We’re all online. And we’re spending more and more of our time there. Strategy must change because of online.
Online is everywhere. It is impacting practically everything we do; from how we interact with friends, to how we buy things, to how we deal with our health and taxes.
Online is not something that can be neatly separated from the rest of the organization. It affects every aspect of the organization, from its employees to its customers. So, for that reason, you don’t need an online strategy. You need a single organizational strategy that is heavily influenced by online.
Online is about service. For example, we go online to get service and support for something we own. We also buy products through a process of self-service, and increasingly we buy services online. (Microsoft Office, for example, used to be a product, now it is an online service.)
Products thrive on the complexity sell. Services offered in an information-overloaded world thrive on the simplicity sell. The route to simplicity is through rapid, continuous, incremental improvements. Get it out there as quickly as possible and then quickly improve it based on customer feedback.
To develop strategy you need to have an in-depth understanding of your strengths. You need to understand your competitors and industry. But you also need to understand your customers and the society within which you operate. Online is making customers and society bigger and more powerful players, so they now play a much more central role in strategy development.
The customer isn’t king anymore. They’re dictator. They are going to get more demanding and powerful. That’s why your strategy needs to be centered on them.
Strategy is hard. “Most companies do not have a strategy,” Freek Vermeulen, Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School, states. He thinks most organizations cycle between drifting and reacting. “To be emphatically blunt,” he states, “most companies and their top executives do not have a good rationale for doing the things they are doing and cannot explain coherently how their actions should lead to superior performance.”
A. G. Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble and Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management agree. Authors of a book on strategy, Playing To Win, they believe a great many companies do not have a strategy and that managers often confuse strategy with having a vision or a plan.
How do you know an organization has no strategy when it comes to online? They talk about being for everyone. The website is full of content that is never updated and never removed. They want to be in all markets and deal with all audiences. They want to answer everyone’s questions. They are unable to make choices, to prioritize. “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do,” Michael Porter, a pioneer in strategic thinking, has stated.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on,” Steve Jobs said at the Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference in 1997. “But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” And as Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning emphasizes, “Your greatest indicator of success is how many ideas you kill.”
This is an excerpt from “Strategy & Online: How online is changing the game and the playing field for strategy development.” Read it online at:
QUALITY SEARCH REQUIRES QUALITY PEOPLE
On its own, search technology will not help us find the right things quickly. We need human expertise and human management.
There is a paradox happening today. Google is seen as delivering an indispensable service for modern life. Apple’s Siri and I.B.M.’s Watson are becoming better and better at getting us the right answers. And yet within most organizations there is close to zero investment in helping either customers or employees find things quickly.
I work with large organizations and I always end up asking them how many dedicated resources they allocate to search management. Zero. Zilch. Nada. On the rare occasions that there are some resources allocated they are nearly always technical.
It’s a strange situation. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a major part of marketing. It’s about helping organizations get found in Google and other search engines. But organizations have a blind spot when it comes to helping customers find things using their own search engines.
Partly it’s down to the belief that once you buy a search engine you’ve solved your problems. The idea that we need dedicated resources to optimize findability is not yet understood.
Google has always tapped into the human element when it comes to improving findability. “Google uses human helpers in two ways,” Steve Lohr writes for the New York Times. “Several months ago, it began presenting summaries of information on the right side of a search page when a user typed in the name of a well-known person or place, like “Barack Obama” or “New York City.” These summaries draw from databases of knowledge like Wikipedia… These databases are edited by humans.”
“Other human helpers,” Lohr continues, “known as evaluators or raters, help Google develop tweaks to its search algorithm, a powerhouse of automation, fielding 100 billion queries a month.”
“There has been a shift in our thinking,” said Scott Huffman, an engineering director in charge of search quality at Google. “A part of our resources are now more human curated. Our engineers evolve the algorithm, and humans help us see if a suggested change is really an improvement.”
But Google has always depended on the social web. When it originally launched, its secret weapon was linking. The more links a page got the higher it tended to rank. Links are like votes. Links are created by people.
Now, let’s go back to SEO. There are millions of searches every month for SEO services and Amazon lists almost 3,000 books that mention SEO. There is an army of SEO people out there working very hard to create webpages that are as findable as possible by Google. So, again, we have a human-machine interaction.
According to Steve Lohr’s article, “Twitter uses a far-flung army of contract workers, whom it calls judges, to interpret the meaning and context of search terms that suddenly spike in frequency on the service.” In the presidential debates when Mitt Romney mentioned “Big Bird” in the context of cutting funding for public broadcasting, the term “Big Bird” spiked in search behavior. The human experts helped immediately steer these searches away from Sesame Street and towards political topics.
Organizations are really missing out on the major benefits that arise when their customers and employees can find things quickly. To embrace the opportunity we need to invest in findability experts.
Algorithms Get a Human Hand in Steering Web
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Today, the number one challenge of the web professional is as a change manager.
Most organizations are simply not ready for the modern world the Web is driving. But what exactly is the modern world? Is it all about technology? Is it all about content?
Absolutely not. Technology and content are the disrupters. They are forcing the change but they are most definitely not what the change is about. What the explosion in technology and content has brought about is a world where customers know an awful lot more about organizations and where organizations know (or at least have the potential to know) an awful lot more about customers.
It is a world where understanding and organizing around the customer is essential to success. That is not how most organizations are organized. It is not how most organizations think. Most organizations have an organization-centric culture, not a customer-centric one.
A web professional’s number one challenge is to champion and promote a customer-centric culture. Without that, practically everything else is useless, or in fact counter-productive.
The need to be customer-centric is just as important for intranets, where the customer is the employee. I know how hard it is. Traditional communications departments are often led by a senior management that is used to command and control. The intranet is seen as a vehicle through which senior management tells staff how to think and behave. That world is gone.
Lifelong employment and unquestioned loyalty and obedience are from another age. Today’s employees want to advance their careers through quality training and career development. They want the intranet to help them do that quickly and easily. They are tired of bland ‘feel good’ propaganda news stories. They want an intranet that helps them become more productive and collaborative. Something that is easy to use, which most intranets are not.
Senior managers, in particular, are struggling to come to terms with the new world. However, there is a general consensus that customer satisfaction is key to future success. Web professionals must leverage that and become customer satisfaction champions.
We must show how to increase customer satisfaction. That often begins with showing how dissatisfied customers currently are with their web experience. Here, the statistics don’t cut it. I have told managers that 60% of customers quickly abandon a particular page, representing thousands of customers a day. It simply doesn’t register. But when I show a video of a couple of these customers actually abandoning the page in frustration, that does register.
There is no immediate success. It is a constant process of championing the customer and it takes years. And you will never achieve total success. Unless there is a continuous effort to put the customer experience at the center of everything that is done, organization-centric thinking will re-emerge. Remember, it is wholly unnatural for most organizations to be customer-centric.
Changing the culture of an organization is not easy but it is possible. Without the introduction of a truly customer-centric culture organizations will struggle to succeed in this modern age of the empowered customer.
ONLINE PROFESSIONAL PRINCIPLES & CHALLENGES 2012
We are sitting on a goldmine when it comes to our online presence; but we are managing it like a coalmine. There is tremendous consensus among the 1,000 online professionals surveyed in December 2012 that we must:
1. Ensure customers can quickly and easily complete their top tasks.
2. Make decisions based on evidence and facts, not opinions.
3. Identify our customers’ top tasks based on what they do, not on what they say they do.
4. Keep content as concise and simple as possible.
5. Act on customer feedback and behavior—don’t simply collect and observe it.
However, there is also widespread frustration. We feel that professional management is grossly lacking, that there is a chasm between online professionals and senior managers. That we lack the resources to do even the basics such as updating and removing content. Many of us feel that organizational ego is what drives decision-making. This is true whether people are working on intranets, public websites or mobile web. It is true whether we work in the public or private sector.
Enough complaining. It’s time to act. What are we going to do about it? It’s not as if we’re trying to justify the pony express in the age of the automobile. We are selling the future, and we need to sell it better. We need to communicate better. Our primary role is as change managers. Our first job is to make our organizations Internet-ready. We need to sell the vision with passion, reason, and logic.
We need good metrics. Surprisingly few of us saw metrics as a key challenge, but in my opinion it is THE challenge. The metrics we use today—HITS, visitors, page views, time spent—belong to the Cult of Volume. They don’t communicate value.
We voted overwhelmingly that our number one principle must be to “ensure customers can quickly and easily complete their top tasks.” Well then, what should our key metric be? Task completion. We must measure how quick and easy it is for our customers to complete their top tasks. We need to consistently inform senior management of such things as:
• 50% of our customers can’t even complete this top task.
• 40% of customers take more than 4 minutes to complete this top task when it should only take them 1 minute.
• An improvement in task completion has led to a 10% reduction in support calls.
• Conversion has gone up by 50% after we reduced time on task by 20%.
“Every customer task is important. Give all tasks equal priority.” This is the absolute bottom principle. It received 25 of your votes out of 15,135 cast. That’s progress. 10 years ago the idea that we should publish everything and the magical content management system or search engine would sort it all out was all the rage. We have our principles right. Now we need to convince the rest of the organization. Let’s rise to the challenge.
Report: Online Professional Principles & Challenges 2012 (PDF 360 KB) http://gerrymcgovern.newsweaver.ie/896ro31zkqgfnqwh0fvw3q?email=true&i=2&a=6&p=32537225&t=23141705
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The Internet has become so pervasive that people don’t think they are on it anymore, even when they are.
An online study by Forrester Research of 58,000 U.S. adults found that in 2011 they were spending an average of 21.9 hours online, while in 2012 they were spending an average of 19.6 hours online. Can that be true? No.
“Despite the fact that they always have connected devices and are always online, they don’t really realize they’re online,” said Forrester analyst Gina Sverdlov. “They’re using Google Maps or checking in on Facebook, but that’s not considered online because it has become such a part of everyday life.”
Most of the time, you just can’t trust what people tell you. You have to observe what they do, not what they say they do.
For most people does “online” and “offline” even exist anymore? When someone’s phone is always online are they always online? Are they only really offline when they’re asleep? And does it matter?
I hear a lot of debate these days about what to call the intranet. Many intranets have gotten a really bad name among employees. They are a place where you waste time at work trying to find that thing that’s hidden among layers and layers of unsearchable and unnavigable junk. So, we need to change the name of the intranet to something like digital workplace and maybe we’ll start getting some respect.
But does it really matter what we call the thing? Does it really matter if it’s an app, tool, content or whatever? When is a website not a website? And just what is mobile anyway? Is a laptop mobile when it’s sitting on your desktop? If you keep your mobile phone in your office does it stop being a mobile phone?
Customers tend to focus on the task. When you want to book a flight you’re thinking about where you want to fly. You don’t think about the tool, app, or content. When you want to check the weather you’re not thinking about how you’ll go online to check the weather. You’re just thinking about checking the weather.
In the early days, the Web, the Internet, tools, apps, content, websites, search engines; all these things can seem exciting because they are new. But as you go online more and more the act of going online becomes more and more invisible.
While the customers’ world is becoming more and more intertwined, organization structures and disciplines are becoming more and more siloed. There’s customer experience, user experience, information architecture, app and tool designers and developers, graphic designers, content strategists, managers and editors, people responsible for social content and marketing content and support content.
The customer doesn’t think like most organizations are organized. They’re just doing stuff; keeping in touch with friends, solving problems, living their lives, trying to get some work done. Neither online nor offline, neither content nor apps.
To succeed in the customers’ world you need to organize around them and their tasks. Sure, it’s easy for a writer to focus on writing and a coder to focus on coding. But the big opportunities lie on the outside in the world of the customer.
Nobody “Goes Online” Anymore
When things get very complex you need to get very lean and flexible. You can’t predict the future but you can adapt to it.
The Lean movement is about collaboration. Lean design, according to Jeff Gothelf, author of upcoming book, Lean UX, “brings a set of voices to the product definition and creation process that were not there before. Developers, product managers, quality assurance engineers, marketers, customer service reps and many others now participate in defining the future of business solutions.”
“Lean UX promotes the concept of competencies over roles,” Jeff continues. “Many organizations hem their people in with job titles. The Lean UX approach says that people have primary competencies but they shouldn’t be limited from contributing in other areas they feel passionate about. By incorporating many opinions both in the creation and validation of product concepts, the entire team builds shared ownership of the project. In addition, as the team moves together from ideation to concept to validation to production they evolve a shared understanding of what they’re building, who they’re building it for and why they’ve made the decisions they have to date. This shared understanding reduces the team’s dependency on documentation and allows them to move more quickly from step to step.”
Lean is about evidence. So, you have an idea, let’s test it. According to Jeff all assumptions “should be ruthlessly tested in advance of a heavy resource or financial commitment to their development.” Lean is about focusing on developing the “minimum viable product” then getting it out there and rapidly evolving it based on customer reaction.
Lean “promotes outcome-focused teams,” according to Jeff. This is an absolutely essential shift. It is no longer enough to say we launched the website or app, or we put the content up. Are more people signing up? Are more people successfully troubleshooting? Do more people understand how this particular pension plan works? These are the real tests of success today.
Lean is a response to a rapidly changing world. “Lengthy upfront design cycles delay companies’ abilities to get product into the hands of customers,” Jeff states. “A ton of risk is built up in lengthy design processes. With each passing moment and pixel placement more time and resources are sunk in a particular direction. Testing once, right before product is launched reveals many flaws that will never be fixed — relegated to the optimistic and non-existent land of “Phase 2.”
“Lean UX advocates regular, rapid, lightweight testing with users to ensure that the team is headed in the right direction,” Jeff continues. “The team designs only what they need to know next and then test it. As they learn, they adjust course and head towards the more accurate solution to their business problem. Because of this testing with customers is the heartbeat of Lean UX.”
The lean approach does not mean just getting started with any old idea. According to Jeff the biggest challenges the lean approach faces are “teams that are over-eager to get started and don’t take the time to understand the historical, technical and business context of the problem they’re tackling.”
Lean thinking is a big part of our future. It’s about truly understanding what matters to the customer (the top tasks). Get these top tasks up and running. Get them in front of the customer then rapidly evolve using evidence of customer behavior.
Read a free sample Jeff Gothelf’s new book, Lean UX
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It was nice talking with you and your co-founder last week. Thanks for contacting us about On Telepsychiatry. I’ve reviewed your materials with
(boss name removed). Unfortunately, we’ve decided to pass on participating. We invest in core technology companies, and it isn’t clear to me what differentiated innovation you guys have. That doesn’t mean you haven’t hit on a very interesting idea, but it’s just not a fit for us. Feel free to ping me again if that changes down the line.
Top Tier VC company in silicon valley.
The trend towards greater and greater customer empowerment requires a deeper and deeper understanding of customer needs.
“When people, teams, and organizations develop new products and services, they tend to have endless discussions about what users or customers need, who customers are, and what features the design of their offering should have,” Tomer Sharon, Search UX Researcher at Google and author of recent book, ‘It’s Our Research’, states. This is what I call designing with five smart people in a room drinking lattes syndrome.
“Steve Blank, a serial entrepreneur from Silicon Valley and a Stanford university professor, says there are no facts inside the building,” Tomer says. “Development teams cannot make decisions without developing customers first. Not products, not technologies: Customers. He coined the mantra, “Get Out of the Building”. What he means by that is that developers of products should get up from their comfortable chairs and proactively seek opportunities to learn from their customers about their needs to be able to understand what the company’s business model should be.”
Tomer cites “intuition” as one of the primary reasons people don’t get out of the building. In a modern, complex, constantly changing world, intuition is a dangerous thing. Intuition is essentially learned behavior patterns. It speaks to the past. If the same basic event keeps recurring then intuition is great. But if the world is changing rapidly, intuition can be disastrous.
“Some people are just scared of what they’ll hear,” Tomer states. “They are afraid of failing and of invalidating their assumptions. Actually, they don’t consider their assumptions as such. They think they are facts. It is our jobs (UX practitioners) to help people recognize their assumptions.”
One very interesting technique Tomer uses to combat ‘stay in the building’ syndrome he calls Field Fridays. “Field Fridays are an excellent opportunity for software engineers to meet users face to face, see how they use their products, and learn about their behavior. During these events, a team of engineers moderates 20-minute interview sessions with real users, speed dating style, on a Friday morning once a month. I started this program since I was amazed to learn that some engineers work on products for 3 years without meeting a single human being who actually uses their code.”
Tomer says that divergence between what the team thinks the customer will do and what the customer actually does happens on a daily basis. And don’t trust what customers tell you, either.
“Navigational search queries are ones where users use Google to search for websites or webpages,” Tomer states. “For example, when I enter “netherlands wikipedia” into the search box, I am conducting a navigational query. When I am entering “population size netherlands” into the search box, it is not a navigational query since I don’t have a specific site in mind. When you explain this concept to Google users and ask them if they conduct navigational queries, they usually tell you they hardly do them. Yet, when you ask them to complete a certain task or if you analyze usage logs or even the same person’s web search history (after getting their permission of course), you find they do many navigational searches. Humans are very bad at analyzing their behavior (past, present, and future) and they tend to rationalize it so they look good, reasonable, and smart. I try to focus my research on observing behavior rather than listening to what people say.
WE HAVE CUSTOMERS, NOT USERS
User is a word that lacks empathy, and empathy is the most important attribute a web professional can have.
“It’s time for our industry and discipline to reconsider the word “user”,” Jack Dorsey, creator of Twitter and founder and CEO of Square recently wrote. “We speak about “user-centric design”, “user benefit”, “user experience”, “active users”, and even “usernames.” While the intent is to consider people first, the result is a massive abstraction away from real problems people feel on a daily basis.”
I couldn’t agree more. The single biggest challenge I have faced since I started consulting on web issues in 1994 is getting my clients (and myself) to truly understand that real, human, flesh and bone people come to their websites. At a very basic and physical level the traditional computer and websites separates us—physically—from other humans. For all their wonderful social attributes, computers physically separate us from other people.
I love Bose speakers. A couple of weeks ago I wanted to buy some new Bose speakers. I went to their Irish website and selected the ones I wanted. About three steps into the purchase process I clicked on a link to move to the next step. Nothing happened. I tried several times. Nothing. I thought that maybe it was a problem with my browser. So, I launched a different browser. Exact same problem. I saw a sales phone number. I rang it. It didn’t work. Dead number. I was annoyed.
I thought about buying others speakers. I did more research but nothing seemed as good. A week later I went back to the website. Exact same problem. I looked for a way to complain. I found a contact form that demanded I fill out my physical address if I wanted to get in touch with Bose. I gave up.
Now, imagine for a moment that Bose were running a physical shop. If there was a problem with their cash register which meant that it brought potential customers two-thirds through the purchase process and then told them that they couldn’t complete the purchase. Imagine the problem was there for at least a week. Would Bose let that happen in a physical store? So, why does Bose—a company focused on quality—create such an awful website?
Because it’s not ‘real’ customers who use the website. Not real human, flesh and blood because nobody in Bose can literally see a real human having such problems. It’s just users, traffic and HITS.
What do the Web and drugs have in common? Users, traffic and HITS (How Idiots Track Success). Lance Armstrong has been called a drug user. But has anyone ever called him a bike user? After all, he has used his bike a lot. But why do we call him a cyclist instead of user? Because cycling is the dominant and defining task. When you call someone a cyclist you know immediately that you are dealing with someone who has a bike. You get an instant image of someone cycling, not someone climbing a mountain, driving a car, or rowing a boat.
A cyclist is someone you can empathize with and relate to. A user is stripped of their humanity. They’re a distant statistic.
“From this moment forward,” Jack Dorsey writes, “let’s stop distancing ourselves from the people that choose our products over our competitors. We don’t have users, we have customers we earn. They deserve our utmost respect, focus, and service. Because that’s who we are.”
Jack Dorsey: Let’s reconsider our “users”
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