goldmine of evidence. Everything that happens on the Web—for good or ill—leaves a trail of evidence. We can now know much better than we have ever known, what works and what doesn’t.

Gut instinct, experience and opinion are only useful when what is in front of us is going to be very similar to what is behind us. In a complex world full of surprises and randomness, gut instinct is very often dangerous.

We need new skills. We need people who can quickly and clearly frame a hypothesis, who then rapidly test this hypothesis in as close to a live environment as possible, and then who can properly interpret and act on the data. We need people who know that digital is never done, that it is not a series of projects but rather a stream of continuous improvements.

This requires a degree of inquisitiveness and humility that seems to get trained out of many managers. It requires thinking in connected networks rather than isolated objects and projects. Instead of trying to ‘manage’ the sea of complexity that faces us, we should learn to sail it, constantly adapting based on feedback.

Pentagon ‘wasted $28m’ on Afghan camouflaged uniforms

When to hide and show navigation

Hide navigation when it is disruptive to the journey the customer is on. Show navigation when it is supportive to the journey the customer is on.

The hamburger menu has become notorious as an ill-advised and poorly implemented form of navigation. But hiding navigation in and of itself is not a bad thing. It depends why the navigation is being hidden.

So, why has the hamburger menu got such a bad reputation? Because it was nearly always implemented from an organization-centric point of view. You’d be surprised how many decisions are made based on trying to be cool or ‘innovative.’ Another reason the hamburger menu is often chosen for mobile sites or apps is because of design convenience. Instead of prioritizing the top 3-4 navigation paths, everything gets stuck in a hamburger. It’s a nice, quick, easy fix that rarely works out well.

Sometimes the hamburger is used in an attempt by the organization to control the customer journey. Some organizations still think that if you limit all options on a page to marketing messages then the customer will have no choice but to click and follow one of these marketing journeys. It’s all about controlling the customer journey. This, of course, doesn’t work, but certain organizations like the illusion that they are in control of their customers.

“Discoverability is cut almost in half by hiding a website’s main navigation,” Nielsen Norman found in 2016. “Also, task time is longer and perceived task difficulty increases.” Luke Wroblewski has written extensively on the impact of hamburger menus on a range of mobile apps. In one job search app, changing from hamburger to visible menu resulted in double digit growth in monthly users and visits. For other apps, engagement “plummeted” or “fell drastically” when they implemented the hamburger approach.

According to Wroblewski, “Facebook found that not only did engagement go up when they moved from a “hamburger” menu to a bottom tab bar in their iOS app, but several other important metrics went up as well.”

Sometimes, it makes sense to hide navigation. In the early years, Amazon had a visible navigation for its product categories. But as the range of categories grew, it went to a single “Shop by department” link. However, it compensated for this by having a large, prominent, extremely well-designed search. So, if you have a huge range of stuff to offer, it may be better to lead with search rather than navigation.

Another example of where hiding navigation makes sense is where your customers have a “super task”. This is a task that is way more important than all the other tasks, like booking a flight or a room. Then it may make sense to lead with the actual task itself, and hide the other navigation options.

On a related point, when a customer has chosen a particular journey, it is usually a good idea to hide all the navigation that is not directly relevant to that journey. So, if you visit the Kindle Books section on Amazon, practically every link and piece of navigation on that page relates to Kindle books. The navigation for all the other products Amazon offers have been stripped away so as to allow you to focus on Kindle books.

The core purpose of navigation is to help you progress on the journey you have decided to go on.

Hamburger Menus and Hidden Navigation Hurt UX Metrics, Nielsen Norman Group

Obvious Always Wins: Luke Wroblewski on hamburger menus

It pays to pay attention to current customers

Time spent (minutes per month) on websites was down across all industries in the U.S. in 2016, according to an Adobe report. “Despite time spent being down, visit rates are up 4% year-over-year (YoY) across all industries,” CMO Adobe wrote. This makes sense. The simpler, faster and more convenient you make your website, the more likely a customer is to come back.

Time spent and pages viewed are very dangerous metrics. They reflect the cult of volume approach that has dominated web management thinking for too long. Very poor websites that you have to use (such as government or support sites) can have really high time spent and pages viewed metrics that just reflect the awfulness of their design and management.

Adobe CMO suggests that the reason “time spent could be down is because the most successful companies have likely optimized their website experience to save people time when they are trying to complete tasks online.” True.

But then it quotes Catherine Diaz, senior analysis manager at ADI as saying that, “The need for differentiated experiences has never been greater. The battle is on for consumer time in a highly competitive landscape. Consumers are surrounded with options in this always-on world, and marketers need to surprise and delight their customers in order to win their time.”

This is the wrong focus. In fact, it is the ‘differentiated experience’, the concept of a ‘battle’ for time and attention, and the need to ‘delight’ that often creates the ‘marketing’ environments that are most wasteful of customer time.

Traditional marketers are trained to get attention of potential customers. The best digital marketers focus on paying attention to current customers.

Let’s say I come to my bank website wanting to transfer money. That website or app has my undivided attention as long as it is focused on what I am focused on: transferring money. There is no battle or campaign needed here and no need to delight me. I don’t like transferring money or paying a bill but it has to be done. Just help me do it as quickly and accurately as possible.

But what I find many times is that the bank is battling with me, trying to get my attention for a mortgage or a car loan. Things I absolutely don’t want, things that just annoy and disrupt me.

We dealt with one bank that had wanted to create a “differentiated experience” for its online banking by calling the Login button “NetBank”. They started getting a stream of calls from infuriated customers demanding to know where the “Login” had gone. This shocked management back to reality and they became converts to a radical simplicity approach. They stripped all product advertising from their homepage and just placed dominant login details there. They did place product advertising on the logout page. Visits to the product pages rose by over 500%.

The best organizations today are paying much more attention to the customers they have than in joining ever more costly and losing battles for the customers they don’t have. Customers are switching brands in epidemic proportions. Isn’t that something we should be paying attention to?

Consumers Spending Less Time On Websites Across All Industries

Managing in a post-trust world

For many humans, there is no greater terror than the terror of the unknown. Throughout human history, we have always tried to predict the unpredictable, to manage the unmanageable, to control the uncontrollable. The idea that there is no plan, no purpose, no intent to the world around us is terrifying. Are we just a pawn in some game where the pieces are moved randomly and nobody cares who wins or loses?

For millennia, humans have flocked to any leader or institution that gave them a sense of certainty in an uncertain world. Those who said they could predict the future were revered by desperate believers. Today, more and more of us know enough to know what we don’t know, and to know that the future is essentially unknowable. Equally, we know enough to know that the experts and the leaders don’t know either.

Just because you’re confident and certain and arrogant, just because you spout absolutes and certainties, just because you’re a fundamentalist, makes no difference. You’re guessing like everyone else. The best experts give educated guesses but they’re still guessing. Randomness lurks around every corner; chance, luck and unpredictability wait over the horizon.

“There is a paradox at the heart of the US’s lacklustre economy these days,” The Financial Times stated in May 2017. “Consumers in America are, according to much-watched numbers like the University of Michigan consumer survey, more “confident” than they have been in years. And yet they are spending less than they have since the Great Recession. They are also increasingly skittish.”

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the US consumer was a mystery. They were spending—with their credit cards—like there was no tomorrow. Today, they are spending like they have no clue what will happen tomorrow. Whether they will have a job, whether they will be able to afford their healthcare. The future is uncertain and the system will not protect you from the uncertainties.

Trust has evaporated like dew on a summer morning. And it won’t be back. Blame education. Blame a complex, interconnected world. Blame technology. The robots are coming for your job, whether you work in a factory, office or farm. Blame a corrupt, greedy elite.

“Consider a recent Roosevelt Institute paper showing the stark effect of money on politics, even on the left: for every $100,000 that Democratic representatives received from finance, the odds that they would break with the party’s majority support for the Dodd-Frank legislation increased 13.9 per cent,“ The Financial Times states. “As Allianz’s chief economic adviser Mohamed El-Erian puts it: “You cannot underestimate the economic and political effects of the profound loss of trust that the public has had in the core managers of the global system.”

Trust is not coming back. Skepticism reigns, as it should. Customers go to the Web to compare and verify. The social network is a conversation that is peer to peer, not peer to elite. The game has profoundly changed, yet many organizations delude themselves into thinking that if they can just get their marketing and PR right, they can control the message, control the future. Grand delusion.

What to do? Listen to your customers like you have never listened before. Become a feedback engine. React, adapt, respond. Maximize flexibility and adaptability. Embrace the network. Connect, connect, connect.

US consumers’ trust deficit is permanent

New opportunities for internal communicators

Much of traditional internal communications has been about the delivery of fake news. Staff have not been fooled.

Over the years, it really struck me how the output of most internal communications departments was disconnected from the real needs of the staff in their organizations.

Unfortunately, in many organizations, internal communications is a megaphone for the ego and spin of senior management. Rarely is the result about communicating reality and being upfront and honest with staff. Rather, the focus has been on warping reality and publishing happy clappy content that condescends to its audience. Everything must be positive!

I’m sure there must be organizations out there where this sort of management propaganda works. I just haven’t come across them. Over the years, when I interact with staff outside the communications bubble, they almost universally showed a skepticism and cynicism towards much of the ‘news’ they were getting.

Many of the communicators I have met—particularly younger ones—were aware of their roles as propagandists, and were clearly unhappy with having to do these things. They understood that the world has changed, that staff were far more skeptical and demanding.

When I think back over twenty years of consulting on intranets, it was communicators almost every single time who were the most innovative, who saw the broader picture and the potential to create a digital workspace. The fabric of the digital workspace is words and content. It is such things that make up the digital workspace interface and for all intents and purposes, the interface is the workspace.

When we recently asked staff in a large organization what their top tasks were, about 65% of the vote was for work-related tasks, about 30% was connected with their employment and career. Less than 5% of the vote went to news-related tasks. This is not atypical. Staff have many more sources for news today than they had in the past.

So, what is the role of internal communicators? Huge. Traditionally, organizational information on policies, procedures, guidelines, how-tos, systems and tools, were designed and written for professionals. So, a HR policy was not written with a staff member in mind, but rather with a HR professional in mind, who would know how to interpret and explain a particular policy. A meeting booking system was to be used by secretaries, who would figure out shortcuts through its appalling design because they were using it multiple times a day.

Here’s what then happened. A super-amazing business case was presented. Buy this fabulously fantastic content / document management system. Migrate all the content to it. Fire lots of HR people and secretaries. Let staff self-serve. Watch all those savings roll in!!

This model has been an abysmal failure because nobody can find what they need, and even if they do, they can’t understand it or use it, or else it’s woefully out of date.

Communicators have great basic skills that can turn this mess around. To communicate means to share or exchange information. A good software interface communicates instantly how to use it. A good policy communicates quickly what is and isn’t allowed. A good how-to guide communicates quickly how to solve the problem.

The digital workspace will only truly succeed if it creates content and interfaces that are easily understandable by non-experts and infrequent users. Who better to help do this than a communicator?

Your digital interface is your brand

Do you remember the first impressions you had of a bank? Probably it has something to do with an impressive physical building. When was the last time you were in a physical bank building?

When I grew up the bank building was the most impressive in the town, next to the church. Banks were literally pillars of society. Their physical architectures communicated power, prestige, permanence, security; a premier brand.

I saw a comic strip a while back of a bunch of young people driving down a street. One looks out the window, and on seeing a bank building, comments: “Seems like they’ve built a bank out of the app.”

Our impressions and experiences of brands today are increasingly digital. I talked to a nurse this morning who is doing a Master’s at university. When I told her what I worked at she sheepishly admitted that she “knew nothing about computers.” This woman is a tremendous professional. She’s from a slightly older generation that tends to feel that if they can’t use computer stuff it’s because they’re a bit stupid.

“I can’t find anything on the university system,” she said. “I dread logging into it.”
“It’s not you,” I assured her. “These systems are absolutely appallingly designed. They’re a total disgrace.”
“So, it’s not just me,” she replied, looking relieved.

A while back I came across a university where the digital team was working hard to create a simpler navigation. All of a sudden, the homepage was hijacked by senior management and huge ads were placed on it for the university’s “Building Fund.” In order to raise funds for their new physical building with its wonderful touted architecture, they were willing to destroy the digital information architecture.

When I think about my bank today I don’t think about its physical buildings or its people. I think about the hassle I constantly have with Java every time I visit its site, how the navigation is not simple enough, and how if I have to ring support I can be waiting 10-15 minutes for someone to answer, as some disembodied voice tells me how much the bank cares about me.

I used to be a little awed when I walked into a bank. These were impressive places. Their digital equivalents do not impress. This is partly to do with the fact that what impresses in digital is often the opposite of what impresses in physical. It’s not about ornate stonework and polished wooden panels. It’s much more about speed, simplicity and reliability.

Physical is built with stone, wood and glass. The most essential building blocks of digital are words. Information and technical architecture is judged by its speed and ease of use. A great website has the least possible number of carefully chosen words with minimal, lean graphics designed for speed. It is like a fast elevator that gets you to where you want to go quickly and smoothly.

In the world of digital it is the digital architecture interface that creates the first and lasting impressions. Organizations need to take as much care of their digital buildings as they used to take of their physical buildings.

Optimizing internal efficiency versus customer experience

There was once a company whose packaging was notoriously difficult to open. In fact, a TV program had a competition where it offered a prize for anybody who could open the package without spilling the contents. Nobody won the prize.

Why would an organization do that? Internal efficiency. The organization had sought to minimize the space and area that its prefilled packages would take up, so as to minimize distribution costs. The design it had come up with was optimal from a cost-having point of view, allowing it to put the maximum number of packages on one pallet.

It’s the exact same logic behind automated voice systems, outsourced customer support, and the creation of technical and support documentation. We once measured customer support tasks for a large organization. The failure rates were very high and much of the failure was down to the fact that the content was confusing and unclear. We suggested some simple changes that would significantly increase success rates.

“Not going to happen,” said the manager.

“But the content is really difficult to understand,” I replied. “Can’t we write it in more readable English?”

“No,” she said as she shook her head. “We have strict rules here, and one of them is that we must create unreadable English because that is easier to translate into unreadable German.”

We both laughed but she was being totally serious. The organization was focused on optimizing the content creation and translation process. In other words, it was seeking to publish content in the cheapest possible way.

In another organization, I met a support manager who was about to be promoted because he had introduced third party ads into the support website. He told me that senior management was very impressed, as Support was now being seen as a profit center. For customers trying to solve their problems, the ads were disruptive and annoying, but the current customer experience would always take second place when it came to the optimization of profits.

Distributed publishing has been a key selling point of content management systems over the years. Save costs by getting lots of amateurs to publish, rather than hiring a team of professionals. Of course, it was sold as communities, participation and getting close to the expert. But the reality was lots and lots of junior people being given lots and lots of content and told to publish it as quickly as possible.

Customer experience has risen in importance in recent years not because of some change of heart on the side of organizations. Customer experience has risen in importance because of the rise of customer power. Customers are no longer willing to allow their experiences to be degraded because organizations are pursuing internal efficiencies.

There is a balance, of course. But right now we have a general management culture that is far more focused on cost reduction than on customer experience enhancement. We need a cultural shift, a new type of thinking that places as much emphasis on managing customer experiences as it currently does on managing costs.

The customer is now the advertiser

When I was young, driving down a lonesome country road, seeing a billboard was a nice diversion from the black and white boredom of daily life. Being interrupted from the monotony was a welcome surprise in a world where there was lots of time to kill.

Today, we all drive in Las Vegas. It’s 24-hour non-stop action, and our time and experiences are something we increasingly cherish. There’s so little time, so much to choose from, and we want to do the choosing.

An essential element of the Web is that it gives us more control. In the old world,content was like a long, straight road. But with the invention of the link, we get vastly more choices about where and when we can turn and head in another direction. The search engine is like a car that we can steer and accelerate in the direction we want to go. Our smartphones are designed to react instantly to a tap or a swipe. Digital gives us so much more and puts us in control and we love it. Digital listens to us as our personal assistants waits patiently for our command.

In this new invigorating and exhausting world sits a grumpy old uncle, whining and moaning in the corner about the good old days, and complaining about how nobody listens to him anymore. Uncle Advertising still has a lot of wealth and power, but to the younger generations and the better educated, he is an annoying bore, constantly interrupting with irrelevant and useless pieces of ridiculousness. “Society doesn’t need advertising like it used to,” a Forrester report published in May 2017 states. “People have less time for interruption-driven media.” The report predicts that over the next twelve months, some $2.9 billion will be removed from digital banner / display advertising budgets.

How display / banner advertising ever achieved such massive budgets is a testament to human stupidity and the inability to stop doing what you got trained in grad school to do. You’re as likely to get hit by lightning or climb mount Everest with one hand tied behind your back, as click on a banner ad. (According to Adage, the average click through rates are 0.35%, and most of those who do click are bored people with no intention to purchase, or else they’re fraud bots.)

What’s the future? The future is where the brands have to start driving down the road, their eyes and ears watching and listening attentively for the advertising that the consumers are making. Yes, it’s been turned on its head. In digital, the consumer is now the advertiser. A search on Google, or an instruction to Amazon’s Alexa, can be your ad for something you are interested in.

The future is for those who listen – truly listen – to what customers are saying, and then respond appropriately and quickly. If you work for a large organization, then how difficult is it to actually listen and respond to customers? I know. I know. Incredibly difficult. But it is the digital listeners and responders who will master the information superhighway.

Pause That Depresses: Forrester Sees Advertiser Revolt as Beginning of the End

The End Of Advertising As We Know It: Forrester report

Customer journeys need to be defined by customers

The journey the organization would prefer the customer to go on is not usually the journey the customer wants to go on.

When you get through security, the airport sends you on a ‘customer journey’ through duty free shopping whether you want to go shopping or not. The airport forces you tospend more time getting to your gate. The airport feels that it has delivered a great customer experience if you have wasted time and money on things you didn’t really need to buy. That’s because the customer of the airport is not you. The ‘customer’ of the airport is the shop trying to sell you stuff.

Imagine if Google Maps approached customer journey design the same way. A few months ago, I needed to get from San Jose to Sacramento. Being used to driving on the left, I was a bit nervous as I set off in my rental car. I was depending on Google Maps.

Imagine if as I typed in “Sacramento” Google said: “How about going to San Francisco, instead? We’ve got great deals in San Francisco!”

“No, thanks, Google!” Or, imagine if halfway through the journey, Google maps told me to take the next exit. Then it gave me a series of directions and I ended up queuing at a McDonald’s drive thru. Would I be having a great customer experience?

Instead, Google regularly informed me that I was on the “fastest route.” At home, I have a very expensive navigation system in my car. I don’t use it. Through experience, I have found that Google has the fastest route. The fastest route is nearly always the best customer journey, the best customer experience.

You can’t design a great customer experience if your business model is to exploit your customers. And that is the business model for a great many organizations: to sell their customers things they don’t really need at the highest possible prices.

Customer experience is the experience the customer wants to have, not the experience the organization wants the customer to have. There are still lots of foolish customers but there’s not as many of them as there used to be.

The reason customer experience is now such a big issue is not because organizations have suddenly seen the light. It’s because customers have become much more powerful, much more informed, and much less brand-loyal.

The new digital competitors who are looking to challenge traditional banks, retailers, universities, etc. are all offering the following benefits over the old way of doing business: simplicity, convenience and value. Your complexity and high margins are your digital competitor’s opportunity.

For a lot of traditional organizations, in their complexity lies their profit. The more complex they make things for the customer, the bigger the profit. Complexity creates dependence. Complexity feeds ignorance, which allows an opening for emotional manipulation.

Governments and commercial organizations have thrived by creating ever more complex customer journeys. Profit for a government is measured based on its size and its control over its citizens. This is not necessarily a deliberate strategy, as it’s the most natural thing in the world to want to be bigger and more in control.

Great customer journey design always begins with knowing the journey the customer wants to go on. That requires extensive research and a deep understanding of your customers. The best customer journey is the shortest route, the fastest time.

Customer obsession defines Amazon and digital

To stay relevant in the digital landscape, organizations must develop an obsessive customer focus.

In the U.S., more stores are likely to close in 2017 than during the height of the great
recession in 2008. Those retailers who have committed to digital are not finding it easy
either. In 2016, Amazon accounted for 53% of all sales ecommerce growth, according
to EMarketer. Those are astonishing figures.

How is Amazon so much better than everybody else? Because it has a “true customer
obsession,” according to Jeff Bezos. Many organizations have a fake customer
obsession. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

Amazon truly believes in putting the customer first. “Good inventors and designers
deeply understand their customer,” Bezos stated. “They spend tremendous energy developing
that intuition. They study and understand many anecdotes rather than only the averages
you’ll find on surveys. They live with the design.”

The key to success is getting to know your customers better than they know
themselves. “There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach,” Bezos
explains, “but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully
dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they
don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight
customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.”

An obsession with the customer experience is nothing new for the great brands. It’s how
Walmart, Starbucks and McDonald’s grew. Bezos believes that the decay and ultimate
demise of an organization begins when it starts to lose touch with its customers. To
grow, an organization must constantly renew its obsession with its customers.

Instead, many organizations become obsessed with their processes, procedures,
internal structure and culture. They lose touch with their customers. Instead of saying:
“How do I please my customer”, it becomes: “How do I please my manager.” Thus
organizations lose the feel for their customers, and can no longer properly interpret
whatever customer research or data they receive.

A primary objective of digital teams should be to keep the organization in touch with
their customers. To show the rest of the organization what it’s really like to be a
customer. Digital must also create an environment of continuous improvement founded
on the principle that the customer is forever dissatisfied. They will always respond well
to better value offers, to more convenience, to greater speed and simplicity.

The danger is that in many organizations, digital is doing the exact opposite. It is seen
as a way to remove contact with the customer, to get them to self-serve; not necessarily
because it’s better for the customer, but because it’s cheaper for the organization.

These are the organizations that are in the greatest danger. They use digital to reduce
costs, and as a result they reduce touch and contact with (as well as understanding of
and empathy for) their customers. In such environments, latent customer dissatisfaction
blossoms and competitors will pounce.

A customer obsession begins with constantly thinking about the customer, rather than
constantly thinking about the design, the content, the code, the process, or your boss.
Unfortunately, obsessing about your boss is how you progress in most organizations.

This is the Jeff Bezos playbook for preventing Amazon’s demise