Thinking about kicking off some research? Ask yourself these questions first!


Guiding research decisions

Asking yourself the following questions will really help you identify the validity of undertaking any research project. It’s always a good idea to question thoroughly at this stage to ensure you don’t get yourself into difficulties later. Questions such as these will help you identify the people you need to work with, the type of methodology to use and whether it is something you can do yourselves or with external support.

1. What do we need to know?

What are our business objectives? Where can research help us and how? Do we have a clear idea of how results might be used?

2. Do we already know it?

What research findings do we have already? Has another team already done some research we could use?

3. Who needs to be involved?

Who do we need to involve in the research? Who are we targeting? What internal support do we need? Do we need permission from some quarters?

4. What will we do with the results?

Once the results are in then what? How will we use the data and insight gathered to support our objectives?

5. Can we do it ourselves?

Is this something we could do ourselves in-house? Do we need external support to help us with this?

By answering these questions your research needs will become much clearer.

Good luck.

User experience – top tips

Google Image

UX is an ever changing discipline. Staying ahead takes time, effort and a lot of practical application. We’ve pulled together some top tips to help you get the most out of your UX work.

1) Don’t be a static learner.

Be mindful of changes in technology, trends or user behaviour. What users expect now is likely to change very quickly. Users adapt quickly to changes in functionality, format, structures and designs.

Real-world imitation in the digital world, once a common feature of web design is now on the ebb. Remember to keep abreast of subtle changes in web design. Only recently have we ourselves moved away from shadows and borders to a flatter, cleaner website.

Some design debates might seem pedantic, but they will have a significant impact on any user experience.

2) Understand segmentation, user roles and behaviour.

Carefully map out the users likely to be visiting and engaging with your website, app or interface. Consider each persona and segment in detail.

Identify behaviours, expectations and journeys that are both unique and common. This will help ensure that requirements and designs take into account the differences between each persona. Even within broad segments consider additional differences, such as a user’s spending power or desire for a bargain.

3) Take into account real world problems.

Everyone has dropped their phone and gasped at some point. Consider how your design looks on a phone that might have a cracked or faulty screen. Appreciate the fact that not all consumers have money to replace an expensive broken device.

4) Probe and interpret facts.

Web analytics are great. They can provide you with so much information and data. By viewing analytics you can immediately see how many people have visited a site, which parts they visited and how long they stayed.

Analytics also helps to identify where there might be problems. For instance, by examining sales checkout data you might be able to judge that a significant amount of users are not completing their sale. Whilst analytics indicates there might be a problem, it doesn’t necessarily give you the reason behind the problem. For that you’ll need some user research.

5) Think about user context and environment – small buttons on a fast-moving and jolting train.

Designing a web environment based on personas, business requirements and a list of devices is all great but forgetting context can prove disastrous.

Context and environment are the two most important aspects to consider when it comes to delivering a great UX product. If your users are likely to visit your site whilst on a moving train then you need to take this environment into consideration during the design and testing phases. A site with small, fiddly buttons will put users off.

It’s also important to consider the context of such a visit. A user might be looking to research and book a holiday. However, they might not want to do all activities on a single device. A user on a busy train might want inspiration or to read reviews. They may opt for using their laptop for booking when they have more time. Consider context and ensure that the buttons, navigation and options presented are relevant based on what the customer is trying to achieve in that given environment.

6) Get inspiration outside the world of apps – design something beautifully simple.

Simplicity and beauty go hand in hand when undertaking any UX project. Whilst it’s important to consider standard conventions, common best practices and delivery against business goals, this should not hold you back from designing something that really gives pleasure to the user.

Great inspiration can be taken from the UK’s famous road sign project of the late fifties and mid sixties. The final designs, created by Jock Kinneir (1917-1974) and Margaret Calvert (1936-) are both simple and beautiful. They set out to create signage that was clearer, more accessible and that would enable faster and more effective movement throughout the country. The final designs are now a template and example of best practice, which has been copied throughout the world. Take inspiration from great design.

7) Think about online and offline relationships – go in-store, buy online.

Designing a retail website might prompt a UX designer to immediately visit online retailers such as eBay or Amazon. One of the greatest tricks is to visit an offline, real-world shop to see how customers browse, pick, choose and buy a product. Customers buying books from Waterstones will behave very differently depending on whether they’re browsing online or in-store.

By shadowing and viewing customers in a real-world environment you can start to understand the rituals and habits customers go through. These insights can then be used to design features that mirror this behaviour in an online setting.

You may even come across customers struggling with a problem in-store for which you have the perfect online design solution. Remember that most customers operate across both the online and offline worlds. Many browse in-store but buy online.

8) Take advantage of common, pre-existing work.

The great thing about the UX community is its ability to share ideas and best practice. There’s no other community quite like it. Sometimes it’s easy to get hung up on designing a new icon, a new typography or a navigation bar from scratch.

However, it’s important to realise the wealth of content, existing designs and open source work that is available for people to share, download, amend and re-purpose.

It’s also important to remember some of the free and low cost tools that are available for activities such as wireframe and sketching. You can save a lot of design time by tapping into work that has already answered some of your design questions.

Let us know how you get on.

Apple’s strength lies in design and marketing and not in customer experience

Apple store at Regents St. London

Apple is the poster child of customer experience. At most conferences you’ll hear its name amongst the other greats of Amazon, Virgin and Zappos. Even in the world of NPS people are consumed by its high score of 75 (it doesn’t seem to ever have moved).

As an Apple customer of nearly 10 years with the iPod, iPhone (x3), iPad and now MacBook Air in my portfolio it’s time to question Apple’s customer experience credentials.

Firstly let me tell you about my own experience?

With my recent MacBook Air purchase I took the gamble of leaving Windows and moving to Apple. The process was as laborious as expected and learning Apple’s idiosyncrasies will take me many more months. You can’t deny the beauty of their products but their customer experience leaves a lot to be desired.

During the first few weeks of using my MacBook Air a number of problems emerged. These included everything from sudden black screens, slow updates and most frustratingly and worryingly of all a track pad that couldn’t click. On paying to travel into the London Apple store I was greeted with a shrug and told that technical appointments would be available in 7 days time. I needed to remind the sales assistant that I expected a £1300 laptop to come with some form of specialist support. It was after all 3 times the cost of my old trusty Asus.

On several attempts to find self-service solutions I was amazed to see entire forums of customers complaining with hundreds repeating the original post but no one from Apple responding to answer the query. Some forum users pleaded openly ‘will someone from Apple log onto this site!’

Colleagues have often asked why the likes of Apple haven’t bought a major telecom operator or other significant customer facing business. It seems the answer is clear with their thinly spread stores across Europe. Engaging with customers is not their strength. Marketing and selling is.

During my visit to the Apple store I joined a queue to discuss my laptop failures. I was soon informed that I was in the set-up queue and if I wanted support I’d need to book an appointment. The classic business thought of ‘looking after your existing customers’ sprang to mind. I left the store with the advice that every time my laptop freezes I should just do an emergency reboot. Not exactly a long-term solution.

So where could Apple improve?

The biggest trick Apple were missing was personalisation. I wasn’t asked my name and with everyone having an Apple ID, it was even more surprising that my support wasn’t tailored based on the information Apple had about me. Apple had no idea that I ran a consultancy business and used technology every day in front of clients. It wasn’t that this information wasn’t to hand on an iPad linked to their CRM – they just didn’t ask.

As a customer journey and service design expert I was already thinking of the multitude of ways that Apple could have improved my in store experience. A simple solution would have been to ask me some questions the minute I installed my MacBook Air. Apple will have known my history over the last 10 years. From my first iPod straight through to my most recent purchase. Never once have they asked me anything about my personal circumstances.

There’s no doubting Apple’s credentials in product design and marketing. I even find it hard writing this blog post without wanting to give them a second and third chance. However, for all their skills in branding and product innovation they are not experts in customer experience. The lack of service support was striking.

So please, to all customer experience professionals out there – don’t confuse product innovation and beautiful design with good old fashion customer experience!

Finally a business transformation book that matters!

Enterprise Architecture As Strategy

Reading business books can at times lead to frustration and disappointment. You often buy a bestseller that fails to hit the spot or a tome that goes off in multiple tangents and loses its meaning. Very rarely do you come across a book that really gets you thinking differently about the business world around you.

A recent visit to a high street bookstore led to me buying one of the most heavy yet rewarding business books I’ve ever read. It made me sit up and think about the clients I work with and even why I’ve faced some particular challenges during my career in several customer experience roles.

The book is titled ‘Enterprise Architecture as Strategy – Creating a Foundation for Business Execution.’ I admit that the title doesn’t exactly jump off the shelf in the way ‘Black Swan’ does but its content will blow you away. The book concentrates the bulk of its effort in explaining why putting IT strategically at the centre of your business can help it transform and meet the challenges of the future. However, the book’s focus on the different types of business operating models is probably the most interesting for those working in customer experience.

The book describes the four major types of operating model. These are: coordination, unification, diversification and replication. The different types each have their own unique characteristics, whether it’s having a shared centralised IT capability or a devolved company structure where each market or operating company and division acts independently and without central control and governance. I could spend days talking about the ins and outs of each model. The crucial point is that you need to change your behaviour and working practices depending on the type of operating model you’re working in.

For most people reading this book they’ll immediately reocgnise the type of business they work in. Whether it’s a centralised (unification) or a devolved (replication) business, readers will appreciate how the type of model will and should influence the strategy, approach and tactics they deploy to make change a reality.

For those of us in customer experience it may give you the support you need in trying to deliver a complex programme of work over a complex organisation.

Trust me. Read it. Be prepared to start re-drawing your plans and engaging with people in a very different way.

Top tips on setting up a Steering Committee

Steering Committee

You don’t need to have a prince2 qualification or have had to endure five days of intensive MSP training to get a strong steering committee in place. By following our tips below you’ll be able to put together a strong committee that can help get your project or programme delivered successfully.

But before we start let’s just remind ourselves what a steering committee is and what its purpose is.

A steering committee is a body of people brought together to help support the set-up, implementation and transition of a project or programme. This group is normally made up of senior decision-makers and experts who can help review, critique and validate decisions made by those working in an everyday capacity on the project. It’s their job to approve the ideas and decisions made lower down the chain. The benefit of this group is that they should, in an ideal world, be independent and objective in their views. A strong steering committee with a robust frame of reference can really help ensure a project or programme is deployed on time, on budget and having met its original objectives.

Our top tips:

  • Get the right people on board: pick or influence so that the right people are chosen for the role. If you’re deploying a complex IT system there’s no point having a steering committee with no technical representatives. Whilst you may not be responsible for designing the membership of the committee you should certainly make your feelings known.
  • Meet up regularly: it sounds obvious but this is something that I’ve seen slip many times. Put some time in the diary at a frequency and length that you feel is appropriate. Avoid changing the dates and times and do your best to encourage 100% attendance. This is obviously difficult in complex and busy businesses but try to point out the potential problems that might arise if people aren’t able to give time to the project or programme. Avoid as best you can the moving of meetings within diaries. Just like a TV programme that suffers too many scheduling changes people eventually become bored and switch off.
  • Be clear on expectations: when setting up the committee spell out the types of activities it will be tasked with. Make clear to those involved the type of behaviours you want to see, whether it’s feedback, critique or formal approvals and sign-offs.
  • Prepare for every meeting: don’t circulate content for consideration or review on the day of the meeting. Remember that steering committee members will be very busy and will already have several other pieces of work under their stewardship. Provide ‘pre-read’ material and make sure attendees have had enough time to take everything onboard.
  • Set out clear objectives and remit: these can include approving budgets, removing barriers, signing off artwork. There are hundreds of options here but do your best to be clear on what the steering committee is there for.
  • Have attendees with a role: make sure you have a chair and deputy chair. This will help guide meetings and keep the agenda on track. Having a deputy also helps if for whatever reason the chairperson cannot attend the meeting.
  • Be prepared for the virtual world: learn to become your own techie. Few meetings these days have 100% face to face attendance. Work to ensure that your meetings can happen in a virtual space whether it’s using a traditional bridge, telepresence, Skype, Google Hangout. If you have content to share get yourself a WebEx such as Adobe Connect.
  • Be comfortable with politics: you can’t avoid it so don’t try. Put awkwardness aside and embrace office politics. Remember that the steering committee will be full of political creatures and the purpose of the group will often be to make political decisions. If you’re the programme or project manager then apply political intelligence combined with due diligence. You want your project or programme to be successful soplan ahead for the political angle you’re going to take. But remember, your loyalty should always be to the business and the greater strategic good. By behaving diligently you’ll secure the correct outcomes from the steering committee

Good luck.

NPS: The curse of the number

NPS Image

Don’t get me wrong, I love Net Promoter Score (NPS). I love its simplicity and accessibility. I love the way that CEOs and front line teams can understand how it works without the need for a degree in statistical mathematics or data analytics. However, there is a big problem with NPS and it normally comes after any successful programme implementation. The ‘curse of the number’ is a good way of summing up the problem.

Too many companies are spending too much time focusing on the numbers (results) and not enough time on actually making improvements. We all know what it’s like when NPS results are about to be released. The business become tense whilst segment heads and product leads start to manage communications around the possible ‘number’. Having worries about a number drop or optimism about a number rise are understandable but too many companies are trapped in a cycle of quarterly or bi-annual panic.

So how do you get away from a culture of number watching? Below are some tips:

  1. Don’t forget the cultural aspect – make sure that when you’re implementing an NPS programme culture is given just as much attention and priority as sampling strategy or reporting hierarchies. Ignoring culture will lead to an atmosphere of number watching where employees risk concentrating on reporting and public relations rather than on improvement planning.
  2. Communicate, communicate & communicate – have a marketing and advertising strategy up your sleeve to support your NPS implementation work. Create some bold messages that get across the dangers of fixating about the number. Highlight some  positive messages looking at how NPS can drive improvement planning by putting the customer at the heart of decision making. A great friend of mine once said ‘a rising tide raises all boats.’ In other words if everyone works together then NPS will go up. One strong message is to remind people that NPS that goes up is good and down is bad. Try to move people away from actual numbers and the dreaded decimal point.
  3. Put benchmarking on the back burner – if you’re thinking about benchmarking be wary of rushing into it. Think carefully about why you want to benchmark and whether it’s really going to help with planning. Benchmarking can be tricky, especially if you’re unable to compare against a competitive set with enough robust evidence. Benchmarking is helpful for future planning but a side effect is that employees will become fixed on number watching.
  4. Discourage market and segment comparisons – it’s tempting to compare Spain to Italy when the results come in. Both markets are in Southern Europe, both suffering a sovereign debt crisis ad both may have a similar business model. However, it’s likely that that’s where the similarities end. Market comparisons are unhelpful and in some circumstances dangerous. Markets are unique and should be treated as such. EMEA and APAC might be a business territory but it shouldn’t supplant a market-by-market focus. Getting into market comparisons will only harden people’s desire to obsess with NPS numbers.
  5. Avoid rash target setting – once NPS is up and running you’ll be under pressure to put targets in place. Targets are a necessary evil in life. They guide behaviour and can help provide a focus and goal for employees. However, it’s important to allow any NPS regime to stabilise before rushing into target design. You might want to start small and with a conservative zeal in designing targets that are achievable in the real world. Targets that are a stretch may be more suitable at a later date. Just be conscious of the side effects of targeting. It can lead to employees concentrating on the wrong things just to achieve a target number. Whilst the destination my be reached the methods of getting there might be damaging.
  6. Think carefully about linking NPS and remuneration – a tricky topic for most clients but think carefully before doing this. Once a number is linked to pay then the culture changes. My preference is not to go down this route. I’ve had enough service calls with someone whispering a plea down the phone for a good SMS follow up score that it’s plain to see the damage this can do and how much it hardens number watching

These are just some of the tips I’ve got to share. If you have  any more then join the debate!

Net Promoter, NPS and Net Promoter Score are trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company, Inc. and Fred Reicheld

Need some new ideas? Head to San Francisco


A week in San Francisco is enough to get your creative juices flowing. You can’t help but leave the city with a head full of new ideas and possible ventures. As you walk past Twitter, Airbnb and Zynga you begin to sense how much of the city is being taken over by technology start-ups. Whether you’re looking for somewhere to sleep (Airbnb) or something to eat (Amazon Fresh) the city is crammed full of disruptive future thinking companies.

Amazon Fresh San Francisco

One of my favourite start-ups is TaskRabbit where you can request and pay for someone to complete a task or chore for you whether it’s picking up the shopping or running an errand.

Task Rabbit San Francisco

I also spent a number of mornings crossing the city using Lyft, a service whereby you can request a taxi and pay for it using your card stored on your mobile device. The great thing about Lyft was the social aspect of the service. As a passenger you can rate and review your driver and they can do the same for you. This will hopefully mean that service experiences with Lyft are customer-centric right from the outset.

Lyft San Francisco

On another morning I decided to walk down Post and Hyde and through the Tenderloin to work. On doing so I was nearly taken out by a speeding Amazon Fresh van on its way towards more salubrious parts of the city, no doubt with a fresh consignment of wheatgrass. The Amazon van was my first experience of how businesses such as Amazon are beginning to move into new sectors and verticals as they build upon their strength in fulfillment and delivery.

Companies such as Amazon are now well established and can no longer be put into the category of start-up. However, they continue to re-invent themselves: ebay has just recently launched a 1 hour phone to door home delivery business whilst Google is trialing 15 minute express delivery.

Ebay Now San Francisco

If you want to get your creative juices flowing then a week wandering around San Francisco is a good a start as any.