An Interface Refresh Can Revitalize Existing Features

Refreshing an interface feels new, even when it does nothing that actually is new.


The Strategic Brief:
Applications are not always brand new. We all use many applications that have been in use for years, perhaps decades. For mobile applications, refreshing the interface is a requirement, rather than a nice to have. If you are lucky, it will be delivered by updates to the underlying OS at little development cost (e.g. notifications in iOS 10). If unlucky, matching your interface to the esthetic of an OS may require you to redesign your app from the ground up. If done well, redesign can be more than refreshing for customers, it can be reengaging.


Refreshing an application interface can reenergize your users
In kicking the tires of iOS 10, there are clear changes in experience for existing features. A noticeable one is notifications. Notifications still do what they always did – an application calls an API to let the owner know a piece of information by displaying it on the lock screen. It is still notifying .. but it looks like a new feature.
I reacted viscerally and immediately to the new notification style. It feels like a new feature. It makes me want to pay attention to the notifications more often and more deeply. I am re-engaged with notifications. It feels new, though it does nothing that actually is new.
See the before and after shots from Politico below.
before

iOS 9 Notifications

after

iOS 10 Notifications

The design, coding, testing and quality assurance around refreshing an interface costs money. It can even cost more than adding a new feature. If the user interface code is not isolated within the application code, a refresh can involve changes to a significant number of modules.

Public Betas are a two-edged sword

In the above example, Apple invested even further by offering a public beta as well. A beta means your feature receives significant testing before general availability. A public beta also introduces risk. If early reactions are negative, the release’s reputation is sullied. This uncertainty is mitigated by the ability to address problems before the product is released. Coordinating and supporting all the people involved in a public beta is an additional expense for a refresh.

Is refreshing an interface a good or bad idea?

Like everything in technology, the answer is .. “it depends”. If you are lucky, you may get a free refresh. In iOS10 – your code calls the same API but the underlying operating system gives the result a refreshed appearance. The display looks different, as in the Notifications example above.(1) Sometimes, the operating system or framework will force a refresh on you.If it changes it’s navigation esthetic, you may have to redesign your app from the ground up to match. Users expect consistency in their experience.

Making happier customers

If your goal is to improve the user experience, you will need usage details from your customers. If you have enough specifics to understand how your customers use the feature today, you stand a good chance of reworking the interface to optimize the common tasks. If you are not tracking usage, then an interface refresh is more likely to be an egotistical exercise of how your developers think it should be used.

Refreshing an interface may elongate an aging product’s lifespan

A young application grows by adding more features. Eventually the application matures and may not need more features. To keep the revenue alive, product managers will still want further releases. The good news is that every year the industry identifies new and more efficient navigation techniques. Adding these into an aging product is a valuable way to revitalize the product, and give yourself an additional version to release.


1. Though a little cheeky, you could try to claim this as an application refresh.

Personalization Becomes Participation (In the Words of Monty Python)

Customers are individuals, and participate more deeply in response to a meaningful level of personalization.

The Strategic Brief:

If you are stepping up to responsibility for Customer Experience (CX) in your business, you may be considering the title as Chief Experience Officer or CEO. However, your CEO may question others having the same acronym as themselves, so the industry uses CXO. There is a better choice – Chief Participation Officer. Customers are individuals, and respond more deeply to a meaningful level of personalization. The real result of focus on customer experience is more than connection or engagement or permission to market. Participation with you as a business is the true success criteria for customer experience management.

 

Technology promises a personal customer experience for the hoi polloi.

“You’re all individuals!” declared Brian to his followers in the Monty Python film. The devotees responded in unison, “Yes, we’re all individuals!”. Lovely irony. Yet when I use an Automatic Teller Machine, I do not get to feel much like an individual. I receive a set of default options for my withdrawal; the same as everyone on the planet. What if the bank tracked my regular behavior and offer that amount and combination of notes as the first option to me? Decades have passed since the ATM was introduced in the early 1960’s. Meanwhile, the difference in customer experience from the first ATM and a current one is basically the addition of a color touchscreen.
The personalized experience used to be exclusive to the extremely wealthy. Downton Abbey gives tantalizing glimpses of such lifestyles. If wealthy enough, you could define how each aspect of the day would unfold for you: fresh flowers present before you awoke; medium poached eggs over a crispy bagel served to your bed; bath temperature set to your preference; clothes laid out; shoes shone; rose petals thrown on the steps as you exit towards your chaffer-driven transport. (1)

We never really got the individual experience.

The web was meant to get personal. Computer technology has always asked for your personal data and promised the individual experience in return. Does it feel that individual? On a modern website, the extent of personalization is often limited to showing a username and maybe some basic configuration settings. Commonly, you do not even get to re-organize menu items based on the options you commonly use. Amazon is well-known for its’ recommendations based on your purchases. Have you had the experience of seeing recommendations after you have made the purchase? You already have it, why show you recommendations that could only trigger buyers remorse? (2)
Smartphones moved technology into a personal scale. The device is both individual to a single user, and powerful enough to support a unique user-based experience. By allowing applications, mobile technology delivers access to information that can be customized to your specific interests and needs. Yet most applications fail to support meaningful personalization, let alone support disability access.

Developers misunderstand the value of exploiting the data that their customers share with them. While it is reasonable to exploit the data for your company’s benefit, you also need to reward your customers an exceptional customer experience.
The side benefit of personalization is that it requires a deeper understanding of the overall customer experience. What is really going on in the interaction? Why is the consumer there? What do you get? What do they get? Such detailed examination will often allow removal of many less important aspects of the interaction for both parties. You need to reach the experiential point where the customer participates with you. They can easily identify why they are using your offering, and are prepared to share that information through online reviews, feedback sessions with product teams, discussion forums. They are not just engaged, they participate.

Participation Scorecard.

Try this score-card to see how you deliver on key aspects of personal customer experience. This is not a complete list, but intended to give an instant status check of where your current participation health today. See how you score out of ten with each being worth one point.

  • You measure and set goals for the participation level from your customers – how many stars will they give your company this month? (be careful to watch the ratio of how often you ask against how often they use your services)
  • You measure and set goals for the participation value to your business – how many stars would the company give to these interactions with this consumer? (answering the is it worth it question)
  • Your application design process brings customers into the partnership (not just indirectly via product management)
  • Your delivered services have responsive design – they function and feel the same whether mobile app, web, face-to-face, etc.)
  • Your design values feature discoverability, feedback, proper mapping, appropriate use of constraints, the power to undo one’s operations, above prettiness or trendiness – though beauty is sometimes and effective delivery system
  • You keep information concurrent information across locations – if i just paid my bill via the web, don’t show it as outstanding on my mobile app
    You ensure applications reflect how customer decisions affect the outcome – e.g.  ordering a different item changes the expected delivery time
  • You get your code to do the work instead of your customer by automatically tuning the experience based on how we use your application – e.g. ‘we notice you use the share price page quite often, can we move this to your home page? Yes/no’
  • You make the data you have on your customer exportable so they can easily see and analyze what you know about them – e.g. Facebook’s ad preferences; Uber’s customer rating
  • You empower privacy for your customers by always using opt-in approaches and never a default checkbox – building a trusting relationship with the consumer so they will share information with you freely. NOTE: This is where the personalization will pay off. As users see how you use data to make their life better, and save them time or money; they will be prepared to share more details with you.

Update: Some suggest Uber as an exemplary personalized experience. Not so. Uber is the ‘Santa Claus’ experience – knowing if you have been naughty or nice. Uber puts coal in the drivers stocking if they have been naughty (and does this to the customer as well). Though Uber was more personalized than the default taxi experience, it fails for not personalizing the interface. If I never use for a delivery service, the UberRUSH option should eventually move itself off the main menu. That would be a personalized experience. Also for the sight-challenged, how about a method to get the drivers name and number plate in a huge font as the car arrives?

 

  1. Ok, I have never been that wealthy, but I imagine that is what would happen.
  2. Hmm. Could it be they their advertising revenue more important than your experience as a customer?

Delight is the Success Criteria for Application Code



The Strategic Brief:

The hardest decision in coding applications is to admit your users are NOT delighted – and that you have to rebuild. It takes discipline to move application development from functional to delightful. It can only happen when there is clearly understanding by coders of the purpose of the code. Connecting coders to customers is hard work. It takes deeper effort from product managers and marketing teams, though the payoff is worth it.



Public speaking is supposed to be one of the most stressful events in life. Luckily, I am pretty comfortable in front of audiences. As a musician in bands, I was lucky enough to perform before thousands. It was ok because I was part of a band. My inner critic could interpret success or failure as being caused by other members of the band! 😉 (It was the bassist’s fault, or the singer never won the audience). Then a friend asked me to read my poetry in a public forum before an audience of about 30 people. Yikes! The poetry was my own words and thoughts, performed by me. Solo. Whether the audience applauded or threw vegetables, it was solely down to me. They were judging me personally. Yikes!!

One of the things I love about code is that code does not judge. Code either compiles or fails. It runs or it does not. Code does not care what clothes I have on. There is no human value judgement involved with coding. Except that is not true.

Code has no value or quality on its own.

Until code has a user, it is the bad poetry that never leaves your high school diary. Using code makes it real – the user gives code purpose. The value judgement in code is what it does for a user. Airbnb makes finding a bed in a foreign town easier. The binary nature of code function is decided by whether a user can find a bed or not. The quality of code is found in the experience of the user.

Compare coding an application to making a movie. Director Jon Favreau describes the movie editing process. “The first [compilation of the film from the editor] you view is terrible! Each edit makes the film less terrible. Then somewhere in the process it starts to be good … and maybe even great.” Like a movie, the application code begins as terrible. Edits make it less terrible, and eventually the code runs. It is functional. HERE IS WHERE FAILURE HIDES. If you get to running, functional code and think the job is done. Well, sorry, you failed. The movie director is not even done once they get to a good edit. Movie directors then perform test screenings to see how audiences react. Based on audience reactions, reshoots are performed, final edits are made and then the film is complete. Running code gets you to the first alpha test. Here you should be both looking for user response, as well as bugs.

Sometimes delight is baked in. You were lucky enough to identify the delightful aspect for your customer during a sprint or early mockup phase. Sometimes delight is serendipity, in the coding process you find something beautiful to reveal to customers. Sometimes you get to functional and delight is still not there. The hardest choice to make is to admit your users are NOT delighted – and that you got it wrong – and you have to rebuild (or reshoot in movie terms). If coders cannot be users of the code themselves, you must connect them to customers, not just product managers. Code must be seen in use to understand delight in its’ use.

Applications have one distinct difference to movies. Movies get one distribution, or maybe an additional director’s cut. Applications get multiple versions. On the plus side, this allows you to address challenges over time. However, be careful this does not turn into the dependency on the adage of ‘we will delight them in the next release’.

EDIT: Reader’s asked what happened with the poetry reading? The audience applauded, but I realized I was better with processors than poetry. 😉

Is DevOps Enough in a SaaS World?

 

Strategic Brief:

The devops approach was meant to give us agile development AND more manageable applications – reducing cost of operations and making apps more reliable. Being close to ops helps, but it is not the full story. It works well for individual applications, but can miss the complex interactions between applications, and between applications and the users or consumers who operate them. The Sprint approach that grew up within Google is good as a starting point, but a more continuous relationship needs to grow out of it.

 

 

When I was a system programmer, I worked on a project setting up a HL7 (1) communication network for a group of hospitals. In early configurations, different applications processed HL7 transactions at different rates, so you needed a queuing mechanism to allow backlogs to be solved without losing data. So far, so good. Except, each laboratory application and queuing application was developed separately and often came from different vendors. Even within the same application, each component might have its own commands to collect information on transactions. Developers gave no thought to the operational need for measuring and managing the overall queues once in production. (Developers over here, operations over there).

This hot mess went live.

The phone calls began. Hospitals complaining about laboratory results not getting back to the wards in time. It turned out that some format errors caused transactions to get stuck in the queues (the application code definitely under-delivered in dealing with variances in field content). Operations needed a way to see what was going on between the applications.

An in-house developer created a complex PERL script triggered the various commands, cleaned up the results, and reported on the queues. The first attempt revealed all the details of the queues. Yippee, development solved the problem.

DevOps will only solve part of the problem.

Now operations had ALL the details, but without any meaningful way to interpret and act on it. Operations did not know what to identify as an impending problem. How long a delay was acceptable in a hospital? (Developers over here, operations over there, customers further out.)

Finally, the developers met with some nurses (customers!) to understand the ‘time’ requirement. The goal was that a transaction from labs to bedside should always be faster than the time for a human (generally a nurse) to physically run there.

A rewrite of a script highlighted queues approaching thresholds. Now meaningful thresholds could be set and recommended actions be added in. The stuck transactions were flagged for development to sort out. If queues got too long, the relevant hospital could be informed to switch over to manual delivery of results to wards. The angry phone calls stopped.

  1. A little background. HL7 is a standard for transfer of clinical information between various healthcare applications.

The ‘I’ in CIO is for Information



The Strategic Brief:

For the last sixty years, the title for the person in charge of IT should really have been the Chief Digitization Officer rather than Chief Information Officer (CIO). Today’s technology enables the CIO to focus on information as well as technology. As CIO, you must own the connection of your customers to your business – the customer experience (CX). Personalizing this experience will require collecting more information about your customers. There are multiple information collection approaches, and you must select those that will give you sufficient details, and more importantly match the type of relationship desired with your customers.



For decades, the purpose of information technology was to capture and store information about the business. The 1957 Hepburn/Tracy classic “Desk Set” tells the story of “two extremely strong personalities clashing over the digitization of a TV network’s research department.” (1) In the film, the news research department was humans, books, papers and all of that knowledge was being digitized. Digitizing existing information was all the rage.

google-ngram-frequency-of-cio-1920-2000

Chief Information Officers (CIO) have existed since World War II, yet for the first seventy years it may have been more accurate to call them Chief Digitization Officers. They were responsible for taking processes and information from analog to digital. Now, with mobile applications and the internet of things (IoT), the job is changing enough that they are finally earning the ‘I’ in the title.

For decades, CIO’s spent most of their time on acquiring real estate to house computers; operating the computers, networks and storage; developing or buying needed software; connecting devices to the centralized systems; and managing the people needed to make all this happen. IT was really digitizing existing processes – instead of bank tellers handwriting deposits in giant tomes with manually totaled results, they entered the deposit into a computer. Companies did not learn that much more about their customers, they were merely digitizing existing information. In simple terms, that early CIO focused on the ‘technology’ part of information technology, not on the information part.

Leap forward sixty years to 2016’s omnipresent mobile applications and accompanying personalization. IT now moves well beyond the role of digitizing processes into owning the connection of the business to the customer. The new CIO will now own the frontline customer experience (CX). Customer experience personalization is a crucial survival tenet for 2016.

In addition to all the technical responsibilities above, the CIO must now focus on the ‘information’ part of IT. To support customer experience, and in particular personalization, a business must collect and understand significantly more information about the customer. A critical component of customer trust will be clearly explaining why you are collecting and using the information and how you are protecting the customer during and after collection. (This is so important, it will get a separate article with deeper analysis soon).

With each generation in society, the relationship between a customer and a business becomes more digital than IRL (2). Take the example of enterprise software vendors in a sales cycle for a new technology. Previously, the vendor team would visit the client and explain the new technology to initiate the sales process. Today enterprise IT staff use the internet and social networks to discover and research new technologies. Once the technology is identified, the IT team seek out the vendors offering the needed features. Most of the sales cycle is done before a salesperson even enters the conversation. Technology supporting self service is only the first step in IT involvement in the customer experience.

The takeaway is that while existing information must still be aggregated and connected, significantly more new information must also be attained to support improving the customer experience. This is now a key requirement for the business relationship with customers, and must be handled with finesse. Base how you will collate information on the nature of the relationship you want with your customers. We can transform our relationships with our customers by making the technology part of IT take a step back and focusing on the information part. The CIO is finally earning the ‘information’ part of their title.

  1. For fun, compare how computers are portrayed in that film versus the ‘Mr Robot’ TV series. For more fun, compare Hepburn’s job to Google.
  2. In Real Life