These articles generally focus on translating IT advances into sustainable growth, though they may include the occasional rant or attempt at humour. To find out about the author, try clicking on Marco Coulter

By: Marco Coulter, CTO @marcocoulter

The Strategic Brief

Applications are not always brand new. We all use many applications that have been in use for years or decades. For mobile applications, refreshing the interface is a requirement rather than a nice to have. If you are lucky, it will be delivered by updates to the underlying OS at little development cost (e.g. notifications in iOS 10). If unlucky, matching your interface to the esthetic of an OS may require you to redesign your app from the ground up. If done well, redesign can be more than refreshing for customers, it can be reengaging.

Refreshing an application interface can reenergize your users

In kicking the tires of iOS 10, there are clear changes in experience for existing features. A noticeable one is notifications. Notifications still do what they always did - an application calls an API to let the owner know a piece of information by displaying it on the lock screen. It is still notifying .. but it looks like a new feature.

I reacted viscerally and immediately to the new notification style. It feels like a new feature. It makes me want to pay attention to the notifications more often and more deeply. I am re-engaged with notifications. It feels new, though it does nothing that actually is new.

See the before and after shots from Politico below.

iOS 9 Notifications
Figure 1: iOS 9 Notifications
iOS 10 Notifications
Figure 2: iOS 10 Notifications

The design, coding, testing and quality assurance around refreshing an interface costs money. It can even cost more than adding a new feature. If the user interface code is not isolated within the application code, a refresh can involve changes to a significant number of modules.

Public Betas are a two-edged sword

In the above example, Apple invested even further by offering a public beta as well. A beta means your feature receives significant testing before general availability. A public beta also introduces risk. If early reactions are negative, the release's reputation is sullied. This uncertainty is mitigated by the ability to address problems before the product is released. Coordinating and supporting all the people involved in a public beta is an additional expense for a refresh.

Is refreshing an interface a good or bad idea?

Like everything in technology, the answer is .. "it depends”. If you are lucky, you may get a free refresh. In iOS10 - your code calls the same API but the underlying operating system gives the result a refreshed appearance. The display looks different, as in the Notifications example above. 1 Sometimes, the operating system or framework will force a refresh on you.If it changes it’s navigation esthetic, you may have to redesign your app from the ground up to match. Users expect consistency in their experience.

Making happier customers

If your goal is to improve the user experience, you will need usage details from your customers. If you have enough specifics to understand how your customers use the feature today, you stand a good chance of reworking the interface to optimize the common tasks. If you are not tracking usage, then an interface refresh is more likely to be an egotistical exercise of how your developers think it should be used.

Refreshing an interface may elongate an aging product’s lifespan

A young application grows by adding more features. Eventually the application matures and may not need more features. To keep the revenue alive, product managers will still want further releases. The good news is that every year the industry identifies new and more efficient navigation techniques. Adding these into an aging product is a valuable way to revitalize the product, and give yourself an additional version to release.

By: Marco Coulter, CTO @marcocoulter

The Strategic Brief

When users are not using a feature that was popular in early testing, consider whether you explained the value of the feature as well as the function. Even when the use of a feature may be easily self-taught, the benefit or purpose may not be so obvious. This is a necessary lesson for manual writers and even for those writing simple help pages. Consider asking your writers and editors to bring in samples of good and bad writing. Practising on other peoples work can remove the personal feelings of reviewing written work.

Don't just tell that what to do, tell them why they should do it.

A recent question from a product manager asked why users were not using a new feature. In beta testing, users enthused about the feature. Now it was in the field, only the beta testers seemed to be using it. My response was a simple question, "Did you tell them why they should be using it?" Lack of awareness is the most common reason not to use a beneficial feature.

For years, I used Canon’s point and shoot cameras, but one of my pet peeves was their manuals. The point and shoot camera is intended for the amateur photographer. Taking a good photo can be complex and Canon builds features into the camera to allow for those special opportunities. Below is their attempt to describe the fish-eye effect.

Canon Manual Example
Canon Manual Example

In the Advanced Guide part of the User Manual in a section titled "Shooting with a Fish-Eye Lens Effect (Fish-Eye Effect)". The description of the feature is detailed as .. wait for it ..  "Shoot with the distorting effect of a fish-eye lens". Well, thanks for that! They do include a sample photo of a dog's nose using the effect.

Most of us are amateurs who never went to photography school and never used a fish-eye lens. Hmm, is this a special feature for shooting dog's noses? Canon described the feature, but failed to describe why they had bothered to put the feature in the camera. (See the end of this article for my attempt at a rewrite.)

Now let’s take a look at how the Nikon S1 manual describes their Creative Modes.

Nikon Manual Example
Nikon Manual Example

Still quite brief - but what a difference! Nikon describes the feature, breaking it out into what you should do and what the camera will do (especially for Night landscape). Then they add a brief overview of why the feature exists. That extra sentence in each description helps you learn why to use a feature. Nikon’s manual helps you be a better photographer.

Technology produces a lot of user guides, technical manuals, and quick start guides. Some are excellent, like the actionable guidance found in most IBM 'Red' books. Some are terrible, merely listing the available settings with no guidance as to why the developers thought that feature was worth including in the product. Yes, even for software costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

One habit I picked up as a public speaker was re-writing other peoples speeches. Today when listening to speakers, I try to rephrase statements to improve the 'punch' and clarify the goal of the statement. This is a good habit to get yourself and your team into. Get your writers to bring in an example of good and bad manuals. Discuss why they see them as good or bad. Then get them to rewrite a portion of the bad one. As a quick example, here is my rewritten description for the Canon example above:

Shooting with a Fish-Eye Lens Effect (Fish-Eye Effect).
This mode simulates the style of a wide-angle lens known as a fisheye lens. The center of the photo is distorted to appear closer to the camera and the edges made to appear more distant. Use this mode to create the impression of being as close as possible to the subject in the photo. In the sample photo of a dog, the full head appears, while the snout gains attention by appearing out of proportion.

Feel free to improve on my rewrite in the comment section.

 

    By: Marco Coulter, CTO @marcocoulter

The Strategic Brief
The digitally savvy company will adopt competencies from ‘born-digital’ successes like Amazon; ‘disruptive’ successes like Apple and ‘cross-over’ successes like GE. It will challenge prior investment strategies and be ready to shutdown traditional business streams in order to create new digital products and business models. Becoming digitally savvy requires a pilot. Even with a company of millennial digitally-aware staff, technology needs an advocate. The challenge is not normally the new hires, but making the C-suite and executive teams digitally aware. A company needs someone who has the executive profile to take the company from current state to digitally savvy state. The CIO can and should be the catalyst that increases the rate of travel towards the digital savvy destination.

The Digital Generation
The ‘senior’ generation in 2016 grew up in a world where technologist was a specialist role. I repeatedly learn this while volunteering in one-on-one teaching of computer skills to the elderly at NYC's public libraries. “I was a nurse or builder, and I did not need to learn Excel. That was IT’s job.” is often heard. These senior students are often starting from “what is a browser?” and "how do I use a mouse?”. During their successful careers, they did not have to learn how to use technology. Technology was someone else’s job.

The generation reaching executive management today used technology since childhood. Technology is self-serve. This generation googles for answers to issues before they contact technical support, and prefer to bring their own devices to the workplace. If technology is self-serve and everywhere, then why does the IT department still exist? Saying you do not need a team focused on technology because the whole world uses technology is like saying you do not need a CFO because everyone has a bank account. In any digital organization, you still need someone focused on technology. Yes, their role needs to be very different (as discussed here). The role of the IT department is no longer just supporting technology or computerizing processes, it is now about weaving digital savvy into the products and services you deliver.

Digital Savvy ©2016 Marco Coulter

savvy |ˈsavē| - shrewdness and practical knowledge; the ability to make good judgments.

Digitally Savvy
The ‘digitally savvy’ company is aware of the disruptive nature of the digital age. Digital commerce and digital marketing significantly changed the way you sell, but did not necessarily change your company and offerings. Digital savvy is the next stage, requiring leaders to target digital products and promote digital-aware business model changes. The journey begins with assessing ‘born-digital’ companies (google, facebook, amazon) and deciding which competencies you must adopt from them. This should reach through to internal investment strategies and embracing approaches exploited by start-up companies and VC investors. Alongside is the continuous monitoring of changing materials and technology. Can miniaturized sensors enable deeper data analysis for your customers like it did for Babolat? Like Babolat, the digitally savvy company creates a program of work for how digital changes their products and services. Simply defining a goal of ‘we want to be digital’ is not enough. The end point is that you change what you make and sell, as well as how you sell it. For most companies, you may require board-member education sessions, supporting c-suite education, and then down several management levels. Digital savvy requires the ability to move your culture forward at the pace at which the market is moving.

Signs of the Wrong Road
Do the changes feel incremental? Polishing or incrementally extending todays model is a warning flag you are not approaching digital savvy correctly. Consider a magazine deciding to go digital. One approach would be creating a PDF version of their paper magazine and offer that to readers. This is a ‘polish’ to existing product, but is not changing their business model of price per issue. The other direction would be to use their product as content for a website. Build themselves an interactive community and changing to a click-based advertising business model providing a more dynamic reader experience by updating stories immediately before publication, and a better customer experience by providing data back to advertisers.

Are you over-reliant on past experience? Humans rely on pattern recognition. Pattern recognition can be a strength when reading this sentence. In reading, you are matching the letters to mental templates of the alphabet. In leadership, pattern recognition can be powerful in assessing risk based on prior experience - e.g. "we need data backups in case of a failure of our cloud provider". But it quickly becomes a weakness when experienced managers are over reliant on past behaviors - e.g. “there is no point trying to hit quota in the first quarter as we always miss”. Acceptance of the current state as normal can be an impediment to success and even lead your company to irrelevance.

Is digital part of your strategic plan? Note, I am not asking if digital is part of your IT plan, but part of the overall company strategy. This should extend all the way to your internal investment portfolio. Traditionally, the internal portfolio for a company invests in new products once a proven business case is put together. Quick evaluation of potential is followed by detailed examination of the market and finally the potential product/service qualifies as an item on the strategic portfolio. Success is assumed due to the research performed before investment. That traditional investment portfolio with product traditional results. To match the disruption coming from start-up competitors, a large company needs to adopt the competencies of VC and Angel investors. The disruptive internal portfolio has up to a dozen projects receiving investment, with an expectation that only about three of them will deliver breakthrough successes. Higher risk, for higher gain. To gain the shrewdness of ‘digital savvy’, the digital must be part of company strategy, plans, and policy.

Are you ready to shutdown or curtail some traditional portions of your business? There is enormous gravity to existing business models, pricing and distribution methods. They are familiar and comfortable to you as well as your customers. Yet if you consider the successfully transformative digital companies you will notice they transform the business model as well as product and service delivery. Expect to make wholesale changes. Expect it to be painful. Make sure you plan to alleviate that pain as much as possible for staff and for customers. Your customers want you to succeed. They want to have a great experience. They will help you through the change, if you make it possible for them to do so.

 

 

By: Marco Coulter, CTO @marcocoulter

The Strategic Brief:
If you are stepping up to responsibility for Customer Experience (CX) in your business, you may be considering the title as Chief Experience Officer or CEO. However, your CEO may question others having the same acronym as themselves, so the industry uses CXO. There is a better choice - Chief Participation Officer. Customers are individuals, and respond more deeply to a meaningful level of personalization. The real result of focus on customer experience is more than connection or engagement or permission to market. Participation with you as a business is the true success criteria for customer experience management.

3 Stooges poster for Hoi Polloi

Technology promises a personal customer experience for the hoi polloi. 

“You’re all individuals!” declared Brian to his followers in the Monty Python film. The devotees responded in unison, “Yes, we're all individuals!”. Lovely irony. Yet when I use an Automatic Teller Machine, I do not get to feel much like an individual. I receive a set of default options for my withdrawal; the same as everyone on the planet. What if the bank tracked my regular behavior and offer that amount and combination of notes as the first option to me? Decades have passed since the ATM was introduced in the early 1960’s. Meanwhile, the difference in customer experience from the first ATM and a current one is basically the addition of a color touchscreen.

The personalized experience used to be exclusive to the extremely wealthy. Downton Abbey gives tantalizing glimpses of such lifestyles. If wealthy enough, you could define how each aspect of the day would unfold for you: fresh flowers present before you awoke; medium poached eggs over a crispy bagel served to your bed; bath temperature set to your preference; clothes laid out; shoes shone; rose petals thrown on the steps as you exit towards your chaffer-driven transport. 2

We never really got the individual experience. 

The web was meant to get personal. Computer technology has always asked for your personal data and promised the individual experience in return. Does it feel that individual? On a modern website, the extent of personalization is often limited to showing a username and maybe some basic configuration settings. Commonly, you do not even get to re-organize menu items based on the options you commonly use. Amazon is well-known for its’ recommendations based on your purchases. Have you had the experience of seeing recommendations after you have made the purchase? You already have it, why show you recommendations that could only trigger buyers remorse? 3

Smartphones moved technology into a personal scale. The device is both individual to a single user, and powerful enough to support a unique user-based experience. By allowing applications, mobile technology delivers access to information that can be customized to your specific interests and needs.  Yet most applications fail to support meaningful personalization, let alone support disability access. 

Developers misunderstand the value of exploiting the data that their customers share with them. While it is reasonable to exploit the data for your company’s benefit, you also need to reward your customers an exceptional customer experience. 

The side benefit of personalization is that it requires a deeper understanding of the overall customer experience. What is really going on in the interaction? Why is the consumer there? What do you get? What do they get? Such detailed examination will often allow removal of many less important aspects of the interaction for both parties. You need to reach the experiential point where the customer participates with you. They can easily identify why they are using your offering, and are prepared to share that information through online reviews, feedback sessions with product teams, discussion forums. They are not just engaged, they participate.

Participation Scorecard. 

Try this score-card to see how you deliver on key aspects of personal customer experience. This is not a complete list, but intended to give an instant status check of where your current participation health today. See how you score out of ten with each being worth one point. 

  • You measure and set goals for the participation level from your customers - how many stars will they give your company this month? (be careful to watch the ratio of how often you ask against how often they use your services)
  • You measure and set goals for the participation value to your business - how many stars would the company give to these interactions with this consumer? (answering the is it worth it question)
  • Your application design process brings customers into the partnership (not just indirectly via product management)
  • Your delivered services have responsive design - they function and feel the same whether mobile app, web, face-to-face, etc.)
  • Your design values feature discoverability, feedback, proper mapping, appropriate use of constraints, the power to undo one’s operations, above prettiness or trendiness - though beauty is sometimes and effective delivery system
  • You keep information concurrent information across locations - if i just paid my bill via the web, don’t show it as outstanding on my mobile app
  • You ensure applications reflect how customer decisions affect the outcome - e.g.  ordering a different item changes the expected delivery time
  • You get your code to do the work instead of your customer by automatically tuning the experience based on how we use your application - e.g. 'we notice you use the share price page quite often, can we move this to your home page? Yes/no'
  • You make the data you have on your customer exportable so they can easily see and analyze what you know about them - e.g. Facebook’s ad preferences; Uber’s customer rating
  • You empower privacy for your customers by always using opt-in approaches and never a default checkbox - building a trusting relationship with the consumer so they will share information with you freely. NOTE: This is where the personalization will pay off. As users see how you use data to make their life better, and save them time or money; they will be prepared to share more details with you. 
  1. Ok, I have never been that wealthy, but I imagine that is what would happen.
  2. Hmm. Could it be they their advertising revenue more important than your experience as a customer?

Update: Some suggest Uber as an exemplary personalized experience. Not so. Uber is the ‘Santa Claus’ experience - knowing if you have been naughty or nice. Uber puts coal in the drivers stocking if they have been naughty (and does this to you, the customer, as well). Though Uber was more personalized than the default taxi experience, it fails for not personalizing the interface. If I never use for a delivery service, the UberRUSH option should eventually move itself off the main menu. That would be a personalized experience. Also for the sight-challenged, how about a method to get the drivers name and number plate in a huge font as the car arrives?

 

By: Marco Coulter, CTO @marcocoulter

The Strategic Brief
The hardest decision in coding applications is to admit your users are NOT delighted - and that you have to rebuild. It takes discipline to move application development from functional to delightful. It can only happen when there is clearly understanding by coders of the purpose of the code. Connecting coders to customers is hard work. It takes deeper effort from product managers and marketing teams, though the payoff is worth it.

Public speaking is supposed to be one of the most stressful events in life. Luckily, I am pretty comfortable in front of audiences. As a musician in bands, I was lucky enough to perform before thousands. That was ok because I was part of a band. My inner critic could interpret success or failure as being caused by other members of the band! 😉 (It was the bassist’s fault, or the singer never won the audience). Then a friend asked me to read my  poetry in a public forum before an audience of about 30 people. Yikes! The poetry was my own words and thoughts, performed by me. Solo. Whether the audience applauded or threw vegetables, it was solely down to me. They were judging me personally. Yikes!!

One of the things I love about code is that code does not judge. Code either compiles or fails. It runs or it does not.  Code does not care what clothes I have on. There is no human value judgement involved with coding. Except that is not true.

Code has no value or quality on its own.

Until code has a user, it is the bad poetry that never leaves your high school diary. Using code  makes it real - the user gives code purpose. The value judgement in code is what it does for a user. Airbnb makes finding a bed in a foreign town easier. The binary nature of code function is decided by whether a user can find a bed or not. The quality of code is found in the experience of the user.

Compare coding an application to making a movie. Director Jon Favreau describes the movie editing process. “The first [compilation of the film from the editor] you view is terrible! Each edit makes the film less terrible. Then somewhere in the process it starts to be good ... and maybe even great.” Like a movie, the application code begins as terrible. Edits make it less terrible, and eventually the code runs. It is functional. HERE IS WHERE FAILURE HIDES. If you get to running, functional code and think the job is done. Well, sorry, you failed. The movie director is not even done once they get to a good edit. Movie directors then perform test screenings to see how audiences react. Based on audience reactions, reshoots are performed, final edits are made and then the film is complete. Running code gets you to the first alpha test. Here you should be both looking for user response, as well as bugs.

Sometimes delight is baked in. You were lucky enough to identify the delightful aspect for your customer during a sprint or early mockup phase. Sometimes delight is serendipity, in the coding process you find something beautiful to reveal to customers. Sometimes you get to functional, yet delight is still not there. The hardest choice to make is to admit your users are NOT delighted - and that you got it wrong - and you have to rebuild (or reshoot in movie terms). If coders cannot be users of the code themselves, you must connect them to customers, not just product managers. Code must be seen in use to understand delight in its’ use. 

Applications have one distinct difference to movies. Movies get one distribution, or maybe an additional director’s cut. Applications get multiple versions. On the plus side, this allows you to address challenges over time. However, be careful this does not turn into the dependency on the adage of ‘we will delight them in the next release’.

EDIT: Reader’s asked what happened with the poetry reading? The audience applauded, but I realized I was better with processors than poetry. 😉

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Though a little cheeky, you could try to claim this as an application refresh.
Ok, I have never been that wealthy, but I imagine that is how a day would happen if I were.
Hmm. Could it be they their advertising revenue more important than your experience as a customer?
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