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. 😉

One App to Rule Them All (Why Messaging Matters)

 

Strategic Brief:

Are you processing credit card transactions on a website or mobile application? Maybe you offer a hosting service, or build business websites. Get ready, the nature of the web business transaction is changing. You should already have a strategy for accepting transactions from players like Apple’s Messages, WeChat and Facebook Messenger. When supporting Instant Messenger transactions, you will need more than purchase buttons. Sourcing AI-bot technology will be a requirement to support the presale and purchase conversations via these messenger applications.

 

U! S! A! Number One!!

We have heard the chant at ball games, olympics, and in convention centers. It seems an irrevocable truth (to Americans). Even knowing that it was not true in every circumstance, information technology is one sector where that leadership has remained for decades.

From the IBM mainframes of the 50’s, through distributed systems, PC’s, the internet, smart phones, and wearables, the US has commonly led the invention and adoption of technology for consumer usage. Competition drove this leadership.

US mobile applications began with potpourri approach.

Currently, the US mobile application economy relies on a flurry of different apps each eyeing a small piece of the pie from our needs and services. Need a car, try Uber or Lyft. Need to park a car, try Luxe. Need food, try Seamless. Need accomodation, try Airbnb. Want to update your friends, try Facebook. Catching up with friends on video, try Skype. Want to buy a cup of coffee, try Starbucks. Looking for a camera, try BandH. Want to listen to music, Spotify. Want to shop online, try Amazon. Want to know if a restaurant is good, try Yelp. Want to pay for something with someone you do not know, try PayPal. (Hmm, just realized I have 190 applications on my smartphone. Need help managing credentials for all these applications, try 1Password.)

This is competition at its best, right? Players competing in the specific field until one comes out as the consumer default. Sometimes though, don’t you get tired of entering credit card details in each, and creating a new login and thinking of a new password?

China disrupts with a unified model.

WeChat is the ultimate ‘platform’ player, offering all the services described above and more embedded within a single application. In China, fixed price items, like a croissant, come with a QR code; just scan it from WeChat and you have paid. One login for shopping, food, travel advice, accomodation, and staying in touch with friends. To give you an idea of scale, by offering a ‘lottery’ approach to gifting friends WeChat Wallet grew 100 million users in a single month (1) – over three million per day – from what started as a messaging application.

US leadership in mobile applications initially defined the market. For WeChat, entering the field later let them observe existing players on the US playing field and gather together the approaches into a single platform for the Chinese market they understood well.

So far, WeChat is limited to a Chinese artifact, with only 10% of active users outside of China. I first learned of the application from Chinese students when a panel judge for an NYU Master course. For now, it does not need to worry about competition from US players in the Chinese market. The diversity of applications needed to match WeChat makes the existing user base a tough mountain for any intruder to climb.

The challenge for WeChat will be to find a footing in other countries against incumbents. If your family is already on Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat, what will motivate you to switch to WeChat? (Hint: Consultants with strong in-country connections for regions with distinct cultural and business idioms like the EU, should be pounding on owner Tencent Holdings door).

US mobile application companies now seen responding.

Facebook Messenger introduced the ability to transfer money inside the application. They did not see 100 million new users resulting from their approach, so expect further attempts.

While most coverage of Apple’s WWDC conference highlighted the planned additions of ‘stickers’ into Apple’s Messages application – the feature with subtle impact is the support of API’s. This will permit application developers to connect into Messages for communicaiton, and also allow them to connect into Apple Pay for business transactions. Want to participate in a paid treasure hunt in New York CIty? Imagine registering on Messages and receiving a calendar reminder and map location in reply giving you instant directions to a starting point and an invitation to a Messages group. When you meet up there, the guide shows a QR code for you to scan. Once your payment is approved, you receive a PDF in iBooks that gives you the directions, clues and treasures to find. Everything happening on the Messages platform.

WeChat has a stronger feature set today. It is in front of US leaders like Facebook and Apple. The US does not like to be number two. The next two years are going to be very interesting in global mobile platforms.

  1. Acknowledging http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-09/life-in-the-people-s-republic-of-wechat as the source of the 100 million new user number.

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