When Autotrader developed their cool and innovative iPhone app, they presumedly never paused to think what the DVLA would think.
Let’s say you are waiting at the traffic lights and you see a car you like and you think to yourself ‘I’d like one of those’ With the Autrotrader app all you need do was take a photo of the reg plate. From that, details of the make and model would appear and similar cars for sale close to you your current proximity would be displayed. Sadly, this functionality has been canned. Autotrader say:
The DVLA has requested that Auto Trader remove the image recognition element of the iPhone application. Although the app in no way infringes data privacy regulations, the ‘snap’ function conflicts with the DVLA’s code of ethics, as it allows consumers to capture images of vehicle license plates.
This is the same government agency with ethics that enables it to sell drivers details. That’s an aside. Perhaps the DVLA’s is more concerned with avoiding the trouble they got over Castrol using number plate recognition for interactive advertising.
With localisation being championed as one of the hottest topics of 2010 combined with the ubiquitous use of camera phones, it is clear that technology and the opportunities that it brings are moving at a faster pace than the ‘public opinion’ (read Daily Mail Opinion) that the DVLC is clearly running scared of.
So when you are envisioning and playing innovation games, have a session where you play devils advocate and tease out what angry from Tunbridge wells would think. Kill your idea as many ways as you can. Can you identify risks you’d otherwise missed (such as DVLA’s dinosaur thinking), or does it uncover new ideas or alternative ways of doing things (to bring out a cheesy quote from Benjamin Franklin “out of adversity comes opportunity”). There is of course always another alternative, to leave the innovation to others, for others to face the wrath of Government quangos and follow fast. But that is a blog post for another time.
This much I know
The Observer magazine has a feature titled “This much I know“. It takes an interview with a celebrity who “share the lessons life has taught them” and distills it down into a number of key statements. There is probably some milage in this as an innovation game to play when you are looking for ideas and insights, hopes and fears from a newly formed team.
Ask team members to write statements “this much I know” on post-it notes with Sharpies (because you can’t write many words like that) and see what you get.
For structure you may consider using different coloured post-its to represent PEST themes: Political, Social, Environmental and Technical, or how about CRIT:
- C: Competitive landscape
- R: Return on investment
- I: Internal politics
- T: Technology.
So for example…
This much I know
Acme.com recently redesigned their website. The forums and twitter were full of positive comments (C)
People will pay for content. It’s just got to be priced right, relevant and timely to them and easy to pay (R)
Getting things done here is a nightmare. The process to get approval for any new project is designed to be hard (I)
We’ve got problems with our CMS. Our license is due to expire and the vendor is trying to get us to upgrade. We don’t know what to do (T)
Getting these ideas on the wall will help participants articulate their thoughts and provide a framework for understanding the current reality and mining for new ideas and opportunities.
Invest in infrastructure not doggy bowls
Interesting times in the UK retail banking industry. The public consider the banks to be pariahs; cue a number of new entrants to the market. Virgin, Tesco, the Post Office, Metro Bank, the one thing they all share is the focus upon the customer experience that is perceived to be broken with the established players.
“At Metro Bank, the customer is king and our goal is to reinvent British banking by building fans, not customers.”
The concept of a bank seeking ‘fans’ rather than customers is very ‘of the moment’, it speaks to the marketing buzz on all things social, to a world where ‘Facebook will rule the Web during the Next decade‘ (indeed where once all journeys started with google, now they are just as likely to start on Facebook with Facebook now surpassing google in daily traffic).
So what does it mean to strive for fans rather than customers?
Let’s leave aside the dictionary definition of a fan “an enthusiastic devotee, follower, or admirer of a sport, pastime, celebrity, etc.:” (an enthusiastic devotee of a bank? Now that’s a stretch goal) Or the fact that it’s origin is a shortened term for fanatic (what are the consequences for having customers with unquestionable loyalty when you evolve and want to do things different? Will MetroBank one day have a Glazer Manchester United moment?!)
Placing the customer at the heart of everything you do is more than just the shiny stuff at the front of house. “A friendly welcome to dogs and their owners, with water bowls and dog biscuits on hand for man’s best friend – dogs rule at Metro Bank!” said the bank’s announcement. It is more than paying lip service to a social media strategy (Rentokil thought they could get all social without taking their traditional PR along on the ride – see what happened). It is about having the right infrastructure in place; robust systems and flexible processes. It is about investing in the unsexy stuff that rarely sees the light of day, because if you don’t do this things will inevitably go wrong. When the bank upsets a customer because the systems don’t allow the customer to do what they want, or make a mistake, perceived or otherwise, no amount of doggy bowls and seven day opening hours are going to get around that one. Metrobank and the new entrants are well placed to avoid too many of the issues that the incumbents face when trying to be truly customer centric, but they will be doing themselves no favours if they don’t place as much emphasis on the back end systems that the marketing team don’t see or understand as much as the shiny stuff in the branches.
The journey doesn’t end with the buy button
Take a look at this and tell me what information it conveys to you. Look at the order status…
So five days later when I ring up Laskys to find out what has happened to my product I’m told “we’re sorry, the product is out of stock. Would you like another similar product?” I’m not exactly a happy chappy to find this out five days after the order has been placed. I’ve been to ‘my account’ to track my order and it tells me that the order has (click on the help icon) “been processed and either has a delivery date or has been delivered”. Well no actually, it is out of stock and your eCommerce system hasn’t accommodated that scenario in the customer experience. Sorry Laskys, you lied to me.
“We did actually send you an email on the 8th of March to let you know this”. So I went back through my mailbox and indeed they had sent me a mail. I use gmail. The mail was unread, but I get so many mails I don’t always open them, especially as gmail gives you the title and the first line of the mail. The mail in question from Customer Service was titled “Your Order” and the following first line; “Thank you for placing an order with Laskys. TheSEBO X4 EXTRA on order 025”. nothing there to suggest that it was out of stock. Just a generic subject and first line of copy. They had taken my phone number as part of the process; no-one thought to ring me. Overall a poor experience. I won’t be buying from Laskys again and I suggest you don’t either.
There’s a lesson here. It is easy to focus upon the shiny stuff, to get customers converting, clicking on that buy button. But if the post-buy button experience is lacking; if you haven’t factored in operational excellence into your process, in the long run it is likely to cost you.
I’ve written in the past about the government’s abysmal track record on IT development. I met with the local MP to discuss the issues but he didn’t really get it; he sent me away to write a policy paper for him which I really had time for… So good news that someone is doing something about it with a petition on the Number 10 website.
In his recent update on the progress of the petition, Rob Bowley mentions the Rural Payments Agency project. I can’t attest to either have been an ‘expert’ or to have had a salary anything near what he mentions, but I was a consultant on that project so nod in informed agreement. That experience gave me a benchmark to compare ‘bad’ ways of going about an IT project to compare with the ‘good’ world of lean and agile that I now inhabit.
Are you prepared for the dip?
So you are refreshing or rebuilding your website. You are introducing new functionality and features, and sweeping away the old. You’ve done usability testing of your new concepts and the results are positive. Success awaits. You go live. And it doesn’t quite go as you expected. You expect that the numbers and feedback will go on an upward trajectory from day one, but they don’t. What you should have expected is the dip.
In October 2009 Facebook redesigned the news feed. Users were up in arms, groups were formed and noisy negative feedback was abound. A couple of years back the BBC redesigned their newspage, “60% of commenters hated the BBC News redesign“. Resistance to change is almost always inevitable, especially if you have a vocal and loyal following, you can expect much dissent to be heard. What is interesting is what happens next. Hold your nerve and you will get over this initial dip. We’ve seen a number of projects recently where this phenomenon occurred; numbers drop and negative feedback is loudly heard. But this dip is ephemeral and to be expected. The challenge is in planning for this and setting expectations accordingly. Telling your CEO that the new design has resulted in a drop in conversion rate is going to be a painful conversation unless you have set her expectations that this is par for the course.
Going live in a beta can help avert the full impact of the dip. You can iron out issues and prepare your most loyal people for the change, inviting them to feedback prior to the go-live. Care must be taken with such an approach in the sample selection o participate in the beta. If you invite people to ‘try out our new beta’, with the ability to switch back to the existing site, you are likely to get invalid results. The ‘old’ version is always available and baling out is easy. Maybe they take a look and drop out, returning to the old because they can. Suddenly you find the conversion rates of your beta falling well below those of your main site. Alternatively use A/B testing and filter a small sample to experience the new site. That way you will get ‘real’ and representative data to make informed decisions against. Finally, don’t assume that code-complete and go-live are the end of the project. Once you are over the dip there will be changes that you can make to enhance the experience and drive greater numbers and better feedback.
Bunch of grapes or bunch of arse?
“We’ve got to have the ability to enable customers to share”
Random London Taxi driver spouting opinion on social media
“‘ere, you say you’re in IT, whatcha make of this Facebook and twitter malarky? That Stephen Fry, what a tw@t, I don’t care that he’s just woken up and brushed his teeth. Now that QI, its a fix. He’s not so bright, he doesn’t know all the answers etc etc etc…. I’ll tell ya, Facebook and all that sh!t is a bunch of arse”.
“We’ve got to have the ability to enable customers to rate and review products”
Random UK customers in a focus group
Facilitator “So if I gave you all these user reviews for the product, or a review by Martin Lewis, who are you going to go with?” Group: “Martin Lewis… yeah, I trust him, no idea who these people who write reviews are… what’s in it for them?… they are paid by the company aren’t they (cynical agreement etc)”
“Blackberrys are the business users phone”
Random teenagers in shopping centre talking about their mobile phones
“You’re nobody if you don’t have a Blackberry” (Ummmm, aren’t Blackberry’s the business person’s phone?) “You’ve got to have one coz of the Blackberry PIN for texting”
Sometimes you can get hung up in your view of the world, you make assumptions about the way the world works. Yet it can be refreshing to go out onto the street and canvas ideas and feedback. That may be as simple as striking up people on the street (people love to talk), or running focus groups for no particular research purpose other than taking the pulse of what people think. Or it may be spending time on the shop floor. Get out of the office for a day and have fun seeing your customers, consumers of your idea, in the wild. I’m not saying you take the word of a taxi driver, a comment from a single focus group or an anecdote from a shopping centre as gospel, but it might make you think and spark some new, unexpected and contrary ideas
A leap of faith
We recently pitched to a prospective client. We told a story of how we believed their customers would use the new product they had sketched out in the RFP; we told a ‘day in the life’ and brought it to life with illustrations. We walked through our approach to tackling projects and described our experience on similar engagements. One of the bid team described his experiences and what the client could expect and we guaranteed that he would be on the project. We let them have a rate card, and an indication that, comparing what we knew of the project with others that we have successfully delivered, what they indicated they wanted in the RFP was in the range of their budget (which we knew). We let have them directly relevant references who were ready to take their calls.
What we didn’t do was produce them a project plan, nor a definitive cost. Given the paucity of information in the RFP there was just not enough to go by; it would be a lie if we came up with a number, there were too many imponderables. Yet that was what they craved the most. Most of the questioning was friendly and we answered well, however one question sticks in my mind: “From your presentation, you are asking us for a leap of faith to engage you”. Well yes, we are. But is that any different to the way you engage any new contractor? It is always going to be a leap of faith; even if you engage one of the big trusted brands with an established reputation. Sainsburys and NHS took a leap of faith when they engaged my old employer Accenture; they probably felt they had done all the necessary due dilligence and were partnering with a proven, reputable organisation, but in those two instances good things did not result.
We didn’t build it because the business didn’t prioritise it
Agile software development is inherently democratic. Choice over Prescription could be included in the Agile manifesto. We give the customer the choice, the choice to decide what is most important to them, what will deliver the greatest value and build that first. We do not prescribe that they must build a complex framework first- the software will evolve, You ain’t gonna need it (Yagni) until you need it.
The problem with this democracy, with this unleashed choice is that, if you don’t have the right mix of stakeholders, the (agile project) customer doesn’t always know what is best. They are not always the best people to choose.
There is a difference between domain knowledge and what I’ll call ‘experience’ knowledge. A banker may know the banking domain inside and out, they can tell you the difference between all the different types of balance and how (and where) they are calculated; closing balance, running balance, etc. But unless they have done any research with customers, unless they have ‘experience knowledge’, when it comes to a question such as which balance to provide as an SMS alert, their ‘domain’ knowledge is as good as your common-sense.
Imagine software were a supermarket store. IT are responsible for the construction of the store, the basic layout, the signage, the checkout, the peripherals. The business are responsible for what goes into the store, the merchanising, the planogram. The business imperative is to fill the shelves and shift the product. They want to spend their money to this goal, anything that does not directly support this will be of lower priority. That is their domain and they will prioritise that over anything else. If they could fill the store with nothing but shelves they’d probably be happy.
Now imagine visiting the store. There’s no carpark, there are no shopping trolleys, there’s no emergency exits. There’s no ramp for disabled customers. The shelves rise to eight foot high (with no steps to reach the heights), the aisles are difficult to negotiate because of promotional displays between the shelves. The business is happy, but what about the customer?
In the agile world, nobody is going to pay attention to this stuff unless it is prioritised. “Sorry, we didn’t build any shopping trolleys because you prioritised building more shelf space over them”.
This sort of thing happens all the time; functional domain requirements trump experience requirements. Why? Because no-one brings experience knowledge into prioritization and planning sessions.
When stating their choice, your stakeholder wears a commercial hat, they are thinking about their targets and those are based upon shifting product. They are living in thier operational business domain. But cold commercials are not what shifts product. It is the experience that does. Now go back to the democracy of choice on an agile project. Who is the ‘business’ specifiying requirements? Is it a balanced team? Is their an experience champion with an equal voice? Is the voice of the customer recgognised? If not, isn’t about time you got an customer experience champion onto the team.