Customer Experience: it is just about balancing anxiety and excitement

Today everything is customer experience. Even the things you don’t do, but that have your name on it affects CX. Though let’s keep it simple: customer experience is just about removing anxiety and increasing excitement in a consistent manner.

Removing anxiety

Every question a customer has is a potential source of fear for her. Every next step in the user journey that has an ambiguous outcome drives anxiety. Nobody likes anxiety and if there is a way to get rid of it people sometimes go a great length. Including switching service providers or brands in general.

Warning signs that you are maintaining anxiety are lists of frequently-asked-questions and answers. Why should customers ask you the same questions frequently? Standard boilerplate responses of customer service representatives are also a sign that there is something wrong. It is all effective, but it does not create a great experience. They keep the poor experience and don’t improve it in the long run.

FAQs and boilerplate are responses to small spikes of anxiety that you have caused by leaving gaps, and those could have been small spikes of excitement if you bothered to work on your well-structured todo list which you have now transformed into an FAQ (well it is always easier to list issues than to solve them). Instead of answering a question on social media using a templated reply, why not work with your customer to make sure this kind of question should never be asked again.

Increasing excitement

It is not about putting up the balloons and throwing confetti (though it helps). A celebration is just one type of excitement, which is excellent, but there is more. Something as simple as confirmation can reassure a customer that she is on the right way. Looking forward to the future is another way of creating excitement (for example with a countdown to the holidays you just have booked). Alternatively, a simple manual (upfront or of course afterward) to explain how the item they want to use is working can create much excitement. It is about triggering the imagination how great life will be, based on their actions. Alternatively, it is about reassuring them that they made a correct decision.

Consistency is better than incidental greatness

Customers’ benchmark of your service is the highest level of service they have experienced. Everything you move below level is a dissatisfier and can create more anxiety (“did I do something wrong that I get this outcome”)

Consistency is not the same as average. If you put your feet in the fridge and your head in an oven. Your average temperature is ok. However, it is not a very consistent experience and probably makes you feel quite miserable.

Consistency removes anxiety. People know what happens next and at the same time, it increases excitement because of that same reason. It provides precise control in the variation, just enough to not make it identical but similar. Even though the outcome is not completely clear the range of the results is identified and are in line with the expectations of the customer.

Keep Customer Experience simple

Identify where your customer has anxiety and remove it. Increase excitement where possible and where applicable. Deliver the experience consistently so your customer has a reasonable expectation of what is next and what she can achieve during her interactions with you.

Let real people be your brand’s Social Media activity

If you haven’t done so already, there is no reason to invest big time in starting up a corporate social media channel. Of course, it is a hygiene measure to have a corporate social media account though will this be your tactic that makes the biggest impact? I don’t think so.

There are groups of people who never owned a desktop computer and learned to access the web via a tablet or who directly went to a mobile phone and skipped landlines. This is the same for corporate social media channels: there is a use for it, and it was an attractive tactic in the past, however, employee advocacy will get you ahead, while the corporate channel will just defend your status quo.

Nobody wants to be friends with a logo

Building up a corporate account is painful. You start with zero attention (friends, followers etc) and what would be the most compelling reason for people to follow a company, to friend a logo? Building up an audience of a reasonable size will be super hard, consuming a lot of time and resources and even then your impact (reach, traffic, engagement) will be limited.

Don’t spend money on acquiring an audience you already have

Chances are high that even though your company is not on social media, your employees are. They might be there for personal reasons to read or share about their hobbies, their expertise or just connect with people they like. Some might be there for professional reasons and some of them might already be an ambassador for your company.

However, don’t see them as your new found marketing department. Don’t just give these employees the content you wanted to share on your corporate social media accounts with the instruction to share it on their own accounts. I would recommend against it, you need a smarter approach. Otherwise, your employees might end up looking like corporate banner ads and loose some friends since all they can talk about is your company.

Just to stress it is not an OR – OR decision between corporate accounts and employee advocacy. Though if you have a limited budget put more into employee advocacy than into building up a corporate social media presence.

Employees have more impact than your corporate accounts

People trust people, that is what is the Edelman Trust barometer is showing year over year. Therefore content shared by your employees is likely to perceived more trust worthy than content shared via a logo (your corporate accounts) even when the content is similar since people trust people more than logos, especially when these people display a certain level of expertise.

Next to trusting content, content (and in particular brand content) is re-shared 24 times more often when distributed by employees than by a brand. Which means that reach is not just a little bit bigger, it is five times bigger. For this increase in reach you either had to be very lucky with your corporate accounts or you had to invest in advertising for a significant amount.

Besides reaching more people, the engagement with your content is a lot higher: up to 8 times higher. So it is not just reach that increases, but also there are more actions that the audience takes with your content.

Lastly many channels, Facebook included, are deprioritizing company content over real people content. So if you are just focusing on corporate channels you will just end up paying more to maintain the same reach.

If it was that easy, why is not everybody doing this?

Before explaining you how you could help the existing group of social media enthusiasts in your company better, let me explain you how you could assist those who are not yet that active on social media first. There are always three root causes why people are not active on social media yet:

Root cause 1: employees lack the knowledge on how to do it

This might be the easiest to tackle by providing continuous education. Not just from a very practical point of view to explain how things work and which buttons to push, but also by sharing best practices with them and by stimulating conversations between themselves to discover what works for them. This is where you can also ask the enthusiastic to step in and share their experiences.

Root cause 2: employees  think they are not allowed to do it

It is not uncommon for people to feel they are not the ones who should be talking on social media. “What would I have to add to this discussion” is they question they raise. Which is true, though at the same time, millions of people don’t seem to holding back and keep adding to the discussion. Is more than always better? No, but you can explain them they have a point of view that is unique and that is valued.

Root cause 3: employees have a lack of discipline

Starting is always easy, keeping the pace is the hard thing. Some people don’t start because they think they cannot keep the pace, some people start and don’t maintain the pace. It is up to you to find a way to keep them going over time by building a habit of sharing and participation.

How you could help your employees to shine

You will help your employees most by not seeing them as a replacement of your corporate communications department or your marketing department. By not burdening them with a task to do for you. Employee advocacy is about making them shine and if you do it well enough their results will reflect on your company, it is not the other way around. In the end people trust people and want to connect with people not with logos.

Make social media a perk, not work

Employee advocacy is about making your employees shine, make them look smarter than they already do, provide them with things they can learn from and what their network could learn from. It is about providing employees an opportunity to grow in a safe and risk free way. Provide them with the opportunity to learn even if they don’t share any content with their network.

Make it easy

Being active on social media is not something natural for everybody and building a habit takes time. Therefore try to make it as frictionless as possible. It can be as simple as you sending them tailor made messages for them to share by clicking a link or by pointing them to an interesting discussion with some proposed talking points.

It shouldn’t take them a lot of time and it should give them a sense of accomplishments and pride on what they have done. Even though you make it easy, don’t forget to praise them for doing it, since they are changing their way of working.

Employee account, employee rules

If you ask your employees to participate you cannot expect that you are the only one setting all the rules. You ask them to participate on social media, you should give them the freedom to choose with what they participate and how they participate. Of course you can provide suggestions, though it is very much up to them to decide what they will do.

Spotlight internal and external

Don’t forget to compliment the employees for their hard work. And more importantly, don’t forget to show it what they mean for you outside the organization and inside. Outside: why not draw the spotlight on them: sponsor their content, highlight their contribution on the corporate accounts and inside: explain why they

Be ready for disappointment on the short term

Change is never easy, keep that in mind. You are working on change management and if that was an easy job, there wasn’t an industry around it. Change is hard both for you as the people you want to help out. Be prepared that it will take twice as long as you planned, success will be limited in the beginning, people dislike your ideas, but that on the long run you can be successful if you persist.

If you can persevere and make employee advocacy work, your employees will win more than the company. The more you enable employees to win big, the more your company can win over time.

Bad doors and bad design are everywhere.

We need more people who care so deeply about good design.

Don Norman started complaining about doors over 25 years ago. Doors shouldn’t need instructions – the shape of them can guide you through just fine. So why do so many doors need instruction manuals right on the side of them?

When most people complain about something, nothing happens. Don Norman is not most people – he’s a psychologist and cognitive scientist. Don Norman thought about, and wrote about his complaints so incredibly thoroughly that he changed the world.

Porsche’s Addiction Correlation

I think this very nice video from Porsche exploring the emotion behind the brand. Making a Porsche not just owning a car but providing yourself a reward. Though there is a horrible correlation / causation error in the voice over. However in the behind the scenes video it is clearly explained it is a correlation. I guess commercials don’t leave any room for nuance.

Behind the scenes (in Dutch)

Made Simpler: The Endless Debate on Return on Investment for Digital

Return on Investment is a topic I often revisit. First of all because I think it is always important to be able to provide insights in the value (Return) of Digital. Second of all since I prefer to find the simplest way for myself to discuss Return on Investment (ROI).

The Basics of ROI are Simple

Just to take you back to what I wrote earlier about ROI and which is still valid. ROI is something simple and exists for a long time. Long before Digital was entering the enterprise, people were calculating ROI for desk phones, office lease or anything else in which they could or had to invest money and wanted to know the return. ROI in itself is just a basic calculation:

ROI = (Gains – Investment) / Investment

Input is everything

Every calculation is as successful as the input that is provided. So leverage the right data and don’t fall into the trap of vanity metrics. For me Vanity Metrics are identifiable by either one of these two characteristics:

  1. You are reporting Aggregated Numbers (example: total number of users since day 1)
  2. Non Actionable Metrics (example: followers on Twitter)

Making ROI simpler to discuss

While ROI is just a calculation, you could avoid the whole debate or have an easier time presenting by making things less abstract. These are three questions you should ask and answer:

1. Does it Make Money?

Simple question, simple answer. If the answer is yes, your next question is: can you make sure it makes enough money so it is worth the investment. Based on my personal experiences: most often you can. As soon as something is making money you can start optimising and tweaking it to grow this stream of revenue. I am fully aware revenue is not profit, however if you do something new (or in a new way) and it is making more money than the old way for a similar investment you basically already did your ROI calculation.

2. Does it Save Costs?

Are the things you are doing more effective or efficient with the use Digital? Are you saving the company money on execution while not jeopardising any revenues and margins? If so, you’ve got a clear winner, since you have just lowered the overall investment while kept the gains at least similar.

3. Does it Make Customers Happy?

Paying customers are the bread and butter for most companies. Therefore if you support your customers by making them happy  via digital you are reducing the risk of them going elsewhere. Retention is a lot cheaper than acquiring new customers. Making your customers happy in order to retain them is a very smart investment with very concrete returns.

The answers on these questions are the answers to the ROI question

Remove the abstraction where possible: ROI is just a number, it is up to you to make it into something tangible. The sweet spot of course is when all three questions are answered with a ‘yes’. With two out of three you are still pretty good and even with one “yes” it still can be a no brainer to move forward. Just remove the abstraction and speak a common language with your stakeholders.


The future of News is not just Messaging it is Conversational AI

Quartz has released it’s first news app for the iPhone. That in itself is not spectaculair, almost everybody creates apps nowadays especially news organisations. However the concept that Quartz uses is unique. Though it is not the current state of the app that gets me excited it is the next state.

Quartz for iPhone has all of that. It’s an ongoing conversation about the news, sort of like texting: We’ll send you messages, photos, GIFs, and links, and you can tap to respond when you’re interested in learning more about a topic. Each session lasts just a few minutes, so it’s perfect for the train, elevator, grocery store line, or wherever you have a spare moment to catch up on the news.

Messaging is not unique

Of course messaging is not unique. There are plenty of apps doing messaging and there are news services leveraging messaging platforms to distribute their news. For me what it makes unique is the interaction with the messages / news events.  With every message a little feedback is collected that gives you either more information on the news event or brings you to the next.

AI is coming to speak with you

Of course you don’t want to answer with standardised messages, nor do you want to have a conversation about topic you are not interested in. You want to have a  conversation  that feels more human than just pushing some buttons.

However to get there, you first have to be comfortable to be in such a situation and that is this stage of the app. It conditions you to interact in a message style with news. It might be the first time that you are doing this, so you better used to it in a comfortable way.

Though I don’t think it will stop with messaging. It might end up to be more conversational and very difficult to distinct from an actual person such as the AI presented in ‘Her’. Though before getting there it will need a lot of information and it gets that information by every response you give to a message.
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Tesla Summon – Disrupting the Disruptors

Self driving cars are not enough anymore, or at least that might be the line of thinking within Tesla. Why have car drive you, why not just let a car drive from A to B. Of course this might be less disruptive than it sounds. However you could imagine that it takes the burden of a lot of things. Or as Tesla themselves describe it:

Using Summon, once you arrive home and exit Model S or Model X, you can prompt it to do the rest: open your garage door, enter your garage, park itself, and shut down. In the morning, you wake up, walk out the front door, and summon your car. It will open the garage door and come to greet you. More broadly, Summon also eliminates the burden of having to squeeze in and out of tight parking spots.

Which is brilliant of course. You could also think of a scheduling option that as soon you reach your destination and you let your Tesla to find a charging station and charge itself. Removing that burden as well. Since of course it is a needless burden to charge an intelligent car and it would make the experience a little bit more magical. If it is about saving time, summon is obvious. You could imagine that the concept of a drive-through restaurant changes in a pick up restaurant where the Tesla drives by to pick up the meal, pays by passing through sensors and gets the meal to you in a timely manner.

Disrupting the disruptors

For me this is just common sense, go from self driving with a human to completely autonomous driving to completing tasks that don’t require human assistance. However the really disruptive part would be if Teslas would become part of a smart swarm, imagine you are a Tesla owner and you have a party with 8 of your friends. Now you most likely would either go for ordering multiple (or a big) Uber of Lyft or a similar service, or go by public transport. Imagine if you could summon a backup Tesla to get you from A to B. So you can not only use your own car, you can use available cars in the group of Teslas around you. Of course there needs to be an attractive business model around this for me as a Tesla owner. However if Tesla ownership means that you can always summon and use your Tesla at the moments you need it and offer it to others when you don’t need it (and get something in return) and for others it means that they can use a Tesla even though they don’t have to own one. It might be the thing that disrupts Uber or if Uber handles smartly the one thing that even strengthens its position.

However if you don’t own a Tesla you cannot drive in it, it will drive you from A to B. The benefit from owning one, is that you can pretend you know how to drive and disregard the intelligent capabilities of your car, having the nostalgic feeling of driving a car, just like in the old days.

The unintended consequences of innovations

In the slums of the future, virtual reality junkies satisfy their violent impulses in online entertainment. An expert player discovers that the line between games and reality is starting to fade away.

When technology is an abstraction or becomes more hidden than there can be unintended consequences. It is too easy to say that things as shown in the video below won’t happen. Though think about this: when you are working on a task on Mechanical Turk are you working to help a student with his thesis or working on a task for an oppressive regime, when entering some words to match a difficult to read text in a Captcha are you just matching something to proof you are not a bot or are you translating a book with dubious content? It is sometimes hard to discover what actually happens with your input.

We should strive to make sure these unintended consequences won’t happen. Of course not every technology will end up the be new Skynet, though as every new technology (and old technology as well) has upsides we need be wary of potential downsides as well. For me understanding the potential challenges that a new technology brings helps me to understand the potential upsides a lot better.

The short film below (Uncanny Valley) shows what could be the dark side of Virtual Reality. If the topic of unintended consequences of technology interests you I would also recommend the British television series Black Mirror which is created by Charlie Brooker.

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Content Blocking is How the Internet is Meant To Be

Content Blocking killed the ad supported business model and even though it gets some companies in trouble. It will spur innovation and business model reinvention for content publishers. If your visitors can block whatever they want (or better phrased: whatever they don’t want), what is the thing you have to offer that is worth their time and money. Hint: it is not just better content.

Content Blocking was released in iOS9 and was presented by Apple as the following:

Use the Content Blocking extension point to give Safari a block list describing the content that you want to block while your users are browsing the web.

Which means that you can install an application on your iOS device which will block certain content in any webpage in Safari. Content only will be blocked in Safari not in other web windows that appear in other apps.

To make things clear before moving ahead:

What Content Blocking is Not

Content blocking is not new. There was a long list of ad blocking extensions available which let you block ads in your browser on your desktop. There are extensions such as Ghostery that allow you to be very specific in what you or what you don’t block. Also you could install a specific profile on your iOS device or setup a specific DNS or VPN connection to filter out content from sources you don’t like. It always has been there, the big change is that it moved out the nerd section (profiles, DNS, VPN, proxies or extensions) and got easy with just installing an app.

Second of all content blocking is not stealing. It is not taking money away from people whose content you read. It is deciding not to download certain elements on pages of publishers on your device. Office proxy servers often block already such elements (ads, tracking or platforms as a whole such as Facebook). The publisher is free to force you to have everything downloaded before reading, though you are free to not do so (and also to not consume the content).

Why this is what the Internet needed

Content blocking is what the Internet needed first of all since page size is increasing each year in almost exponential fashion. At the same time traffic is moving more and more to mobile and even though our bandwidth in general increases, it doesn’t always catch up and therefore load times increase.  Big pages consume more battery on your mobile device, big pages cannot be loaded in some cases and if you are on a bandwidth limited mobile plan you burn through your data quickly.

A content blocker makes sure that the page is being downloaded significantly faster on your mobile device. which is the key feature for me. It is not about blocking content per se, it is about speeding up the loading times and making sure content gets there faster. In this lengthy review of Ben Brooks you can see that pages are being loaded up to almost 62% faster. In this review about Crystal (one of the content blockers for iOS) on betanews it shows that bandwidth savings can be over 50% depending on the websites you are visiting. Also some of the blockers just keep you sane and block everything about the Kardashians.

Publishers should leverage Content Blockers

These numbers are not just in the interest of the user. It should be in the interest of the publisher as well. Page abandonment increase linearily in the first 4 seconds of a page visit. Which means that the longer somebody has to wait the more likely he or she drops of. After 4 seconds of waiting 25% of the people left. When shopping 40% of the people leave a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Why as a publisher wouldn’t you be supporting content blockers at all since it could increase your direct conversion.

Source: Kissmetrics

Source: Kissmetrics

If people prefer to use a content blocker to speed things up or to block ads you could say they are wrong. However if many people are telling you they have a problem that your platform is to slow and solved the poor experience by content blocking and you decide to ignore this, you are either stubborn or visionary. I would say most likely the first though the long term will learn me if it is the second.

Your issue is distribution, not destination

During one of the many meetings with smart people I had last year one of them drafted the issue most organisations have to be one of distribution not destination around content. Content Blocking provides a solution for distribution (getting things faster on your own terms). There are several ways to tackle this issue, especially going outside the bounds of your original destination. For example companies such as the Washington Post are using Facebook Instant articles and Wired chooses to have some exclusivity with Apple News. The companies are publishing on a platform they don’t own, but deliver maximal distribution and a very smooth and integrated content delivery integrated in the platforms.

If in the end it is wise to publish on platforms you don’t own is a whole other question. Though mixing the content across platform could be a very effective way of getting your content in front of the right audiences without having to worry about Content Blockers.  Since those won’t work in Facebook’s native application or in the Apple News app. However which content is served (such as ads or trackers) next to the content of the article is not the ultimate decision of the publisher, it is done by the platform owner.

Solve distribution, don’t block the blockers

Content blocking is something that is still relatively small now, though it is a clear signal from users that there is a demand. If users have an easy way to turn of ads and trackers and speed up the page they will do it and in some cases they are even willing to pay for an app that help them to do so. Even if they don’t pay, they are willing to go to the process of downloading an additional app to improve their overall experience. For publishers this is an important lesson to learn: it is not just about creating high quality content that people are willing to consume and / or pay for. It is about the whole experience around the content as well. If users are now optimising their own experience, it means that as a publisher you are not trying hard enough for your users.

On the long run, good content won’t be enough. A seamless, fast and non intrusive content experience will become the norm either facilitated by third party solution such as content blockers, third party platforms such as Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News or by publishers themselves after they have cleaned up their platforms and make things less bloated and privacy invasive. The content experience will improve nevertheless since the bar has been raised and content blockers have shown how great the experience can be, it is up to the publishers to accept this new reality and either be actively part of it to make the change happen or to see how they are being changed from the outside (or bypassed…).