mPulse

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Still trying to brand yourself? That must hurt...

I've been enjoying the articles posted by Matthew Prince on PandoDaily from the WEF in Davos over the last week. But the one that got me in the right place at the right time is the one where he described how Paddy Cosgrave, inspired by the desire to make something happen in Ireland, created the F.ounders conference.

How did this hit me? It focused on how someone stood up and created a reputation that he can carry anywhere he goes. Not a brand; a reputation.

As I have said before: Personal Branding is all about you, closed source. Everything has to come back to the "I" that's not in team (although there is a "me", so a person can still screw up a team).

Taking what you have, and giving it to others to advance everyone, that builds reputation.

Are you building a personal brand or a personal reputation?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Three Pillars of Web Performance

Had a great conversation with a colleague today. She and I were bouncing around some ideas, and I listed my top 3 topics in Web performance as "Speed, Revenue, and Experience". She was quick to correct me.

"No, not revenue, conversions".

She was right. Just last week, I talked about how critical it is to convert visitors into customers. Doing this in some businesses doesn't mean that there is any revenue, but the goal remains the same.

Speed is the one everything thinks is the same as Web Performance. It's not. It's the don't be that guy measure of Web Performance, the one that can be easily quantified and put on display. But performance for an online application is so much more than raw speed.

Experience is the hardest of the three to measure, because what it is depends on who you ask. Is it design, flow, ease of use, clarity, or none of these things? But a fast application can still make people cranky. There are online applications that are clearly designed to make the customer do things the way the vendor demands and these are the ones that make you go "Why am I here?".

Now, can all the metrics that measure Web Performance be distilled to Speed, Conversions, and Experience? If you stepped away from the very product specific terms the Web Performance industry uses every day, what would describe the final, bottled, and served essence of Web Performance?

Web Performance: The Myopia of Speed

In February 2010, Fred Wilson spoke to the Future of Web Apps Conference. He delivered a speech emphasizing 10 things that make a Web application successful.

The one that seems to have stuck in everyone's mind is the first of these. People have focused, quoted, and written almost exclusively about number one:
First and foremost, we believe that speed is more than a feature. Speed is the most important feature.

Strong words.

Fred has worked with Web and mobile companies for many years, so he comes at this with a modicum of experience. And for years, I would have agreed with this. But Fred goes on to describe 9 other items that don't get the same Google-juice that this one quote does. There are probably 10 more that companies could come up with.

But a maniacal focus on speed means that in some companies, all else is tossed in order for that goal of achieving some insane, straight-line, one-dimensional goal. Some companies are likely investigating faster than light technologies to make the delivery of online applications even faster.

Can you base your entire business on having the fastest online application? What do you have to do to be fast?

Strip it down. Lose the weight, the bloat, the features. And what's left is a powerful beast designed to do one party trick, likely at the expense of some other aspect of the business that supports the application.

If a company focuses on a few metrics, a few key indicators, they might evolve up to NASCAR, where it is not just speed, but cornering, that matters. Only left-hand corners, mind you, but corners nonetheless. Here speed is important, but is balanced against availability and consistency to ensure that a complete view of the value of the site is understood.

But is that enough? Do your customers always want to go left in your application? What happens if you are asked to allow some customers to go right? Do all of the other performance factors that you have worked on suddenly collapse?

As you can tell, growing up means that my taste in fast cars and racing forms has evolved, become more complex. Straight-line speed, followed by multi-dimensional perspectives have led me to realize that speed is only one feature.

So, if top-fuel and stock-car racing aren't my gig, what is?

For a number of years in the 1980s and again since 2008, I have had a love of Formula One. The complexity of what these machines are trying to achieve boggles the mind.

Formula One is speed, of that there is no doubt. But there is cornering (left and right), weight distribution, brake temperature, fuel mix, traffic, uphill (and downhill, sometimes with corners!), street courses and track courses. And there are 24 answers to the same question in every race.

And then, there is a driver. In Formula One, a driver with an "inferior" car can win the day, if that inferiority is what is particularly suited to that course, in the hands of a skilled manager.

There is no doubt that like Formula One, speed is key to coming out on top. But if the organization is focused solely on speed, then your view of performance will never evolve. The key to ensuring a complete Web performance experience is a maniacal focus on a matrix of items: speed, complexity, third-parties, availability, server uptime, network reliability, design, product, supply-chain, inventory management integration, authentication, security, and on and on.

The Web application is a just that: a web. Multi-dependent factor and performance indicators that must be weighed, balanced, and prioritized to succeed. No web application, no online application, fixed or mobile, will survive without speed.

However, if speed is all you have, is that enough to keep someone coming back?

Is your organization saying that speed is all there is to performance?

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Customer Investment

Who uses the products or services your company sells?

The usual answer, once you get through the marketing spin and positioning, is customers.

Companies spend a large amount of time, resources, and treasure converting prospects into customers, but where is the investment in keeping customers from becoming anti-customers?

The mobile phone business is an ideal example for this ebb and flow, a prime case study for customer investment.

I'm a T-Mobile USA customer; have been since 2004. This year, T-Mobile USA has decided that 2012 Is The Year T-Mobile Fixes Churn. Does this mean just the customers at the end of their contract or the one leaving because of the lack of the iDevice they want?

Or will T-Mobile USA extend this churn-loss plan (Go New Year's Resolution!proactively to all customers.

Will T-Mobile bother to personally contact (hey, with a phone call?) every one of its current customers?

Will T-Mobile ask customers who are leaving why? Not in a stupid, aggressive way, but in a way that admits that they didn't do enough for that person, but they really want to understand what went wrong.

Will T-Mobile USA take the time to invest in their customers?

Investing in customers means proactively working with them to ensure that the service they are getting:

  1. Meets the customer's current needs

  2. Is flexible enough to adjust to the evolution of the customer's business.


 

Joseph Michelli discusses the concepts of service velocity and service recovery in The Zappos Experience. These are items that companies need to consider. Customers want you to adapt and evolve to meet their post-sales needs (service velocity) and then be truthful, upfront, and solution-focused when there is a problem (service recovery). Customers want you to invest in them, in sickness and in health.

It's so much easier to keep a customer than it is to get a new one to replace them. So why are so many companies lacking focus and discipline when investing in their customers.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Career Reform - The Changing Face of Expertise

Empty Road - William WarbyIn August 2011, I took the title "consultant" off my business card after having it for eight years. It was sad to see the old friend leave, but it was for the best - for both consultant and for me.

Two years ago (22 months for those of you who are more precise), I composed two pieces on what it meant to me as I evolved out of the role of "analyst" and into the role of "consultant" (here) and how this meant developing the skills of a "selling consultant" (here). It was a heady time. I was learning a lot of new skills, meeting the challenges of a post-technical role, managing to a new level of "success".

Many things have changed since then. But the key lesson that I learned is that the career path that was in front of me was not headed in the direction I wanted to go. The true sign of this, that I ignored at the time, but which is so obvious to me now, is when I started counting down the days to my annual vacation.

Having just finished Onward and Delivering Happiness, I read that these moments come to all people. It's how they choose to face them that determines their happiness after.

Due to a serious of weird misfortunes, fortune shined upon me. A new opportunity was presented to me, and I was able to use it to shape a new path forward, one I think that many maturing consults imagined that their roll would look like when they started their journey.

My new role is to act as a consultant to the entire organization. And what does that mean? My goal (and I get to invent the role as I go along) is to develop and share the knowledge of the strategic use of the product line, approached from a technical and sales perspective, to help current and new members of the company not only learn the How of the product line, but the Why that motivates prospects to become company customers. I also get to see how the product plan morphs, shifts to meet new information and new ideas.

Am I happy? Yes. When I began my change from analyst to consultant, I had hoped this is where I would end up.

If I stayed the course, would I have ended up here?

Despite being a counter-factual question, I think that the answer is no. I was being squeezed, shaped, and directed by the role of consultant. I had lost control of my own career and was being driven to the next destination in a blacked-out van.

Now I have gotten out of the van, checked my bearings, and started walking in the direction I want to go in.

What's next? Well, I'm sure that in two years, I'll have something to share.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Customer Experience: The Vanishing Reviews

SJE is an excellent supporter of the online economy. However, she is also very focused on the experience she suffers through on many online retail applications. The question I get frequently from the other end of the living room (Retail and Wardrobe Management Control Center - see image) is: "Is Company X a customer? Because their site (is slow | is badly designed | doesn't work | sucks)!".

Most of the time, there isn't much to do, and the site usually responds and SJE is able to complete the task she is focused on.

Last night, however, a retailer did something that strayed into new territory. This company unwittingly affected the customer experience to such a degree that they actually destroyed the trust of a long-term customer.

This isn't good for me, as I wear a lot of fine products from this retailer. But even in my eyes, they committed a grievous sin.

This retailer decided, for reasons that are known only to them, to delete a number of negative comments, reviews, and ratings for a product that they have for sale.

I just checked, and sure enough, all of the comments, including my wife's very strong negative feedback about the quality, are gone.

I can think of a number of really devious and greedy reasons why a company might do this. It could also be an accident. If it was an accident, you might want to note that reviews and comments for this product were accidentally lost.

Now, if you went to a retailer and saw that your comments and reviews had been deleted, how would you feel? Would you trust that retailer ever again? What would happen if the twittering masses picked up the meme and started to add fuel to the bonfire?

A strong business, a solid design, an amazing presentation, and unrivaled delivery aren't enough for some businesses. As a company, there is substantial effort, time, and treasure dedicated to converting visitors into customers. And it sometimes takes only one boneheaded move to turn a customer into the anti-customer.

This Post Rating:  

Customer Experience: Standing on your own four legs

Tables. They're pretty ubiquitous. You might even be using one right now (although in the modern mobile world, you may not. LAMP POST!).

A strong business is like a table, supported by four legs.

  • The Business. The reason that resources and people have been gathered together. There is a vision of what the group wants to do and what success looks like.



  • The Design. Don't think style; think Design/Build. This is where the group takes the business idea and determines how they will make it happen, where the stores will be, what a datacenter looks like, who they will partner with.



  • The Presentation. How the Business and the Design are shown to people. How the shelves are stocked, the landing pages look, the advertising is placed, how the business looks to potential customers.



  • The Delivery. This is the critical part of how the business uses the systems they have designed and the presentation they have crafted to deliver something of value to the potential customer.


Without any one of these, an organization will fail to meet the most critical goal it has set to be successful: an experience that turns a visitor or browser into a customer.

All the Business and MBA grads in the audience are yawning, and slapping their Venti non-fat, no-whip, decaf soy lattés down on the table. This message isn't for you. Well, it is, but you can stand up and give your chair to one of the people behind you.

Now that I have Dev, QA, and Operations sitting with me (remember, the Business guys are still in the back of the room, tapping away on their Blackberries), tell me what you think of this conceptual table. How does the Table of Customer Experience relate to you?

Ok, put down the Red Bulls and Monsters and listen: Everything that Dev, QA, or Operations does has an effect on the experience (negative or positive) of the potential customer. If one of the table legs is broken (or even shorter than the others), the rippling shockwaves will eventually affect the entire operation.

So, if I were to ask the member so of your organization how their daily activities supported the online application in each of these four areas, do you think they could answer?

Grab a white board. This is going to be a long day.

Picture courtesy of sashafatcat

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Nomenclature Problem (or "What's in a name?")

Someone walks into your store. They say hello, poke around the racks, ask a few questions. Then they walk out.

Now, if I asked you, how would you describe that person?

Customer? Visitor? Yes?

I have been asking this question in preparation for some session for a group of motivated partners and employees in Singapore and Bangalore. As I prepare the presenter slides (not the dense textbook slides the participants get - thank you Garr Reynolds!), I keep correcting the words, typing customer to describe a visitor who is not.

When you and your teams discuss deep topics like conversion rates and transaction abandonment (WAKE UP! NO MEDITATION!) does the group classify non-buying, real people as  customers or visitors?

The label customer should be reserved for those visitors who complete the transaction and provide the revenue/information to the company whose online application they are interacting with. This means that the customer is the visitor who has bought into the entire online application experience.

A visitor becomes a customer only when they are happy with:

  • The Business

  • The Design

  • The Presentation

  • The Delivery


Where in the four areas has your application let the company down before?

If you asked a random visitor why they haven't become a customer, what do you think the typical answer would be right now? Next week? A year from now?

Then ask your parents (or your spouse, if you're brave) to use your application. You must show incredible restraint during this exercise (I suggest a remote operated camera and 6,000 miles of separation) to stop yourself from leaping in and telling them what to do,  shaping their experience and guiding them to your expected and desired outcome.

Can they do it? Would your parents or spouse become a customer?

When you look at your online applications tomorrow, use beginners mind to truly look at what you are doing in the four key areas. If you find yourself shaking your head and saying that this doesn't make sense, put yourself in the visitors' shoes.

You may ask yourself if the application you provide to support your business is truly improving the visitor experience.  What you have a strong chance of finding is that your application is designed for customers at the expense of visitors.

When a visitor doesn't complete the tasks you defined for them to reach the goal of becoming one of your customers, what do you call them?

And do you know what to do next?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Overcoming the Momentum of Traditional Web Performance

When I asked if traditional Web performance still mattered, the post generated a flurry of comments and questions that I haven't seen in in a long time.

After some reflection and discussions with people who have been tackling this problem for longer than I have, the answer is yes, it does matter. However, synthetic Web performance measurement will not matter the way it does now. The synthetic approach will decrease in importance within fully evolved companies, organizations that have strong cultures of Web performance.

In these organizations, the questions change as the approach becomes foundational and integral to the operation of the online business. Ways of examining competition and performance improvement evolve, and the focus moves - from the perspective of We have a problem to one of of Our customers / visitors have a problem.

[caption id="attachment_2776" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The Focus of Web Performance"]customer focus diagram[/caption]

The shift is fundamental and critical. For as long as I have been in the business, synthetic measurements have served as a proxy for customer experience. But unless you get into the browser, out to where and how the customer uses the online application, the margin of error will remain large.

The customer is not an operational issue. There is no technical fix for perceived performance.

There is no easy solution for evolving the experience of performance.

Image courtesy of james_gordon_los_angeles

Monday, January 2, 2012

What does success mean for you?

Talking to customers is always teaches me new ways of looking at the industry I'm in. I don't talk to as many customers as I used to, but when I do, it is interesting how many companies, be they large and established or small and emerging, are focused on the problems of now.

I've talked about the different perspectives on the problems of now that I have seen in my industry (here and here), but if you ask any consultant or analyst, similar questions can be traced through any company/organization in any industry/sector.

I always look at the problems of now as a passing fad. As I answer each question, a new one would arise, appearing from the ashes of the previous one. To prevent endless flailing about, dancing from question to question like a tactical pinball, I ask the most important question of any scoping process as early as I can:

What does a successful engagement look like to you?


Innocuous. Simplistic. But powerfully effective. Putting this simple question into the scoping process helps the customer explain to you how you're going to help them be successful, because they know what success means to them.

What applies in the macro can often trickle-down to the personal. I am notorious for not having a "plan" - I have driven a number of Type A (A+++?) managers to madness with my lack of a plan. But I know what success means to me; I just leave the details of how I achieve it open-ended.

Have you considered what success looks like to you?