The interview lasts around 45 minutes, followed by a 15-minute Q&A. If you don’t have time to watch the full video, you can use the timestamps below to identify the parts you’re most interested in. Alternatively, you can search the transcript of the conversation for particular keywords using Control+F (or Command+F on a Mac).
Resources mentioned in the interview
- The Oxytocin Organisation: A Playbook for Creating Participatory Experiences
- UX LIVE Conference
- Healthy Minds
- The Pirate Inside: Building a Challenger Brand Culture Within Yourself and Your Organization
- Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business
- High Performance Thinking Skills: How to Succeed in a Complicated World
- Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion
• over 25 years of experience in digital
• built and designed websites before people had specific roles
• mostly worked at agencies like Tribal, Accenture, some client roles
• wrote a book on service design and participation
• wrote a book on service design and participation
• how groups construct a service that generates participation
• practical guide/playbook based on his experience
• addiction to quick wins
• mental health in the workplace, constantly under the cosh
• how designers can influence the culture and the environment
• good vs. bad examples of culture
• service towers work well on their own
• creating wellbeing, driving engagement, enabling co-creation
• age of digital, age of responsibility, age of automation
• post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the workplace
• responsible use of digital, macOS Catalina
• bottom-up change towards age of responsibility, CSR initiatives
• revenue opportunities, shareholder and employee responsibilities
• social, physical, creative activities promote wellbeing
• building communities that want to interface with brands
• dealing with dark patterns in the age of responsibility
• customer experience index (CXI), cross-selling and retention
• making the financial argument for good experiences
• UX designers and UX researchers benefit from business savvy
• convincing leadership with business cases
• evidence of commercial opportunities
• How can a designer make an impact in a company which has a revenue-target sort of mindset?
• When is the mind site going live?
• What do you see as the future of branding in a world where service experience is becoming more and more important?
• Favorite resources?
• Parting words?
Keep up with Jonathan Lovatt-Young on Twitter
Sandro: So, from there we go to you, John, the star of today.
Sandro: Can you introduce yourself quickly? Who are you? What are you doing? What are your plans?
John: Well. Yeah. So, I’ll give you my 20 second skinny. So I’ve worked in digital for just over 25 years now. Pre-web, that’s my claim to fame back at Hypercord, and then for those who remember it, Philips Laserdisc, which are these twelve-inch CDs built on Hypercord. And yeah, I built and designed, because there wasn’t roles at the very beginning of the web, some of the first websites, like the very first website for Wimbledon, the first website for like, Cadbury’s and you know, there’s a whole list of them when people didn’t even know what the web was.
Sandro: Right, right.
John: Quite frankly, everyone was making it up, and since then, I’ve worked in a suite of, mainly in the agency side, but I’ve had some client roles as well. I think it’s important to understand and just appreciate what goes on in businesses. And some of them, you know, have been some pretty large agencies. Like Tribal, and Accenture.
John: I work with a whole range of clients, in the UK, probably one of the biggest retailers that did a digital transformation project is Argos. And I was leading the experience team on that. And then I spent nearly three years working for Volkswagen, at an agency. And yeah, for the last sort of three years, I’ve been a consultant. So I’ve worked in teams, and on my own, and for a whole suite of different clients. But always in that UX space.
John: And yeah. The last year, I don’t know why, I must be crazy, I spent a big chunk of team in the end writing a book on service design and participation. I’m just starting to share some of it now with the community. I don’t have a master plan for world domination. Not quite yet, anyway.
Sandro: Not yet, exactly. Yes. Yeah actually, that’s how we got to the chair in the first place, because you’ve been taking some time out to write a book. So if you would have to, we talked a bit about this beforehand, so in the book you go into a lot of different topics. What would be kind of your peach of the book itself? Like what the topic is about, and then we can from there kind of dive deeper.
John: Well, I think the main thing is around the role of a collection of people. You know, whether that’s the leadership team, it could be marketing directors, it could be UX people, or technologists or data people. And its about together, how are you constructing a service which generates participation? Because the main thing, which was happening, it was happening organically as well, there was no process to it, was companies having this need where they wanted to get their customers involved in their products frequently. Because, you know, some things have really long use cycles on them, so there’s no actual massive value, and would you have a relationship with a business? And what I basically wanted to do is… My confession is, I did not start writing a book, I am not an author. Well, I guess I wasn’t. [crosstalk 00:04:21]
Sandro: You are now.
John: But I’d done three projects that had, in my eyes, failed. Which is a tough thing to say but it’s true. Where the recommendations, what the real opportunity that that client or, and these are really big brands, I’m not going to name them but if I listed them, you probably own things from them. And they wanted to do quick wins. And I kind of termed it as this “quick-wins addiction”, you know, businesses are so focused on generating revenue immediately that, even when faced with, here’s this large list of opportunities and this is why these things are the right things to do, they kind of discount the mid- to long-term, only focusing on the short-term, and only looking at revenue. And I thought, I stopped at the five why’s with myself, why is it that these organizations don’t want to do these things which is what I’m considering to be where the value is.
John: And I thought, well, I know how to, sort of, create these participatory platforms where more people are involved and there’s actually value for the customers, an equal value for the organization. And I thought, what I’ll do is I’ll codify it. I’m going to take a few weeks, I’m going to write it down. It proved to be nothing more than a labor of love. Because it was near impossible writing it down, because it was this kind of, seeing inside the Matrix. There was just so many moving parts and things that overlap, it couldn’t actually be turned into a nice flow diagram of, “oh, it just needs these activities and that’s how you make it.”
John: And I thought, I don’t know how to do this. Some of it’s happening organically, I’m challenging myself to write it down, and in the end I thought, I need to, as we were saying earlier, get into the flow. Think very deeply about how and why these things should be done. And then write a methodology, which sounds quite grand. And the more I started unpicking that subject matter, I guess the more complex it became and in the end I thought, I’m going to use the channel, the format, of a book to help me explore how this thing should actually be put together. And I thought, one of the big things, and this is is again a strange thing to say and do, but it’s true, I would normally put a methodology together that has some IP and value to it, and I would sell that as a consulting service. I would direct or, within another consultancy or agency.
John: And I thought, one thing that’s happened, and I’ve observed this kind of increasing over time, a lot of organizations have been insourcing talent. So they don’t want someone to come and do it for them, they want to do it themselves. They want this playbook or practical guide, it’s like, “can you just give us all your 25 years experience please, how you went and figured out this methodology, so we can do it ourselves?” And I thought, it’s an interesting dilemma, do I keep the secret source to myself, and have this “eureka, I’ve discovered how you do it,” or how I think it’s done, or do I basically write it down and give it away so people can do it themselves?
John: Over the last six to nine months, I’ve been working as part of a consortium for Mind, the UK’s leading mental health charity, to build our new platform which has got a learning algorithm behind it. It’s been fantastic and massively distressing in equal measure. Because what I’ve done is, and this is why I ended up deciding to publish this book, just outright with everything in it, didn’t hold back on the original new thinking, there’s a real need to create, and this is for all of us, right, whether you’re a designer, a researcher, whoever, even an MD, there’s a need on us, or a demand, to create services that build peoples’ resilience and improve their wellbeing.
John: I don’t know if it was a global thing but certainly in the UK, last week it was, I guess it is, World Mental Health Day and there’s been various mental health awareness days. On one, I think it was last Thursday, it said, “one in eight of us,” and it’s on a scale, so bear that in mind, “one in eight of us at any one time is having some suicidal thoughts.” And you’ve got this demand on the left hand side, you’ve got a set of organizations and people working in them, and there’s this whole massive part of society like a rollercoaster that keeps just undulating which is experience all manner of these mental health issues. And I started to think about responsibility, and who’s job is that? [crosstalk 00:10:39]
Sandro: Right. And also, maybe, to make the link there, the addiction to quick wins actually increases stress for employees. How you I think mentioned it last time was like, this kind of an air of unhappiness in the workplace. So just to make that link as well, right?
John: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. There’s this piece around always being under the cosh, which is around, “quick, quick, quick, we need to deliver these results”. So everyone’s in a space where they’re feeling under pressure. How good is that an environment to enable people to do their best? It’s not. I think, this is where I think a lot of experienced designers will start saying, “well, I don’t have any power or influence over it,” we start getting into organizational design and operational model. Because that is how the company is structured. And you know, how can you, as a practitioner, start to influence that kind of culture and environment?
John: There’s always this kind of Venn diagram, and I think we’re going to recognize two parts of it and the third is always in the bin. Which is, we’ve got experience, we have data, and we have this other thing called culture. When people are designing, they’ve got all this insight, we’re a data-hungry society, we’re trying to always deliver these great customer experiences, but the bit that everyone forgets about is, do we have the right culture and set of behaviors to enable those things to be delivered? And the answer is, for the most part, no. And I think quick wins compounds it, because there’s just an assumption that we’re all going to jump on the bus, snap to it, and go and deliver this stuff.
Sandro: Right. And what’s… So do you have an example of a culture that inhibits or, let’s say, accelerates this stress and unhappiness in the workplace? And one of example how it could look like, maybe one real-world example or one ideal of how it could look like, before we can maybe go into what we can do as practitioners, as you say, to [crosstalk 00:13:29]
John: I think a real-world problematic example is in retail. You’ve got this often what you call blended retailer approach, which is bricks, clicks and people. So we’ve got this large footprint, people’s behaviors have changed over the time, but the retail organizations have done nothing about it, so they’ve continued to own this physical space, these stores, in the same format, and the traditional way of measuring store performance was literally on per-square-foot, as in the revenues achieved. Those models are now, these fiscal spaces are not fit for purpose. Then there’s been this almost competitor in the room, which is themselves. Where they’ve been building their own e-commerce functionality. And those services haven’t been integrated in any way to the real estate. Maybe at best, some kind of simplistic click and collect, but actually, there’s no reason to use that space.
John: And the third pole, which has been missed entirely, is the people element. Which is, are these people just actually drones delivering it, and how are they involved in any way, at a more social level? The answer is, they’ve not been designed, and I think we’re starting to see all of retail come under just more pressure, and what can they do to shore up the bank? They just have to be doing, and I don’t mean this with any disrespect, but they have to be doing more conversion rate optimization. So, the longevity really tightens up into a, “let’s run this test. We need to be-” It’s all tiny incremental gains. And that occupies just everyone’s bandwidth. So you don’t actually have the head space to do any of the stuff which really matters. I think we’re going to just continue to see retail going down. I don’t know who, there’s certainly no brands that really come to mind, that I would point to and say, “they’ve got the blueprint correct and are absolutely killing it.” I think people are starting to try, but we can argue, is it too late?
John: Maybe, on brands that are more positive at trying to build our community, but still commercial organizations, I think you’ve got brands like RAFA, because what they’ve recognized is, they are as powerful as their community is passionate about that interest. They’ve monetized it in a particularly good way, but I think they’ve still been very genuine to their manifesto or mission, and that kind of clarity of strategy is probably why brands like them are actually performing really well, versus the traditional retail brands which are just tanking.
Sandro: So have you seen, or let’s say, if we take your model or your framework into consideration, what does a healthy culture look like?
John: Well, I think there’s a whole series, and this is probably the important thing, it’s not a checklist approach. It’s about saying every kind of business and organization is unique, so how is that going to be engineered, these particular values which build that participation. It could be, for instance, something that’s really benefiting, I’ll give you a really good example of something that I’ve been thinking about that comes to mind.
John: Let’s take pensions. Right? I bet everyone’s emotional reaction to that word is boring. Not very interested. Something that’s so far in the future it’s not really meaningful, so what. Right? It’s something I get at work. And it’s something I probably should be doing. So we do have an emotional reaction to it, but it’s largely to ignore it. So if we start thinking about how that could be engineered, there could be a whole suite of services that sit inside this. There could be things, for instance, like price checking, where you might set a threshold, you might say, I don’t know, myself, my sister, is in market for a new TV. And we put a shortlist together, and I said, we could use Camel Camel Camel. Which I love to death, I think it’s a brilliant service, where you can post an Amazon URL in and see it’s pricing. You can set an alert for that. You might have some access to read-only, where, whether it’s your savings, credit cards, other accounts. So as a provider, they gain a rich picture into your financial life. They’re not doing anything with it, it’s just so they can understand you.
John: Then you might have somewhere really useful, you might call that a policy center, a place where all this documentation is actually stored in a useful and usable way. I know myself, I actually made a home insurance claim recently and it was torturous as an experience. To the point where I almost thought, why am I bothering? You’ve also got, as an employee, all these workplace benefits. Whether that’s holiday, pension schemes, that kind of thing, and health. And the last thing is, we’ve got lending and financial services.
John: So these, let’s call them the service towers, they are towers, they are independent. They’re usually built up quite high, people have done a really good job, and they work well. But they work well on their own. Things start to get interesting when you apply an integration between them. So there’s different type of integration. Whether it’s something that’s just functional, or maybe it’s something that’s social, or it could even be something that’s really disruptive. When you go through the process, think about, my mental model for this is physical towers, and putting between them. Building the connections.
John: So you might say, if you wanted to build something which is around social, you might say, well, from our workplace benefits, could we, if we’re not using all of the benefit in that pot, can we use that in any way as part of the lending scheme? Because at the moment them two things are completely isolated. And when you start applying a matrix of values and seeing how can you create wellbeing, the three things, I guess the homework question was, what does good look like for an organization? Well there’s three things. You’re creating wellbeing, you’re driving engagement, and you’re enabling a co-creation. Whether that’s employee to employee or employee to customer.
John: And in that financial services example, we say, well, things can get connected, a group can choose discounts. So we all might say, together, we choose to get this discount. So we’ve got good herd instincts getting behind something, because we all are buying into it. So let’s take something really simple, right? Pensions at the moment is probably, at best, once a year, right? And I know this myself, having not engaged with it. At best, I said.
John: What happens if I said to you, we’ve already said we can get these gift cards, so you get that through most workplace benefit schemes. And typically, on a hundred pound gift card, you can get them for supermarkets, you’ll get either between five and ten pounds. Pretty big discount. You’re going to the grocery store every week anyway. And you’ve got that regular spending going on. So if you use that, you’ve paid ninety pounds to get one hundred pounds of value at the grocery store. There’s ten pounds now available. You haven’t had to do anything other than to live your life like normal. What can happen there is that can put into an investment fund for lending, where you can look at people, and this can be a particular community, could be just within that company or your local area, and you can provide that loan to them. And that loan is an investment. So there’s growth there, there’s growth in the fund. But it’s done in a very social way. So you get the good feeling from it, it’s very positive, you haven’t really had to do very much, you’re doing it together, and everybody’s benefiting from it. [crosstalk 00:24:09]
Sandro: But this kind of goes also-
John: Changing the conversation from pension once a year, not really that interested in it, to a, it’s something I’m engaged with almost on a daily basis just by the nature of buying stuff.
Sandro: Right. I think this also goes into a lot of companies and individuals as well, they’re not really thinking about this kind of service or service connections because they also might not maybe take up the responsibility of that it could be their task to change or create these services. Because I found interesting, you told me beforehand, we were saying, the age of digital is dead in your sense, and you have two new ages that you are talking about. And I really want to get into this as well, because I think it’s super interesting to hear and also empowering to hear for both companies and individuals on what these two ages are upon us.
John: Yeah, I will, there we go.
Sandro: Oh yeah.
John: I’m sharing that. I’ll give everyone, this is, again, it’s an opinion. But it’s been formed through this process of understanding the methodology, or writing it at least.
John: If we think about behavior, and impact on mental health, what we’ve got is we’ve got a business need or a demand to have more and frequent interaction. So businesses use methodologies, and the biggest one that comes to mind that’s used in healthcare especially is Com B. If you haven’t heard about Com B, just end me an email and I’ll happily talk to you for a very long time about it. Let you know all about the pros and cons of it. There’s lots of other frameworks as well like Mindspace and stuff. They all have a similar kind of mechanism at the heart of incentivizing people, running through a cycle and rewarding them. They’re all of the same kind of nature.
John: What’s happening is, a lot of these things, and because of the technology platform and the operating system, we’re able to deploy ECRM. And that can be a push notification, or it could be an email, everything doesn’t revolve around notifications. But it’s some form of alert, some kind of trigger is being put there to get you to respond in some way. What’s actually happening with this is it’s building an addiction. When I started to dig into it with my involvement with Mind, I said, well, what does that look like? And they said, “John, we’re seeing an eighth of the population exhibiting post-traumatic stress disorder.” But these people haven’t been in warfare. You normally think of post-traumatic stress disorder from soldiers and people who have been in this highly intensive atmosphere. It’s the neurochemical effect of seeing, when someone’s liked or commented on a post, whether it’s on Facebook or Twitter or whatever, we’re all building this anxiety, this massive anxiety. Which is resulted in businesses actually trying to get us to do more and more frequently.
John: Even this week, I do see leaders acknowledging, finally, that these things are bad. Because that’s what it’s resulting in. I don’t know how many people have installed the new OS-X Catalina. [crosstalk 00:28:31] But this thing that it asks you to set up is managing your usage analytics. Because they recognize that bing addicted to The Black Mirror, whether it’s that size or this size is irrelevant, is actually damaging to us. Massively. And businesses have been responsible in driving that. So I’ve started to forpass this, you can see it on this bottom curve, we’ll call it the Age of Digital. I think we’ve gone through the crest. We all know More’s Law is starting to break down, and we’re now on the decline where people are going to start playing a more and more active role themselves, and businesses, in managing that responsible use of digital. In the widest sense.
John: And I started to think about, in terms of participation and who’s job is it, I thought we’re actually on this trajectory at the moment, and this is not meant to be political or anything, but we can all see, with many of the world leaders that are there today, we can all have our opinions about them, and there’s all the big causes that are going on around sustainability, we’ve all seen in London, well, everywhere, that you’ve got movements like Extinction Rebellion. These are not a few tree-huggers who are just doing a little protest and no-one’s actually paying any attention. But this is now about people making the demand actually on these organizations and these governments to take action. We don’t want to hear about what they might do, we want to see what [crosstalk 00:30:23] going to do. And I think this is starting to grow at a real accelerated pace, and-
Sandro: But do you think the companies are actually doing it, because we talked about quick wins before, which is always this revenue-driven mindset, right?
Sandro: And so, do you see a real shift in this age of responsibility within the companies towards this age of responsibility, or are you seeing that there’s actually a grassroots pressure from the people, kind of situation?
John: Yeah, it’s the latter. I think it’s coming bottom-up. It’s from the individuals. I think they’re creating the demand and some organizations and businesses are starting to think about what they should do over the token, I’m sure everyone’s seen this, these token CSR initiatives. Had a meeting the other day in a really large agency, probably one of the most famous names in the world, and they had this one day where, this environmental day, and even the planner who I know, said, “this is just total bullshit. We’re not going to change a damn thing, it’s just we’re ticking the box. We probably made some Instagram posts of us all doing this stuff.”
Sandro: It’s the PR, right?#
John: You know, are we great? And he said, “look, we’re not, right.” And actually, the people that work there, the employees, they had taken it really seriously because we all recognize that now is the time for action. And I think businesses are starting to understand that, but I think the reference is how do you commercialize it? Where is there a revenue opportunity?
Sandro: Because businesses are still going to look for that, right?
John: Absolutely. [crosstalk 00:32:17]
Sandro: Hard to measure, right.
John: You have to, this is where you can’t be very purist and blinkered and say, well, we’ve got to do it, we’ve got no choice. You have a commercial organization that’s got some shareholder responsibility, or it’s got, certainly, responsibility to its employees. If that business, like for instance Thomas Cook recently, is mismanaged, you end up with many multiple thousands of people affected by poor company behavior. That’s the result of not being responsible.
John: I think what I would say to people is all business leaders, if you engineer, you engineer the operating model so it is participatory, and you are being responsible in increasing people’s wellbeing and collaboration, the engagement, this kind of co-creation. Then what you’re going to do is you’re going to build up this pack of trust in the brand. Because you are doing the right thing. But actually, what you’re doing is you’re establishing more social connections. And we can all argue how digital has started to squash that stuff.
John: If we come back to the mental health argument just for a moment, there’s three things you can do, right, to increase your resilience and build your wellbeing. The best way of thinking about it is, it’s a bit like a mobile phone battery. When you just use it, and even use it a little bit, it depletes. You have to keep charging this stuff up, right? And that’s really challenging to do, and there’s three ways that you can do that charging. You can either do stuff that’s really social, you can do stuff that’s really physical, or you can do stuff that’s creative. You get maximum effect when you try and, think about that as a Venn diagram, when you combine things together. In my case, I like doing wind-surfing and those kind of water things. If I do it on my own it’s fully enjoyable, if I do it and meet up with all my friends, it’s a thousand times better. Actually, that kind of combination effect is what really can increase resilience.
John: The thing what you get as a byproduct of that is frequency. You get the social groups wanting to come together often. So if you’re a retailer, let’s just say, for instance, you’re in apparel, you make jackets. That customer might have no need to have a relationship with you because they’re going to keep that jacket for three, five, seven years. Right? Whereas if you’re building these communities, they’re going to be having something to do with each other on a weekly, even shorter, frequency. Maybe even daily. So think about that. As a retailer, I’m trying to engage my audience, at the moment there’s no way of reaching them other than continuing to push coms at them, and actually I built a community where they want to interface with me on a weekly basis. So I am building habit, but I’m building habit through community.
John: And the last bit of this is around, we only have to look at computing power and algorithms to start really appreciating this automation that can happen. Why is this linked to responsibility, is you’re not going to give permission, again, it’s part of this decline of age of digital, we’re being more aware of our data footprint and managing our data. That’s definitely increasing. We are being responsible as individuals and managing our data. But we’ve got to have trust. If I’m going to just give over my actions to you as a business where you’re going to, quite frankly, take control, then who am I going to trust? I’m going to trust the types of business who have been really responsible, who have generated increased wellbeing for lots and lots of communities, or I’m going to start trusting these old quick win addicts, who have been just trying to use all the usual persuasive-designed trickery to get me to do stuff.
Sandro: I mean this also spills over into, actually, the employees wellbeing, right? Because if you’re working on manipulative products, if you want, you know that as an individual, right, and so you won’t have the same, as you mentioned, participation or passion for the topic because you know you’re not necessarily improving the mental health or whatever of the responsibility you’ve put upon yourself, but you’re actually making it worse. And so one question for me would be, okay, so I’m a designer, I’m a researcher, at a company, you know these kind of dark patterns are going on, and we talked a bit about, beforehand, and we’re both also guilty of this, I think we’ve all worked on products or are indulging in behavior where we’re like, “okay, that’s not so bad,” you know? “Let’s shift that feature even if it’s actually addiction-inducing,” let’s say.
Sandro: So that being aside, we’re not bad people because of that, but now what can we do in this age of responsibility if I’m working in a company who doesn’t get it yet, what can I do as a designer, as a researcher, in order to actually take up that responsibility, and prepare ourselves for this age of automation?
John: Yeah, it’s the pirate challenge, isn’t it? The pirate and the Navy. As a single pirate, you’re not going to change everybody, so where do you start? There’s, often, what I see, is these really big backlogs, it’s almost like this roadmap is planned out, I have no influence nor power with this business-as-usual juggernaut steamrolling ahead. So thanks, it all makes sense, but I can’t do anything.
John: I think what I would say is, and this is where, if you want to get noticed, what you’ve got to do is, it almost pains me to say these words, you’ve got to behave like a finance person. You can’t come with the argument of “this is good user experience,” “this is meeting these user needs,” because the financial leaders of the business who are controlling your activity, let’s be clear on that, are not interested in that conversation. The things which get their ears enormously, and if you haven’t read it, again, I’m happy to talk to people about it, is if you dig into the detail of what’s called CExI, customer experience index, and start looking at the different types of classification of who’s doing things well and what, you’ll quickly go, where is there an opportunity.
John: The thing which most companies do is provide somewhere between, well, poor and good at best emotional experiences. And there’s two big metrics here. This is you as a researcher behaving like a financial director. Cross sell and retention. Let’s sell people more things, and let’s keep on doing it for longer. Good levers. Just to give you a couple of stats, if you’re doing your emotional stuff well, you’re looking at an impact around 16% on your cross sell. If you drive excellent emotional experiences, that just rockets up to 82%. And that means more cash in the till. So you can do your job with your head held high, and say well, my job is to develop good experiences. But you’re trying to find, in that overall customer journey, where are things at the moment? Where are the weeds? Where are the things that are just really crappy? And just knock them out the park, make them absolutely phenomenal. And they’re just individual little things, you’re not going to change the operating model or the business, that’s just not going to happen.
John: But what you can do is you can do that, work with your data colleagues, and get them to measure that. Because that becomes this little case study, and you can say, you can go, this goes up the food chain and goes up the food chain very quickly, say, “I was really worried that we were doing this thing not great. And our current commerce cross sell was this. So we went to town on it with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch and we made it absolutely amazing, and now look what we’re doing in terms of cross sell.” And you’ll go, “that was one thing. But I can do this a thousand times over. Imagine if we got everybody involved in it, what the multiplier effect would be, and how we could differentiate our business, versus the competitors.”
John: With the data, with the evidence, of showing them how good and high-quality emotional design actually brings financial results, that’s when the board is on your side. And it’s through doing. Because I think if you go to them saying this is what you want to do, they’re just going to ignore you.
Sandro: Yeah, sure. I think it’s one thing that I’m often seeing, is that a lot of designers and researchers don’t really have a lot of the business acumen. And they’re also really convinced that they don’t need it.
John: I’ll tell you one thing, and I did it intentionally, and it was a baptism of fire, I had a really fantastic job, I certainly felt like I was on my way up in the DigitasLBi group, and I was working with a lot of very passionate people, very talented people, and I enjoyed, I would say, without a lie, I enjoyed 99% of my time there.
John: And I left, right. I left at the point where I was going to get another promotion. And you might go, why did I do that? The thing is, we were pitching against these big management consultancy groups and we were not getting a seat at the top table, and we had a report on a really big client that had all this operating model stuff in it and we were like, what the hell is a TOM? Like, seriously? Other than a guy called Tom, right? It’s a target operating model. And I went and spoke to one of the strategists and said, “how do we do this TOM stuff?” And he said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
John: And I decided at that point in time, if you can’t beat them, you’ve got to join them. I left something I was enjoying enormously and I joined Accenture Management Consulting. And as a rule of thumb, I did not enjoy it. But I went there on a mission, a mission to learn how they do things, how they work with business leaders, and actually, how they get things done. And for all of the faults, they do do a lot of things phenomenally well. I saw the types of conversations they were having and how these things were structured. For a big retailer, we did all this prototyping, and I felt really proud, and I’m sure a lot of people hopefully feel that way about the work they do, they’ve put some effort in.
John: And in the end they said, “well there’s going to be this board meeting which is going to fund this really significant piece of work.” And I said, “are we going to show this stuff?” And they said, “No. We’re not interested. What we want to know is what is the revenue opportunity of you doing this thing?” And they said, “the thing which you can do, John, is actually get very passionate about what this customer experience will feel like. And you need to say this is the actual commercial opportunity of doing it.” And instead of the managing partner, I actually did the presentation, bumbling my way through it because I don’t have really slick, polished presentation skills, I never have and I doubt I ever will. It’s not something I’m phenomenal at, unfortunately. You know your limits.
John: So I went through this stuff and the CEO, and this guy had been the CEO of big brands like Best Buy in the States and goodness knows what, he used an expression and it stuck with me even though it’s a few years ago. He said, “We cannot not do this.” And I thought, is that a good or a bad thing? And he said, “go and get on with it, now.” And afterwards we talked about it as a team, and they said, they’d never seen a board meeting happen like that. There would be normally a lot more discussion and review. And it was that bringing of the business case, with a very clear experience vision, that was what did it. And what I would say to everybody is we all don’t need to be management consultants. We can stay practitioners, but if you are trying to convince leadership on an experience-only conversation, they’re not going to give it much attention.
Sandro: Yeah. I think the term of “they just don’t get it” doesn’t really help either, right?
John: They do get it, they are running a company, what they’re not interested in is the detail. That’s your job.
Sandro: Right, yeah. Actually in the last conversation we had with Boss Piers from Sky Scanner, he was mentioning something similar. He always tries to make it a story, in a way, but then also have the business aspects inside when he pitches something. And not only how good their experience will be, but actually what the bottom line will say after it’s implemented.
John: You’ve got to come with some ammo, don’t come with a “what I want to do”. Come with “what I’ve done”. Show the evidence, right? Come with that, I did this job, and this was the impact on the cross sell. This is how many more people came and completed the sale in our store. What was the result of it? When those people see the evidence, they’re really bright people, they just go “yes!” They don’t actually even want to kind of have a long conversation about it. Just go, “go and do it.” It’s the long-list approach, of going “if only we did this stuff”. Well why should they fund that? Because it’s all hypothetical. You need to bring the evidence to that conversation.
Sandro: If I’m a researcher or designer and I’m in a company and I want to, how should I say that… Improve? Or take more responsibility for certain issues? Is there any, I hate to say the word quick wins-
John: No, do not say the word quick wins.
Sandro: I’m not going to say the word quick wins, even though I did. No, I mean, what can I do to have a lot of impact? Because there’s a million things I can work on, right? Do you usually do audits-
John: [crosstalk 00:50:02]
Sandro: What’s that?
John: The biggest emotional shift, take something at the moment which is completely crap for the customer, but you’ve got to measure it, right? Again, we’ve got to use the right language here. You’ve got two states. You’ve got an as-is state, and a to-be state. You need to record all the metrics of what’s going on in that as-is state. You need to do the work, you need to show what’s going to happen, have a hypothesis, in the to-be state, what will happen, then you find out, when you’ve done it. That’s what you’ve got to do. And that’s what you can report back, and be like, “this was my hypothesis, we believed that this was terrible because of these metrics. We did this and we thought this would be the impact. And then this is what we actually found.”
John: I’ve done that for a really big mobile telco, again, it was kind of counterintuitive. They wanted to do up-sells during the basket checkout. But for me, it’s a leaky colander in the flow. You’ve got someone who’s committed, and what you’re doing is you’re distracting them. And we said, how about, on the confirmation page, you actually reward them and say, “that’s amazing, you#re going to get this latest whatever handset really soon, and as a thank you for buying it, you can have 50% off a cover,” or those kind of things, the up-sells they were trying to make. And that business said, “well, this is a significant margin for us,” and I said, “I believe that’s a distraction, it’s a bad customer experience.”
John: When they went to the new model that a couple of us worked on, and they got a 40% increase in revenues, the first thing they said is, “how much more of this can you do?” Because it was evidenced. I could have persuaded and nagged them to death, and I’m very persistent, I could have nagged them to death about doing that because as a designer I didn’t like it, I got the research to say users didn’t like it, it’s a weed, it’s a bad experience. It’s me moaning about it. When I went and met their MD and said, “we changed the flow, this is where we injected the up-sell and we increased revenues by 40%,” they didn’t see me as a whining designer at that point, they saw me as a guy that can make them money.
Sandro: Yeah. Right, right. Again, as you say, they are trying to run a business, right? That actually goes, since we already talked an hour, as I said, it goes fast, we can Segway into the Q&A. Sharizvi asked a similar question I just asked, “How can a designer make an impact in the company which has the revenue target mindset?” We talked a bit about this now. So basically, start small and try to-
John: First of all, catalog it by emotion. My question back is have you got the customer journey mapped with a controlled emotional vocabulary? Do you understand from an evidence point of view where it is really, really negative? Because there’s probably ten thousand things that you could change, but how do you know where you’re going to start? And then pick that one, which is really terrible, and record the data for it. Because if you’re not recording the data for it, it’s just your argument, right? You’ll be like, “well we thought this was really crappy, so we did all this work, and now look, it’s making all this money.” But you’ve got to show to the leadership the shift from state A to state B. It’s the business case. [crosstalk 00:54:12] also be interested in, how much resource-burn was there during that time? So that’s brilliant that you increased revenue by X, but if it required ten people from engineering for three months to do it.
John: Leaders of large commercial organizations are always, there’s two dimensions inside their heads. Everything’s plotted on value versus feasibility. It’s value to company first, next one is value to customer, and third, value as fitted to our strategy. But then feasibility is operational, like have we got the resources to deliver it, and capabilities, do we need to buy more capabilities or change them to do it? So when you come with a suggestion, they’re quickly calculating this value versus feasibility of going, “well, it might give us all of this, but if I’ve got to make this enormous operational investment to achieve that revenue, is there something else I can do, faster, which will achieve the same amount of revenue with less resource?”
John: I hate giving these things as a pitch because I’m not keen on them, but if you are coming to that UX live conference, they roped me in, or asked me to do a workshop on how you do this type of prioritization for business audiences. And if you’re not coming to it, then send me an email and I’m happy to talk to you about it anyway.
Sandro: Okay, good. Cheers. So there is one question, a quick one from Andy, “When is the Mind site going live?” You mentioned in the beginning-
John: So, yeah, the pure directory site is actually live at the moment but we’re trying to keep it a real top secret. Yeah, not really. The machine learning engine piece is going to be turned on in a week’s time. It’s a piece of service design, what’s been really phenomenally interesting, and a lot of people are talking about AI, I think a lot of people are not doing it, or not meaning [crosstalk 00:56:37]. What we’ve done is we’ve got a whole list of services and we are using healthcare professionals to train the engine. So we’ve built a good lot of use cases all based on real people.
John: One of the things, I’m going to get started on this, I’ll try and make it short, but you don’t have just depression or just anxiety or just insomnia. It’s like an equalizer. You have a little bit of this and a bit of that, and actually it changes. And that is the reality for all of us. And we said, that’s a real use case so based on that person, what could be the best thing for them? The best service for them. And our machine learning engine comes up with a use case, the healthcare professional, like a GP, reads through it and goes right, and then our engine provides what it thinks are the right services. And the training space goes, “no, I wouldn’t recommend it,” “maybe I’d recommend it,” or “yes it’s a really good idea.” And all of that data is going back into training the actual engine.
John: Like I said a lot earlier about people, the technology, and I know it was hard, the team that did it. There’s lots of really clever stuff happens. And I don’t dispute that. Lots of people thinking and whatever. But actually, the thing which has made a difference is a big community of these healthcare practitioners and professionals who are dedicating time to training the machine. Because that’s what’s going to make this thing, in my mind, phenomenally powerful. There’s lots of initiatives in this space and lots of them are incredibly well funded, and we’ve taken a really, really different approach to it. So again, if someone wants to get in contact I’m happy to talk for hours.
Sandro: Yeah, maybe you can quickly put your email in the chat actually, so people can reach out to you. If you want.
John: [crosstalk 00:58:54] I’ll put it here. Just so people know, I’m happy to do Zoom meetings. And if people have got the same kind of topic thing, what I’ll do is I’ll just schedule a time that works for most people and we can have an hour getting into the detail on a framework like Com B or whatever people are interested in.
Sandro: Mm-hmm (affirmative), cool. Andre was asking, and I think it’s going to be the last question, we’re already a bit over, “What do you see as the future of branding in a world where service experience is becoming more and more important?” I think we’re actually talking about one aspect of it, which I’m seeing a lot. Remember when we talked about everlane.com? This fashion brand for example. Transparency, for example, is one trend that I’m seeing in branding. Brands that are going above and beyond in terms of transparency are winning, long-term.
John: So that’s a really good question. Again, it’s one I can go into a lot more detail with separately, but my hort answer is it’s around the use of experience principles. Because a brand has got two parts to it, right? It’s got the look and it’s got the feel. And what people have historically done is they’ve always assumed that the look would be there. You have all these visual markers, typefaces, color, whatever. So when people see it, they have this shortcut in the mind to “this is what this company’s like and I subscribe to it or don’t”. That is going away. The new version of branding in my mind is around more collaboration through technology where you’ve got APIs. Well, APIs don’t have a look. They only have the rational part.
John: I worked with Asda quite a few years ago and they’ve got a really strong culture. And I said, what we need to try and do is understand that culture and codify it as an experience principle. So if we strip away all the green, this thing is going to still feel Asda. In the end I wrote a particular methodology for that on how you go from company vision through the brand values which you have to have, to write a set of experience principles, and then how they’re modified to the individual customer needs or personas. I’m happy to share that, just get in touch and I’ll send you the framework and we can talk about it.
Sandro: One interesting thing about branding as well is that because companies are much more visible nowadays, and the going-ons inside the companies are much more visible, is that these traditional values that people put up, that they put on their website, and the disparity between these values that they put on the website and what’s actually going on are more and more visible. Right?
John: That’s called image wrapper. That’s this externalized, “this is what we say and this is what we do”, and then there’s this thing around it, which is the reality. And if them two things don’t match then there’s no trust. To bring us maybe a good fitting end is let’s talk about this age of automation. Where we can say in only maybe ten years, 2030, we’ve got such levels of sophistication in technology where lots of menial things, whether it’s driving and whatever, grocery stuff, is just taken care of by technology, by machines, machine learning engine. Who is developing their brand, which is going to build that participatory community, which delivers the trust to enable that automation to take place?
John: We’re at this perfect crossroads as practitioners and businesses. We have a choice. We can continue to, and my wife will kill me with a film reference, but it feels like the Matrix with the red pill or the blue pill. We can go, we’re just going to continue playing the game, or we can go, no, lot’s of things are broken and we have to start making these changes here through action then talking about it. I think that’s a fundamental question that you need to ask yourself, because only you can answer it. Whether that’s something you want to just talk about and look at, or it’s something you’re going to do.
Sandro: Which takes us to the responsibility, right?
John: Be responsible.
Sandro: Beautiful. I think that’s a good way to end. We’re already ten minutes over but that happens on this podcast. So quick question, I always ask this at the end, do you have any resources that you can particularly recommend for people to look into this more deeply, what we talked about? You sent me a few books beforehand, you also showed me one beforehand with the pirate? [crosstalk 01:04:49] Because I like people to be pirates inside their company [crosstalk 01:04:57]
John: It’s when I was working client-side, and I’m sure people will recognize this, I felt like I didn’t fit in because this was the process and this was the way of doing it and I’m like, I think that’s rubbish. It’s called ‘The Pirate Inside’ and it just basically talks about how to behave like you’re in the navy, get things done, but actually to your own agenda. It’s quite fun. Other ones that come to mind, if you haven’t read it, again, this is back to the consulting and the business speak, you should read Outside In by Forrester. It’s not a difficult or horrible, dry business book to read, it’s not terrible or torturous in any way. Outside In gives you some of the construct about how to talk about experiences creating the commercial value.
John: Oh, thanks to Tamara for putting on the link, that’s wonderful.
John: A couple others that come to mind, again, something that’s a little bit probably different from the things that people are normally looking at. There’s a book called High Performance Thinking Skills from SP Reid, and it’s got a hundred really practical techniques, you can use them yourself to really push your thinking and to get outside that comfort zone. I think that’s fundamentally an absolutely brilliant one.
John: And probably the last one which is something quite practical and full of really good stuff, is Webs of Influence by Nathalie Nahai. She’s got a lot of things in there around cultural adaptation, and I think we both subscribe to the same principle of doing things that can help people rather than manipulate them. So she’s got quite a lot of stuff in there around persuasion and persuasive design, but it’s all done in a white hat kind of way, rather than the black hat manipulative one. And again, it’s quite a nice practical thing to read through. I find her to be quite responsive, again, if you’ve got particular questions on “how have you done it?” Send her an email, she gets back to you. I think that’s certainly a good one to look at.
Sandro: All right, thank you very much, I think this gives us some more resources to dig into this topic. So you have a Twitter account, LinkedIn-
John: Oh yeah, all the usual.
Sandro: All the usual. So if you want to follow John on his adventures then-
John: [crosstalk 01:08:10] book is on Amazon. If you want to get into more of the participatory experience.
Sandro: And then you have your book, exactly. Maybe also Tamara can paste that in there. Your new book that just came out in September, actually, that talks a lot about what we talked about today. And then last but not least, Miles, our buddy Miles from Tech Circus and UX Live, he put in the discount code so you have 50% off from the UX Live tickets, so use the code LETSTALKUXLIVE, it’s also in the chat, if you want to see John’s talk. And you have a workshop as well, you said, right?
John: Yeah, it’s on the prioritization, so how to process that backlog for business leaders.
Sandro: Awesome. Great. Okay, any parting words? Is there any request you would like to make, John, towards the audience and the world at large? Maybe connecting to what we talked about today. Is there anything you would like people to do?
John: Yeah, I think we can all be responsible for trying to improve our work, whether that’s just experience or everything around that, the technology and the design and the data parts. But the thing which I’d ask you to do is look at the behavioral change required in the organization around you for people to really make that thing as participatory and social as possible. I think one of the things which people don’t talk about, which is really important, is if you’re asking someone to do something new or increase some kind of behavior, we don’t have infinite resources, we only have so many brain cycles. You need to think about what you’re going to do in terms of declining or lessening something else. You need to have that seesaw effect. Don’t just pile more tasks on people, because that is the quick wins addictive mentality of, “we just do more, we just do more, we just do more,” and that’s what breaks people. Just think about that behavior, what’s going to decrease and stop to enable something new to start?
Sandro: Great advice. Thank you very much, John. Was a great conversation. Hope to have you back on another time.
John: Yeah, if anyone’s got any more questions once things, yeah. I’m happy to give it to them, that’s fine.
Sandro: Okay, cool. Thank you very much. Have a nice day everyone.
John: Cheers. Cheerio.
Sandro: Bye. Cheers.