What is Influence: Thoughts on the addictive nature of Twitter

For the longest time I resisted joining and using Twitter.  I did not see the point and did not need another digital time-suck. mannequin1

Recently, for a couple of reasons I joined the movement and I have to admit Twitter is a fascinating microcosm.  Here I will rant a bit on one specific aspect of the whole experience.  I believe that aspect to be the main reason behind Twitters success, considering the ridiculously simple value proposition – micro blogging or expressing and sharing thoughts and content in 140 characters or less.

In one word … INFLUENCE!

Being a “Top Influencer,” often somehow ratified by Forbes or other entities of authority, seems to be a badge of honor on Twitter.  Implicitly, influence is being sold.  It is being measured by the number of “followers” one has.

Let’s step back and think about this for a bit.

It is easier to think about influence in the traditional, off-line, real-world sense.  The dictionary defines influence as: ‘the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.”

When going in my mind through people who I consider influencers based on the above definition, I come up with the following:

  • Elvis Presley – sold 207 million records – this is REAL influence; people went out and parted with their hard-earned money willingly; they were influenced by Elvis
  • Mahatma Gandhi – inspired civil rights movement and millions of people – this is REAL influence that has made a real difference in people’s lives
  • Oprah – hugely influential media personality and business woman – has REAL influence on millions of TV viewers; an aspiring writer who appears on Oprah’s show and is endorsed by her, becomes an overnight best-selling author.

This list can go on, you get the point.

Now let’s return to all the so-called “influencers” on Twitter and other Social Media outlets.  Compared to the REAL influencers listed above, those self-proclaimed social media influencers seem laughable.  “I have 120K followers and I am a Top 50 Forbes influencer.”

So what?  What does that mean?  What is the real-life effect of this influence?  OK, 120,000 people have clicked the ‘Follow’ button on Twitter.  Do those people read your tweets?  How many do?  Of those people, how many click on the links you are frantically blasting out?  Of those people, how many change their minds or better yet, HOW MANY PEOPLE ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING IN THE REAL WORLD?

Is Social Media influence measured with meaningful KPI’s?  ‘Number of followers’ is a meaningless vanity metric.

I am not saying, this “influencer-follower’ phenomenon is not real.

Twitter has created an interesting online expression of a very basic human need which is rooted in our DNA and is explained by Evolutionary Psychology – the need to influence and control our environment.  To the extent that we are social beings and our environment is made up of other humans, it makes sense that we are biologically compelled to influence or control them.

This urge is natural.  I just find the blatant bragging about influencing others as an end goal in itself pretty disturbing …

What do you think?

3 Key Research Principles for Business Success

In this day and age of ‘data’ and ‘insights’, empirical research has taken its rightful place in the pantheon of useful business tools.  With that comes the potential for overusing the term to the point of diluting its meaning.

With that in mind, let’s examine two ways of talking about “research”:

THE SILLY WAY

- “Survey says …” – Richard Dawson, Family Feud host

- Prefacing any biased statement or personal belief with the phrase “research has shown that … “

- You ask the librarian if they have a certain book available and she says “Let me research that for you” (meaning “I will go and check”)

- “4 out of 5 dentists recommend …”

THE MEANINGFUL WAY

- Empirical (primary) research in the context of business practices today (marketing research, user research, usability research, etc.) has its roots in the the philosophical traditions of Empiricism.

- The great Empiricist David Hume used his famous  question “How do you know?” to examine claims about the world.  This question ended up being know as the “empiricists’ wrecking ball”

- According to Hume, the only valid knowledge on how the world works comes through our senses and can be experienced and shared by individuals.  For example, we know how cold it is outside by the shared sensation of our skin receptors and our visual perception of the thermometer reading.

- Empirical, or primary, research is based on the foundation described above

- There is a wrong way and a right way of doing empirical research

- Research done in Academia has provided the basic tools for research done in the business arena

- Practical research done for business purposes and basic research done in Academia are two very different ball games with different rules

- Academic research aims to build basic knowledge

- Business-related research aims to provide practical information to support business decisions

THREE KEY RESEARCH PRINCIPLES for Customer Experience research

- Research the end-to-end customer experience,  all customer touch points (360 view)

- Research customer experience longitudinally, as it evolves through time (Lifetime Customer Value)

- Triangulate metrics to increase confidence in research findings

On the History of Two Business Buzz Words

We all have heard about employee motivation and stimulating work environment.  Those sound quite positive … until you look into the origin of the words.

MOTIVATE – motive, from the Latin verb moveō (“move”) … So it means to “MOVE”

And what makes one move, according to the good folks of times past?  One moves with the help of a “stimulus.”

STIMULUS – From Latin stimulus (“goad,”) – yes, it stands for the sharp instrument used in the picture below …

goad

P.S. This post was inspired by a conversation I had with my father, Boris Genov, who is a very learned man …

Enough Traffic Jams Already!: What is true innovation and why it is so rare

These days “innovation” is the name of the game in business circles.  Companies are judged by the ‘Street’ on their capacity to innovate.  Individuals are asked to think outside of the proverbial box.  “Chief Innovation Officers” are taking a seat at the strategy table.

With so much hype about innovation, it is natural to bring up a few questions:Giant-traffic-jam

  • How do we define “innovation”?  What exactly are we talking about?
  • Are there different kinds of innovation and, if yes, are some kinds better than others?
  • With all this emphasis on innovation, why are there so many crappy products, services, and experiences all around us?  Why are we still stuck in traffic?

Let’s take each of these questions and try to figure things out …

WHAT IS INNOVATION

Merriam-Webster defines “innovation” as: (1) the introduction of something new and (2) a new idea, method, or device.

This is a pretty low bar!  The “something new” that is being introduced does not even have to be better that the old one, according to this definition.

An alternative perspective on innovation was put forth years ago at a user experience conference I attended (regrettably, I do not remember who suggested the following dichotomy).  According to that perspective there is a key difference between innovation and invention:

  • invention – creating something new; more in line with the Merriam-Webster definition
  • innovation – creating something new which makes a significant positive impact both for people’s lives and for the business bottom line

Let’s look at a few examples  of invention versus innovation per the above definition.

Invention:

  • The Segway: The self-proclaimed “Leader in personal, green transportation” was hyped to be the most revolutionary thing since sliced bread.  Has it changed people’s lives?  Has it been a huge market success?  It has changed the work lives of mall security personnel and has provided some tourists with a novel way to move around in groups with silly helmets on.  Arguably, it has not been a commercial success.  As to being a “leader” in green personal transportation, I submit that a true innovation – the bicycle – still holds that spot.
  • Siri: Apple’s virtual personal assistant has been marketed as intelligent software which “understands what you say. And knows what you mean.”  It certainly is based on some very impressive technology (invention) and helped sell a whole family of iPhones as a key feature.  History will judge if is it a true innovation.  To me, it is a very clever marketing gimmick and a terrific invention.
  • MyTrailmap.com: This is a very cool website some friends and I created.  The main idea was to find any ski resort world-wide (among close to 3000 of them) and pin a photo or video of your run right on the trail where it happened.  Nothing like that existed before (or at least not we were able to find), so it was highly inventive.  However, once the site went live there was little enthusiasm for users to join and use it.  So, it did not become an innovation.

Innovation:

  • Sliced bread: No comment here … :)
  • The automobile: Henry Ford famously remarked “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Instead, the automobile was invented and now it is hard to imagine moving around our fast-paced world on horseback, no matter how fast the horse.
  • The intermodal shipping container: This true innovation dramatically sped up and totally transformed the way goods are shipped all over the world.  Before that, the focus was making the freight ships bigger and faster.  You can imagine that this endeavor quickly reached its engineering limits – you can make a ship only so big and so fast (just like a horse).  What shipping owner Malcom McLean and engineer Keith Tantlinger realized was that what needed to be sped up and made more efficient was the loading and unloading process at the shipping docks.  So the intermodal container replaced armies of workers lugging packages back and forth at the seaports, which was the biggest bottleneck of the shipping process.
  • The iPhone: Apple were able to transform the mobile phone into a mobile computer that is the best representation of ubiquitous computing – computing and connectivity that is everywhere.  It has changed our lives to the point where we cannot imagine a world without this computer in out pockets. And it has certainly been a commercial success.
  • The Sonicare toothbrush: To me, this is a great example of some pretty impressive technology which has been commercialized and has completely changed the way people (or at least our family) handle their dental hygiene.  After using it for over 10-12 years now, it feels unnatural to brush my teeth with the regular tooth brush.  I have almost lost muscle memory for it.
  • And so on and so forth …

TYPES OF INNOVATION

There are many ways to categorize innovation.  Here I will touch on a couple.

According to the innovation domain:

  • Technical innovation: more in line with invention if it does not result in commercial success)
  • Marketing innovation: clever new ways to sell products; not true innovation in my book
  • Product innovation: the realm of true innovation
  • Process innovation: see the intermodal shipping container example above

According to degree of innovation:

  • Sustaining or evolutionary innovation: incremental innovation on existing products; not super exciting but this is the work that pays the bills and keeps established  companies relevant in the marketplace
  • Breakthrough or revolutionary innovation: this is the type of innovation that ends up on tech blogs and is lauded by the media.  It disrupts markets and obliterates existing complacent brands. It is VERY RARE!

To the question of whether one type of innovation is more important than another, it is hard to say.  I believe companies should be doing both – incremental to stay relevant and keep improving, and breakthrough to try to disrupt either themselves or the competition.

What do the above ramblings have to do with traffic congestion?

We live at a time where people have figured out how to use DNA as a storage medium for all kinds of digital information, including all of Shakespeare’s sonnets!

SO WHY ON EARTH HAS NO ONE SOLVED THE SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, TECHNICAL, AND HEALTH PROBLEM OF TRAFFIC CONGESTION???

expectDelays

  • is it because it is such a hard engineering problem?
  • is it because it is a public policy issue and public budget never gets allocated to it?
  • is it because companies cannot make a profit, so no private company wants to invest?
  • is it because it affects only a portion of the population?

What do you think?

Be My Friend: A personal relationships framework for building a business

The Big Idea in a Nutshell

  • Creating customers that tell good things about your products and services to others, i.e. your promoters, is an excellent business goal.
  • An even better business goal is to help customers build an emotional connection or relationship with your products and services.
  • This approach will facilitate the creation of customer lifetime value (CLV) which focuses on long-term customers satisfaction and commitment rather than short-term sales.
  • The premise here is that people build relationships with brands, products, and services just like they build relationships with other people.
  • Social Exchange Theory explains how personal relationships operate on the basis of costs and benefits.
  • The theory is applicable in this case because it uses an “economic model of costs and benefits, much like the marketplace.” (Social Psychology, p.388).

Social Exchange Theory

“Social exchange theory states that how people feel (positively or negatively) about their relationships will depend on their perception of the rewards they receive from the relationship and their perception of the costs they incur, as well as their perception of what kind of relationship they deserve and the probability that they could have a better relationship with someone else. … We buy the best relationship we can get, one that gives us the most value for our emotional dollar.” (Social Psychology, p.388).

Social Exchange Theory-2

Practical Takeaways

  • In order to increase the number of loyal customers who influence other to become customers, we need to design the products and services in such a way as to facilitate a “relationship” between the customer and the product or service.
  • These relationships involve perceptions of both benefits and costs.
  • These relationships involve emotions that need to be understood and acknowledged.
  • These relationships go though phases that have to be understood and managed.
  • Long lasting relationships between customers and products and services increase customer lifetime value.

The power of a skilled BRAND to turn us into puppets

ImageI am a staunch individualist!

I have never been one to follow trends, follow the crowd, or allow myself to be brainwashed by advertising.  At least that’s how I see myself.  This makes the following story all that more interesting …

One morning in the very recent past, I was to meet a friend for coffee early in the morning at Pete’s Coffee.  I got there a bit before my friend and was eager to get some strong coffee in me.  You see, we have a toddler and an infant at home and the lack of sleep has turned my wife and I into zombies who function only on strong coffee.

So, I approached the counter and ordered a tall latte with an extra shot of espresso … The barista looked funny at me and repeated my order back to me – “a medium latte with extra shot.”  I repeated back to him – “yes … a tall latte …” He corrected me again – “you mean MEDIUM.”

At this point my mind cleared up a bit and I realized, much to my amazement, that I was not at Starbucks but at Pete’s.  It must have felt insulting to the Pete’s barista that I was confusing their establishment with the competition.  I, on my part, was slightly embarrassed and, as a result, motivated to figure out what had just gone on.

The Psychologist in me fairly quickly figured things out.  You see, extensive research in Behavioral Science has shown that many times we move around the world on auto pilot, driven by habit.  For example, have you ever headed for place A, fell deep in thought about something, and ended up at place B, just because place B is the one you usually go to?  A recent study reported by David Rock, shows that “humans are on autopilot nearly half of the time.”

What had happened to me was that during one of my (sleep deprived) autopilot mode episodes, I was under the influence of a powerful brand – Starbucks.  I had used the Starbucks lingo at Pete’s Coffee!  Moreover, this was the lingo that I had stubbornly refused to use during my first visits to Starbucks!

To me, that is an excellent example of how effective brands get under our skin – they pull the strings while we are asleep at the wheel … Scary?

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The obesity epidemic, Evolutionary Psychology, and product success

The world economy is stagnating.  Many traditional industries like manufacturing, housing, and construction, which brought world prosperity in the 18th and 19th centuries, are in miserable decline.  Yet, there is a bright spot and it is innovation and, more specifically, software product innovation in the context of the internet and cloud computing.

Software as a Service is growing fast, mobile application development is exploding.  One successful website like Pinterest, for example, spawns a multitude of copycats.  So how is one to pick from all those new and innovative products and services out there?

The two main questions before any successful innovation are:

1. Why should I, the consumer, choose to use this product and part with some of my hard-earned money in the process?  The alternative is not using it at all.

2. Why should I pick this product among all similar products out there?

These questions have been the domain of Marketing and, more recently, Behavioral Economics.  Those two fields are built around persuading consumers to use products and services and to choose one product or service over all the rest.  They highlight the value of products.  They re-frame the value of products.  They also invent the value of products.

Here I want to talk about a more foundational field, a field that has provided some basic axioms about human behavior that have been adopted by Marketing and by Behavioral Economics, among others.  This field is Evolutionary Psychology.

Very simplistically defined, Evolutionary Psychology (EP) is a discipline which explains why human psyche and behavior have developed to be the way they are.  The central tenet of EP is that human behaviors and psychological traits which exist today were the ones that made us more fit to survive and pass on our genes tens of thousands of years ago, in the “environment of evolutionary adaptedness.”

How can this piece of information be helpful in everyday conversation as well in business discussions?  Next time someone claims that a behavior is innate, inborn, or “natural” ask the question: How was that behavior helping our ancestors survive 12,000 years ago?  We are naturally afraid of the dark because 12,000 years ago there were many dangerous things lurking in the dark.  Those humans that were not afraid of the dark, did not heed the dangers, strolled carelessly into the dark, met one of those nasty lurking things and perished thus not passing on the “not afraid of the dark” gene.  Those that carried the “afraid of the dark” gene were more likely to survive and pass it on to their offspring.  In contrast, people are NOT naturally afraid of guns simply because guns did not exist 12,000 years ago when our brain wiring was being formed.  That logic also explains why there are spider phobias and there are no phobias of car doors, although there is a much higher chance of accidentally smashing one’s thumb while closing the car door than being accidentally bit by a spider.

So what does this all have to do with software product success, let alone with the obesity epidemic?

ORGANICALLY SUCCESSFUL PRODUCTS AND SERVICES ARE THOSE THAT TAP INTO OUR MOST BASIC, EVOLUTIONARILY ADVANTAGEOUS BEHAVIORS AND PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAITS

We can find striking and telling examples in the food and beverage industries.  These industries do not have to convince consumers to eat sweet, fatty, and salty things.  This is because humans are drawn to those substances.  The Evolutionary Psychology explanation is that back when our needs and wants were being hard wired in our brains, sweet and fatty foods were very rare and at the same time were essential for survival (providing energy).  People who craved those foods and sought them out had a better chance of surviving and passing on the “sweet tooth” gene.  Same is true for salt – a rare substance at the time that is essential for our body’s internal balance.

Fast forward 12,000 years and we have the food and beverage industries understanding these basic human cravings and using them to make profits.  In present time, the combination of those inborn human cravings and the abundance of substances that were once rare leads to weight gain, obesity, and the hosts of health, social, and economic problems that come with those.  Now there are movements that are trying to have people STOP overusing products high in sugar, fat, and salt.  Wouldn’t that be the dream of any business person – to have consumers be addicted to their products?  Here the problem becomes one of differentiation – why should I pick your chocolate bar over the 101 other chocolate bars on the shelf before me?

The author of the Hierarchy of Needs, Abraham Maslow, understood Evolutionary Psychology very well.  In his famous pyramid:

  • The most basic physiological needs tied to survival are at the base. Those include, among others, food, sleep, sex, and homeostasis.  It becomes pretty obvious why the notorious marketing cliche “sex sells’ is so true, along with “sugar sells”, “butter sells”, and “salt sells.”  Any product that satisfies those needs will ALWAYS have powerful appeal to consumers as human beings.
  • The next level of the pyramid is about safety, which includes security of body, family, health, employment, resources, property, and so on.  Products and services associated with these needs are guaranteed to generate a lot of unending demand.
  • The next level is about belonging: friendship, family, intimacy.  Have you wondered why Facebook is so successful?
  • The next level is about esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of and by others.  At this point, it stars getting tougher to connect products and services to the needs – not impossible, just more positioning and messaging work.  It is also a taller order to invent new products and services that meet those needs.  Maybe productivity software, for example, falls in this category.
  • The highest level is about self-actualization … and who the heck knows what this means :)

Hopefully this post have provided some food for product innovation and marketing thought.

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Iterative Usability Testing as Continuous Feedback: A Control Systems Perspective

In the field of usability, debates about number of users, the use of statistics, etc. in the abstract are pointless and even counter-productive. I propose that the answers depend on the research questions and business objectives of each project and thus cannot be discussed in absolute terms. Sometimes usability testing is done with an implicit or explicit hypothesis in mind. At other times the purpose of testing is to guide iterative design. These two approaches call for different study designs and treatment of data.

Control systems theory is very applicable to the topic of usability to highlight and frame the value of iterative usability testing in the design lifecycle. Within this new metaphor, iterative testing is a form of feedback which is most effective and resource-efficient if done as often as practically possible with project resources and timelines in mind.

In the basic control system feedback loop, the “input function” is the sensing of the current state. That perception is compared against a point of reference through a mechanism called “comparator.” If a discrepancy is perceived between the present state and the desired (or reference) state a behavior is performed, which is the “output function.” The goal of the output function is to reduce the discrepancy. The output has an impact on the system’s environment (i.e. anything external to the system). Such an impact creates a change in the present condition, leading to a different perception, which in turn is once again compared with the reference value (Carver & Scheier, 1982, p.11).

CST is a useful theoretical framework for usability testing for several reasons. Firstly, usability testing is as an integral part of the User Centered Design (UCD) process which is a complex system driven by goals. Secondly, UCD and usability goals are hierarchically organized. Thirdly, iterative usability testing (as opposed to benchmark testing) can be viewed as a form of continuous feedback that guides design.

Practitioners’ Takeaway:

  • Do not debate the appropriateness of specific user research methods in the abstract.
  • Before selecting a research method, always clarify the research questions and business objectives of each project and get team buy in.
  • Consider iterative usability testing a form of feedback on the progress towards specific design and business goals.
  • Start doing iterative testing as early as possible in the design lifecycle.
  • Conduct iterative testing as often as practically possible with project resources and timelines in mind.

Link to full article: Iterative Usability As Continuous Feedback

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Cross-functional teams, accountability, and the Jigsaw classroom

Some of my most productive and rewarding professional experiences have been in the context of working in cross-functional and agile design/development teams.  Indeed cross-functional teams are one of the essential elements of the now popular Scrum software development method.

There has been a lot of debate in the corporate boardroom as well as around the water cooler about the optimal size of working teams.  According to a Fast Company article, in the early days of Amazon.com Jeff Bezos “came up with the notion of the “two-pizza team”: If you can’t feed a team with two pizzas, it’s too large. That limits a task force to five to seven people, depending on their appetites.”

However, nobody to date (that I know of) has examined why small teams work better together and why cross-functional teams work better as well.

For those who are impatient, here are the answers.  To have high performing agile innovative teams you need three ingredients:

1. A clear task tied to a clear business goal

2. A team that includes the right mix of competencies, minimum one of each, and no people who provide just opinions without producing deliverables.

3. Individual accountability for the team results

One really great explanation for why small cross-functional teams can be high performing comes, out of all places, from Social Psychology and the science behind cooperative learning.

In the early 1970s one of the luminaries of 20th century Social Psychology, Elliot Aronson, developed the Jigsaw Classroom learning technique in response to a very serious and pressing social problem – the “turmoil and hostility” that accompanied the process of desegregation of the Texas school system.  Here is what Aronson and his students were up against.  At the time, the school system was based on individual achievement and competition for grades.  The student qualities which enabled achievement were, among other things, command of English language, self-confidence, and self-promotion.  Aronson gives the following description of a “typical fifth grade classroom …: The teacher stands in front of the class, asks a question, and waits for the children to signal that they know the answer. Most often, six to ten youngsters raise their hands, lifting themselves off their chairs and stretching their arms as high as they can in an effort to attract the teacher’s attention. Several other students sit quietly with their eyes averted, hoping the teacher does not call on them. When the teacher calls on one of the eager students, there are looks of disappointment on the faces of the other students who had tried to get the teacher’s attention. If the selected student comes up with the right answer, the teacher smiles, nods approvingly, and goes on to the next question. In the meantime, the students who didn’t know the answer breathe a sigh of relief. They have escaped being humiliated this time.

The issue was that after desegregation of the Texas schools, the classrooms were shared by the self-confident fluent English-speaking children and by the underprivileged minority children who did not have command of English language and/or whose cultures did not value high self-confidence and self-promotion.  As a result of this situation, students from different social and cultural groups self-segregated, between-group scholastic performance differed wildly and there was pronounced “turmoil and hostility.”

Elliot Aronson’s brilliant solution to the above problem was based on decades of research in Social Psychology.  Here it is in a nutshell (10 steps – http://www.jigsaw.org/):

  1. “Divide students into 5- or 6-person jigsaw groups. The groups should be diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, race, and ability.
  2. Appoint one student from each group as the leader. Initially, this person should be the most mature student in the group.
  3. Divide the day’s lesson into 5-6 segments. For example, if you want history students to learn about Eleanor Roosevelt, you might divide a short biography of her into stand-alone segments on: (1) Her childhood, (2) Her family life with Franklin and their children, (3) Her life after Franklin contracted polio, (4) Her work in the White House as First Lady, and (5) Her life and work after Franklin’s death.
  4. Assign each student to learn one segment, making sure students have direct access only to their own segment.
  5. Give students time to read over their segment at least twice and become familiar with it. There is no need for them to memorize it.
  6. Form temporary “expert groups” by having one student from each jigsaw group join other students assigned to the same segment. Give students in these expert groups time to discuss the main points of their segment and to rehearse the presentations they will make to their jigsaw group.
  7. Bring the students back into their jigsaw groups.
  8. Ask each student to present her or his segment to the group. Encourage others in the group to ask questions for clarification.
  9. Float from group to group, observing the process. If any group is having trouble (e.g., a member is dominating or disruptive), make an appropriate intervention. Eventually, it’s best for the group leader to handle this task. Leaders can be trained by whispering an instruction on how to intervene, until the leader gets the hang of it.
  10. At the end of the session, give a quiz on the material so that students quickly come to realize that these sessions are not just fun and games but really count.”

The implementation of the above method had stunning results.  Each child’s success was predicated on the success of the group and involved actively listening to each group’s member who held a key to solving the big picture.  This required children to interact meaningfully with other children who were very different from them.  In a few week’s time, schools which adopted the Jigsaw Classroom method became truly integrated – children from very different backgrounds started interacting with each other during class and playing together during recess.  The success of the program was also evident in students’ academic performance.

There are interesting parallels between this technique and the performance of highly productive and creative cross-functional development teams:

  1. Cross-functional teams are diverse by definition (have different functions represented)
  2. They have leaders
  3. The work is divided into chunks (sprints)
  4. Each team member is responsible for a specific deliverable
  5. Some time to get the deliverable done is a must
  6. “Experts groups” exist in the form of functional communities (Engineering, Research, Design, etc.)
  7. Individual accountability is necessary to ensure success

Hopefully, this short account of a very rich subject matter will shed some light on the Psychological mechanisms behind the workings of high-performing cross functional teams.

What do you think?

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You cannot design an experience

When the pioneer of customer loyalty research writes about customer experience in the Harvard Business Review, you’d better listen.  In 2005 Fred Reichheld (who is also the father of the Net Promoter score) co-authored an article called “The Three D’s of Customer Experience.”  In this very insightful and even visionary piece, the authors point out that “[e]ighty percent of companies believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8 percent of their customers agree.” Then, the authors proceed to outline three ways to remedy this situation. According to them, the following three behaviors set the 8% of companies which got it right apart from the rest:

  1. “They design the right offers and experiences for the right customers.
  2. They deliver these propositions by focusing the entire company on them with an emphasis on cross-functional collaboration.
  3. They develop their capabilities to please customers again and again—by such means as revamping the planning process, training people in how to create new customer propositions, and establishing direct accountability for the customer experience.”

I completely agree with the spirit of those three statements, but have a bone to pick with the phrasing of #1.

I submit that no one can actually design a human “experience!”  Experience is an emergent property of the interaction of people with products and services.  If you take the definition of “customer experience” outlined in another post here seriously, you will know what I mean.  “Experience” is a subjective state that is the result of several conditions – (1) the person with his or her personality, dispositions, moods, needs, and so on; (2) the situation or context of use, and (3) the product or service in question.

Companies can only control their products and services.  The really good consumer-centric companies also have gained deep knowledge about and empathy for their users or, specifically, their personality, dispositions, moods, needs, and so on.  It is only when you develop products and services based on such knowledge and when you constantly track consumer feedback and adjust accordingly, can you HOPE to affect the consumer experience positively.  There are no guarantees, but there is always hope …

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